When the “Catholic 7” decided to leave the sinking ship that was the Big East, and ironically take the name with them, they left the former Big East schools out in the cold.
With the traditional basketball powers like Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Villanova (all losing in the Round of 64) leaving to form a new Big East while and Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse commit to the ACC, we are left wondering if the former Big East schools will be able to compete with the larger conferences on the basketball court.
This year there are three teams from the America 12 (the front runner for new names for the new conference that will contain the members of the former Big East) in the tournament.
Memphis, Cincinnati, and Temple are carrying the torch for their new conference in this year’s tournament, and so far the three teams are representing the conference well. They are 2-1 (Cincinnati lost to Creighton in the Round of 64), and when Connecticut gets off of NCAA suspension next year, the conference formerly known as the Big East should be a formidable basketball conference.
Memphis hung on to beat Saint Mary’s, while Temple won a close game against North Carolina State. Both of the teams, destined to join the A-12 (or whatever the new name will be), will face steep competition in the Round of 32 from Big Ten schools, with Memphis taking on Michigan State, and Temple facing off with Indiana.
These two games are about more than a Sweet 16 appearance, they are about getting respect for the Tigers and the Owls new conference.
Since the beef of the former Big East is no more, many analysts think that the curtains have closed on the old Big East in terms of basketball relevance.
UConn will be given a level of respect that will rival that of the schools in the larger conferences, but if nobody else in the conference can hold their own against other elite schools in the nation, the conference might only get one team into the big dance.
Memphis and Temple have the chance to help shape the perception of their new conference with wins over two of the top ten teams in the nation, but it will not be easy.
Wins against two of the best teams in the Big Ten will be tough, but if they can pull it off, both programs will draw national attention for a conference in need of a helping hand.
Although the America 12 will not be an automatic qualifying BCS conference, it can become a conference on par with the Atlantic Ten or Mountain West from a basketball perspective. Both the A-10 and MWC have more teams in the tournament than the Pac-12 (4), ACC (4), and SEC (3).
That is what the “third round” is about for Memphis and Temple. The Round of 32 is bigger than the pride of the schools, the Sweet 16, and keeping the dreams of a possible National Championship alive. It is about shaping the perception of their new conference.
Perception is reality in college sports. If a conference gets labeled as weak, they will not receive as many at-large bids and lose out on millions in revenue dollars.
Wins for Memphis and Temple would go a long way in helping their new conference gain respect in basketball.
On the other hand, losses, especially in blow out fashion, could do the opposite.
CJ Hurt covers college basketball for MemphiSport. Follow him @churtj09 for live tweets from games.