Published Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 12:01 am / Updated at 1:41 am
Pivovar: Big East blue bloods just blend in

Greg McDermott has been doing this coaching thing long enough to know that you don't tug on Superman's cape.

McDermott was asked about the big-picture ramifications of seeing Marquette and Georgetown — teams expected to be the bell cows of the reconfigured Big East — stumble through the first third of league play.

Marquette, the preseason pick to win the new league, is 3-3 in conference play and 11-8 overall. Only one other Big East team, Seton Hall, has a lower RPI than do the Golden Eagles. They haven't won back-to-back games since mid-December.

Meanwhile, Georgetown will cart a three-game losing skid into its first visit to Omaha on Saturday. The Hoyas, picked second in the preseason poll, have lost four of their past five games and are 11-7 overall. their 3-4 league record puts them in sixth place, one spot behind Marquette.

McDermott is quick to point out that Georgetown is playing shorthanded, with academic issues and injury sidelining two of the Hoyas' top players. Marquette's rough start can be tied to playing four of its first six games on the road.

“It's hard to win on the road in college basketball, especially in this league where there's not a ton of difference between the top and the bottom,” McDermott said. “We're only a third of the way into the league schedule, and there are a lot of things that can still happen.

“I think it's too early to write anybody off, and I think it's too early to write either of those two off.”

McDermott is certainly right: there is plenty of season remaining for Georgetown and Marquette to right themselves. Either team could wind up hoisting the championship trophy and fulfilling expectations.

At the same time, it never helps when the things being written — and said — about the new league's two blueblood programs tend to be more negative than positive. Big East officials were counting on the two teams to help establish the new conference's position in the college basketball landscape.

It's a murky position right now. The Big East has dropped to fourth in the conference RPI standings. Outside of Villanova and Creighton, no league team owns a victory over a team currently in the Associated Press rankings. The Wildcats were ranked fourth in this week's AP poll but will undoubtedly drop after a 28-point loss to McDermott's unranked Bluejays (Creighton was ranked 24th in the coaches ratings).

Preseason predictions that as many as six league teams could make the NCAA tournament have been scaled back. The bracketologists, in this week's crystal-balling, see four Big East teams in the field. One of the four, Providence, generally is considered among the last teams to make the 68-team field.

Several coaches were asked on Wednesday's Big East teleconference where they see the conference sitting slightly past the midpoint of its first season. Villanova's Jay Wright might have provided the best answer.

“I think it's going to take a couple of years to really figure this out,” Wright said. “Right now, we're all just guessing.”

Wright went on to say that he believes the strength of the league could pose some problems come tournament time, and not just for opponents.

“I think we're going to be a real unique entity,” he said, “and I think we're going to be a problem for the committee because of our strength top to bottom.”

Unfortunately, not everyone will have at their fingertips the mountain of data that the Division I basketball tournament committee members will possess to judge the Big East fairly. That's where having the league's two most recognizable names — Georgetown and Marquette — at the top of the standings might help in how the Big East is perceived.

The storyline that Creighton is writing is a neat one, but how much does it resonate with the average fan across the nation, the one who discovers college basketball for three weeks each March? Many of those same fans weren't even born the last time teams such as Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul were nationally relevant.

There is still time for Georgetown and Marquette to get well. And it's much too early, as McDermott and DePaul coach Oliver Purnell point out, to bury the Golden Eagles and the Hoyas.

“Marquette and Georgetown are going to play well down the stretch,” Purnell said. “They have in the past, and I just believe they always will.”

Contact the writer: Steven Pivovar    |   402-679-2298    |  

Steven Pivovar is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and primarily covers Creighton athletics and the College World Series.



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