Abandoning Big East has been disaster for Syracuse, Notre Dame

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It’s clear who the breakup of the old Big East helped the most.

It’s obvious it created an opening for Villanova and Jay Wright to take over the new creation of the conference and become one of the true superpowers in college basketball, winning two national titles and the league’s regular- season crown six times in seven years.

Xavier, Creighton and Butler have benefited from joining a high-major, their recruiting and visibility skyrocketing.

What has gone somewhat unsaid are the teams that have been hurt the most since leaving the league in 2012. That haven’t been the same.

Syracuse, come on down. Pittsburgh, you know this includes you. Notre Dame, you’re included.

These were perennial tournament teams as members of the Big East. Programs that were annually in the top 25. Now? Not so much.

All three are unlikely to go dancing this year. Pittsburgh hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2016. Notre Dame is one of the worst teams in the ACC this year, 3-6 in the league even after Saturday’s upset of Pitt, and hasn’t reached the tournament since 2017. It has lost 28 straight games to ranked teams, a program record. Syracuse looks like an NIT team, owning just a single top-100 victory, and has averaged just 20.1 wins over the last six years.

They all went from the upper-echelon of the Big East to second-class citizens in the ACC, the other guys after North Carolina, Virginia and Duke. Recruiting has been poor. Notre Dame has the highest-rated recruiting class of the three for next year, and it is 51st according to 247Sports. Since the three joined the ACC in 2013, they have had three top-20 classes. Notre Dame was 15th in 2018 and Syracuse was eighth in 2013 and 2015.

Compare that to where the programs were before leaving the Big East. Syracuse had reached five straight tournaments and back-to-back Elite Eights. Pittsburgh had won at least 20 games 11 years in a row, making the Dance 10 of those seasons. Notre Dame went to the tournament six of seven years.

The struggles of these teams can’t be solely attached to going from the Big East to the ACC of course. Pittsburgh hiring Kevin Stallings after letting Jamie Dixon leave for TCU in 2016 set the program back several years. Jeff Capel has shown progress in each of his three seasons, and should at least have the Panthers in the NIT this year.

At Syracuse, losing Mike Hopkins to Washington has negatively impacted recruiting. Coach Jim Boeheim is 76 years old. He was going to slow down at some point.

The situation at Notre Dame isn’t as simple. There was no coaching change. The Irish reached back-to-back regional finals in their second and third years in the ACC, but have fallen off significantly since then. This looks like it will be their third straight year missing the tournament, though last year’s team was in position to make it if there was a tournament.

If they had to do it again, Syracuse and Pittsburgh almost certainly leave because of the football money. Notre Dame, whose football program has remained independent, may not have.

The basketball programs can only look at their present predicament and wonder where they would be if they had remained in the Big East.

‘Amateur’ Hour

Good for Geo Baker. Bravo for letting his voice be heard. That’s how change happens.

On Saturday, the official NCAA March Madness Instagram account promoted a podcast with Baylor coach Scott Drew that included a quote that read, “Guys are breaking up with their long-time girlfriends to keep the bubble tight and play games.”

“and we still ‘amateurs,’ ” Baker, the Rutgers senior, wrote.

Geo Baker
Geo Baker
Getty Images

He was predictably criticized by those who support the NCAA’s archaic model that prevents student-athletes from profiting off their names and likenesses while everyone else makes money off their labor. Baker, a senior guard, responded to the critics by calling the system “modern day slavery.” During a pandemic, he added, players are staying away from everyone they love to provide entertainment, making major sacrifices.

After Rutgers’ victory over Northwestern Sunday night, Baker addressed his comments with reporters, saying he responded emotionally and, if he could, would go back and post differently. Baker said he is grateful and appreciative of the opportunities Rutgers has afforded him, but he still believes in his overall point, that players should be able to profit off their names and likenesses.

Baker nailed it. It’s beyond time for the rights of athletes to improve. And now the NCAA is trying to punt the decision to allow college athletes to be compensated yet again despite pressure from lawmakers across the country.

Game of the Week

No. 2 Baylor at No. 5 Texas, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

This could be Baylor’s biggest obstacle in its quest for an undefeated regular season. It has to go on the road against a top-five team, and Texas will be well rested after its game against Kentucky on Saturday was canceled due to COVID-19 issues with the Wildcats. The Bears are red-hot, winning their last three games over Auburn, Kansas State and Oklahoma State by an average of 25 points, but this should be their toughest test since winning at Texas Tech on Jan. 16.

Seeding

  1. Gonzaga, Baylor, Villanova, Michigan
  2. Texas, Houston, Alabama, Iowa
  3. Ohio State, Texas Tech, Tennessee, Illinois
  4. Wisconsin, West Virginia, Florida State, Virginia

Stock Watch

Up

Mac McClung

If not for the Georgetown transfer, Texas Tech would be staring at a four-game losing streak. On Jan. 14, his late jumper sent the Red Raiders past Texas, and on Saturday, McClung’s two 3-pointers in the final minute keyed a late rally over LSU. After an inconsistent start, the senior is averaging 21.8 points over his last seven games while shooting 43.1 percent from deep, making sure Texas Tech remains in the hunt for a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Penn State
Penn State coach Jim Ferry
AP

Jim Ferry

Expectations were in the basement for Penn State. Head coach Pat Chambers resigned in late October after allegations of inappropriate conduct against him surfaced. The Nittany Lions were picked to finish 12th in the 14-team league. They started 0-5 in the Big Ten. Since then, however, Ferry — the former LIU and Duquesne coach — has guided them to three wins in four games highlighted by Saturday’s upset of Wisconsin. With a NET ranking of 29, and wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech, an NCAA Tournament bid shouldn’t be ruled out. Ferry at least has this team playing relevant basketball entering February, an impressive accomplishment considering everything that had gone wrong.

Down

Seton Hall

In the span of 11 days, the Pirates’ NCAA Tournament status has gone from lock to uncertain. They are 2-6 in Quad 1 games after dropping three contests to No. 3 Villanova and No. 18 Creighton, and badly need to beef up an underwhelming résumé. Seton Hall could’ve easily won two of the three games to the two Big East powers — it blew a 16-point lead in the final 10 against Creighton on Wednesday — and really needs to at least split its two games this week at Providence and at UConn. I expect them to. Whenever Kevin Willard’s program has been in this position the last half-decade, it has responded.

Kansas

The Jayhawks are setting program marks, but none their fans would like to remember. They have now lost four of five games after Saturday’s ugly 19-point loss at Tennessee for the first time since the 1988-89 season. When the new Associated Press Top 25 poll comes out on Monday, there is a decent chance Kansas will be out of it for the first time since Jan. 26, 2009. Bill Self’s team is closer to last-place Iowa State than first-place Baylor in the Big 12, and while woeful Kansas State is a soft landing spot on Tuesday, a trip to West Virginia looms four days later.



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