The movement was born on March 17th, 2011. On the first day of the NCAA tournament, before any games tipped, Charles Barkley pronounced his belief on national television that the Big East was “overrated” and that the conference would not play well in the NCAA tournament. This movement expanded exponentially as the country began a cult-type following of Barkley and his belief that the Big East is undeserving of the title of best conference in college basketball. Big Ten fans, Big XII fans, ACC fans, and the occasional Pac 10 fan jumped at the opportunity to degrade the conference that has dominated college basketball for the better part of the last 5 years. Part of the movement stemmed from the surprising losses of teams like Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Notre Dame early in the tournament, but part of it also stemmed from Charles Barkley having an outlet to communicate with millions of people for 3 weeks. Sir Charles’ movement lasted until March 27th, a period of only 10 days, but the movement was powerful.
What happened on March 27th?
On March 27th, Connecticut defeated Arizona to advance to the Final Four. The next day, Butler defeated Florida, VCU defeated Kansas, and both teams advanced to the Final Four. The Final Four consisted of two big conference teams (Connecticut, Big East; Kentucky, SEC). No Big Ten team, no Big XII team, no ACC team, and no Pac 10 team reached the Final Four. Then Connecticut defeated Kentucky to reach the National Championship Game, and was the last big conference team remaining in the tournament. No Big Ten, no Big XII, no ACC, no Pac 10, and no SEC team. Then the Huskies beat Butler to become National Champions. Connecticut, from the Big East conference, was the best team in the country in 2011. Not a team from the Big Ten, Big XII, ACC, Pac 10, or SEC.
Now lets think back to the regular season into Selection Sunday. The Big East had 11 teams qualify for the 2011 NCAA tournament. The previous record for number of teams in one conference to reach the NCAA tournament was 8, twice accomplished by the Big East. The conventional argument against this stat is that the number was higher this season because the conference was expanded from 65 to 68 teams. However, only 2 at-large bids were added, and the teams that received these final bids played in a opening round “First Four” play-in-game. No Big East tournament team was in the First Four; in fact, only one Big East tournament team was seeded below 9 (Marquette, 11). Therefore, all 11 Big East teams would have qualified for the tournament under the previous 65 team format.
The other argument is that the resumes of Big East teams were overrated by the Selection Committee. However, the conference had just under a .650 winning percentage against the other 5 major conferences, and from these conferences, Big East teams only played 2 teams with records under .500 (Auburn and Texas Tech). In addition, every Big East team that qualified for the NCAA tournament had at least 20 wins, and was at least 9-9 in conference during the regular season.
The Big East also had the best player in the country, Kemba Walker. Although Jimmer Fredette of BYU won the Player of the Year Award, Kemba Walker was the best player in the country. Kemba averaged 23.5 points per game, which admittedly trails Jimmer’s PPG, which is 28.9. However, Kemba played against consistently better competition, and battled against much better, much taller defenders in the Big East. When outside the Big East, Kemba still had to deal with Kentucky, Michigan State, Tennessee, Texas and more. BYU, on the other hand, played Arizona and Utah State out of conference, in addition to a weak conference schedule. Jimmer launched shots from anywhere on the court that would often clank off the rim or backboard; Kemba focused on getting good shots for himself and his teammates. Kemba developed freshmen Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier into dynamic offensive and defensive forces; Jimmer did very little to develop his supporting cast, and refused to lock down on defense all year long. Kemba is the best player in the country, and as mentioned, he plays for the Connecticut Huskies in the Big East Conference.
Therefore, the Big East had everything for which a fan could ask this season. The conference was by far the most impressive during the regular season, it had by far the most bids awarded in the history of the NCAA tournament, and it was home to the National Champion Connecticut Huskies and Kemba Walker. There is no argument against the Big East, although many have tried.
The Big East, Big Ten, Big XII, SEC, and Mountain West all advanced 2 teams to the Sweet 16. The ACC advanced 3 teams. Fans of these conferences argued that it was more impressive that 2 of their teams advanced to the Sweet 16 than it was that the Big East advanced 2 teams of the original 11 to the Sweet 16. The premise of the argument was proportional, and also was about how far into the tournament their teams advanced. The arguments changed very quickly in the next round when 2 ACC teams lost, 2 Big Ten teams lost, and 2 Mountain West teams lost (the Mountain West did not beat a major conference team all tournament).
UConn just kept advancing. Then the Big XII was completely eliminated as Kansas lost, the ACC was eliminated as North Carolina lost, and the Pac 10 withered as Arizona lost. At this point only 2 major conferences remained, the SEC and Big East. The Big East haters from the Big Ten and Big XII faded away completely. Then, when the Connecticut Huskies cut down the nets, all arguments dissolved. The Big East dominated every possible aspect of college basketball this season, and is the best conference in college basketball.