When West Virginia left the Big East for in 2012 for the greener football pastures of the Big 12, the destruction of basketball's best conference had just begun. Almost two years later, the present-day Big East hardly resembles the one that sent 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2011.
The conference officially dissolved following the 2012-2013 season, with eight more teams leaving to join the ACC and the newly-formed American Athletic Conference. What was left was a core of Catholic, non-football schools that sought to carve out a new, singular identity. Known as the 'Catholic 7' -- Villanova, Providence, St. John's, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Seton Hall -- formed a new Big East, with the additions of Butler, Creighton and Xavier. Butler is the only member of the ten-team conference that doesn't have any Catholic associations, and is the smallest school of the bunch.
Their new identity in tow, the current incarnation of the once-great conference has stumbled in its first season, presently holding a 4-24 record against AP top 25 teams. Villanova and Creighton are the only teams that could conceivably make a Final Four run, with the Wildcats currently in the top ten of both national polls. ESPN's Joe Lundardi has four Big East teams expected to make the tournament, with Georgetown and Xavier joining the 'Nova and Creighton. That makes seven conferences -- including the Atlantic 10 -- with more projected bids than the Big East.
Five former members of the Big East are projected to make the tourney, with the ACC's Syracuse one of the favorites to win it all. Louisville -- coming off a national title -- is looking like it could make another deep run as member of the American Athletic Conference, while Pitt (ACC), UConn (AAC) and Cincinnati (AAC) will be tough outs in March.
The addition of Creighton, Xavier and Butler was supposed to provide the Big East with a troika of teams that were ready to compete on the national level right away. While Creighton and Xavier have help up their end of the bargain, Butler has struggled in their first season without head coach Brad Stevens. The current Boston Celtics coach was supposed to bring star power to a conference that lost Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino and Jamie Dixon.
The hope for the fledgling conference is that stalwarts Marquette and Georgetown can regain their vintage form. The Hoyas are one of the top recruiting schools -- they nabbed Chicago's Paul White in September -- and no one does more with less than Marquette head coach Buzz Williams.
But it could be a quiet tournament for a conference whose namesake perennially sent teams to the Final Four. Just once since 2007 has the there not been a Big East team on the final weekend of college basketball. If Villanova's defense-first approach falters and Doug McDermott fails to take Creighton deep, the Big East will become a forgettable conference in the postseason.