Commentary: Big East Year One in review

It’s been over a year now since the “Catholic 7” of the Big East voted to leave the conference and to start anew, solidifying their standing as a pure basketball conference. Butler, Creighton and Xavier were added and the new Big East Conference was born.

Gone were the days of Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Connecticut battling it out for the top spot in the Big East while the teams like Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul fought for relevance in the large conference. Connecticut dominating the top of the women’s basketball standings while other powerhouses secured the top spots became a thing of the past. Before DePaul won the Big East in 2014, Connecticut had won the Big East 20 out of 24 times.

The 2013-2014 Big East basketball season brought an entirely new identity to the conference. Urban private schools with decent basketball pedigree came together to form one of the most unique conferences in the nation. And 2013-2014 was certainly a unique year.

First of all, the new teams made their impact felt. Creighton had a very good season, led by Wooden Award Player of the Year Doug McDermott, going 14-4 in conference play and reaching the Big East Championship game. They brought a new fanatical culture in full swing during the McDermott era. Xavier tied for third place in the conference with a respectable 10-8 conference record. Butler was the only poor performing team in the new conference, nowhere close to their final four teams of 2010 and 2011 but they played some exciting games and brought some drama to the conference.

In fact, the drama was the biggest change in the conference. There were close games all over the schedule, including DePaul and Butler going to double-overtime in the Blue Demon win, Creighton dropping 21 threes and 96 points on conference winner Villanova, and Providence upsetting Creighton in the Big East Championship.

In the past, the top of the conference would have close games with each other but would generally easily take care of the bottom feeders. This year’s conference seemed to have more of an equal level of talent. Last year, the top half of the Big East averaged an 8.45 points scored to points allowed margin. In 2013-2014, the margin was nearly halved to a 4.76 margin. ONLY one team had a negative margin this year as opposed to five last year. That’s not to say DePaul is on the same level as Villanova, but that maybe they’re closer to Villanova than they were to Louisville or Syracuse.

There were also some extremely interesting players that shined throughout the year. AP Player of the Year Doug McDermott of Creighton made history as he became the fifth highest career scoring leader in NCAA Division I history. Providence’s Bryce Cotton was a scoring machine en route to his Big East Tournament MVP Award. Big East rookie of the year Billy Garrett Jr. was a bright spot on an otherwise lackluster DePaul team, averaging 13.8 points and 2.7 assists in conference play.

The conference may not have had the powerhouses of the past or the nostalgia from the original Big East, but the basketball was entertaining and the new Fox Sports contract gave viewers a chance to view nearly every moment of the action. And even though the three teams representing the conference didn’t make it past the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, the quality of the conference had certainly not dropped significantly after reforming. The conference’s average RPI was good for fourth in the nation, as opposed to second in 2012-2013.

On the women’s side the entire dynamic changed. For the first time in a long time, the conference was wide open. DePaul was picked to win in the preseason and even though the prediction came to fruition, the title was by no means set in stone for the Blue Demons. St. John’s used their size advantage to lead the regular season standings for most of the year and Creighton was sitting right behind them, nearly unbeatable at home.

In the end, DePaul was able to string together a win streak and overtake the top spot, winning the conference and eventually the conference tournament. The pre-season pick came true but it was an exciting finish and a refreshing start to the new-look conference. The Blue Demons made an unexpected run to the Sweet 16 while St. John’s was able to win their first round matchup. Much like the men, the powerhouses were gone but the parity that came from this season was the trade off.

So what happens next year to the Big East? It remains to be seen whether Creighton will stay a strong team after Doug McDermott graduates or whether Butler can regain its level of play from a couple of years ago. There’s also a question of who can stop the reigning Big East women’s champion DePaul, who are returning four starters.

Regardless of the answers, if 2014-2015 is anything like this year, Big East basketball fans will be in for another entertaining season.