Catholic Seven won't be re-creating Big East in its prime

Posted: December 20, 2012

IHAVE BEEN thinking about this Big East Lite League for a week and I still don't know what to think about a conference with the Catholic Seven and teams X, Y and Z. If X is Xavier, Y is Butler and Z is one of Saint Louis, Dayton or Richmond, that has a chance to be a pretty good basketball league.

But it will be the Big East in its heyday? Not even close.

The reality is that day is done. Anybody who thinks we are going back is dreaming.

What the seven schools wanted, more than anything, is to have some control over their athletic futures. Given what is at stake in terms of funding all the non-revenue sports, this move makes perfect sense.

Just don't expect miracles. It is a football world now. Basketball isn't a sideshow, especially not in this town, but football is where the conference powers have control and access to all that television cash. Basketball is still a socialist world where the common good matters, at least a little bit.

Will the big boys try to cut out the middleman, a k a the NCAA, and run their own basketball tournament someday? Don't know, but, if you don't think it could happen, you simply have not been paying attention to how the 1 percent runs college sports. If it does happen, I have been told they want Mitt Romney as commissioner.

The 1 percent is why the Catholic Seven had to make their move. So what becomes of the Catholic Seven? Where once the small Catholic schools were among the major players in college basketball, that day, as Dana O'Neil and I detailed in a Daily News story several years ago, is over.

The last Catholic champion was Villanova in 1985 when the Wildcats joined Georgetown and St. John's in the Final Four. The only Catholic school in the title game since then was Seton Hall in 1989. Providence made the Final Four in 1987.

From 1990 to 2002, no Catholic schools made the Final Four. Since then, Marquette (2003), Georgetown (2007) and Villanova (2009) got to the final weekend, but not beyond Saturday.

Marquette, Georgetown and Villanova (despite last season) are still national programs. Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul and St. John's are not, and have not been for a long time.

What does the landscape look like in a few years when this proposed new league forms and begins to play games? That is the hardest question to answer, because college sports are like a continuous earthquake in which the land shifts dramatically on what seems like a weekly basis.

I don't think the presidents and athletic directors know the answer to the landscape question, either. They just knew that they wanted to have a voice in the future. Now, they do. That could be the good news or the bad news.

Never the same

Once Syracuse announced in the fall of 2011 that it was leaving for the ACC, I knew Big East basketball was doomed. Some schools can be replaced. Some schools are quickly forgotten. Does anybody miss Virginia Tech, Miami or TCU (the school that joined, never played a game and left)?

How do you replace Big Monday at the Carrier Dome? What takes the place of 71 crowds of 30,000 or more since the Dome opened in 1980? The answers to both questions: You don't.

The Atlantic 10 story

You can forget that silliness that was floated about the A-10 absorbing the Catholic Seven for a 21-team league. Can you just see John Thompson III taking Georgetown to Olean, N.Y., to play St. Bonaventure or Rose Hill Gym to take on Fordham? Me, either.

The A-10 will have a terrific season. The league already has 14 wins over Big Six Conference opponents, including Butler's upset of No. 1 Indiana. The league had 28 such wins last season when it was a very good league. It is a better league this season, with 10 teams in the RPI's top 100.

What happens after this season or over the next few seasons? We know Charlotte and Temple are leaving. Beyond that, you know the new league will make runs at Xavier and Butler, for sure.

Temple, the league's flagship for as long as it has been a league, is a huge loss. Xavier and Butler would be huge losses.

So, the A-10 could look different in a few years - again. Different really is not the issue. Everything is different. The question is: better or worse. Time will tell.

The Gal factor

Hartford has been playing Division I basketball since 1984-85. Hartford has won more than six non-conference games only one time. If Hartford (6-5) beats Marist at home Saturday (very possible) or wins at Colorado Dec. 29 (less possible), it will get to seven wins and ensure a winning non-con record.

Coach John Gallagher, the Saint Joseph's grad and former assistant at La Salle, Lafayette, Hartford, Penn and Boston College (for a few days, before he got the top job at Hartford), is playing almost exclusively freshmen and sophomores. The average experience is 328th of 347, according to kenpom.com. The only two upperclassmen (one junior, one senior) are getting less run as the season goes on.

Hartford has three true road wins, including Saturday at Rice, 58-51, a game it once trailed, 20-9.

Hartford began last season 0-13 before finishing 9-9. The Hawks lost in overtime to eventual America East champion Vermont in the semifinals of the conference tournament. That was a team that was getting better. This is a team that can challenge for its conference championship.

Numbers that can deceive

When Louisville came from way behind to win at Memphis Saturday, there was much focus on the free throw attempt discrepancy - 46 for Louisville, 20 for Memphis.

Louisville shot 16 of those foul shots in the final 2 minutes, when Memphis was fouling to stop the clock. Looks a little different now, doesn't it?

By the way, Louisville and Memphis have played in three different leagues together - the old Missouri Valley, the Metro and Conference USA. Both are supposed to be in the Big East next season, if Louisville makes it that far before going to the ACC.

This & that * 

When I saw YouTube highlights of James Bell in high school, I really thought Villanova had gotten a star out of Florida. Injuries set him back. Playing time came slowly. Then, it was about consistency. Now, you can see his confidence starting to rise. That game-winner against Saint Joseph's was no fluke. It was not his first significant shot of the season. Bell really looks like 'Nova's big-shot guy.

The Wildcats will not dazzle anybody this season, but I am seeing that toughness that was the best attribute of some of Jay Wright's better teams. I'm not sure there is enough skill here for an NCAA run, but I do see a belief that was simply not there last season.

* That is Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood (George Washington) leading the Atlantic 10 in rebounding (8.9 per game) and blocks (3.4 per game). He averages 13.4 points and shoots 53.5 percent.

* La Salle is allowing teams to shoot 45.9 percent, worst in the A-10. This is a fun team to watch, but that number won't work over the long run.

* Saint Joseph's shoots 64.3 percent from the foul line. That is 14th of 16 in the A-10. This is a talented team, but that is another number that won't work over the long run.

* In its first A-10 season, VCU is doing just what it did when it made the 2011 Final Four. The Rams are making threes (80) and defending the three (just 42). Thus, are outscoring teams by 114 points from the arc.


Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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