UConn's Cam Spencer (12) celebrates after making a 3-point shot...

UConn's Cam Spencer (12) celebrates after making a 3-point shot during the first half of a second-round college basketball game against Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament Sunday, March 24, 2024. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Last Sunday, it was basically a really bad diss. By Wednesday, it had become a borderline outrage. And now, one week and 52 games later, it’s become a full-blown storyline in this NCAA Tournament.

The selection committee that chose the 36 teams for at-large bids in the 68-team field did a terrible job when it underestimated the Big East and took only three teams — Connecticut, Marquette and Creighton — leaving Seton Hall, St. John’s and Providence on the outside looking in.

It looked bad then.

It looks worse now.

The Big East Three — the first time since 1993 the conference got only three entries — are 6-0 after defending national champion and top-seeded Connecticut demolished No. 9 Northwestern, 75-58, in an East Regional second-round game before 17,505 at Barclays Center behind 20 points and 10 assists from Tristen Newton and 14 points and 14 rebounds from Donovan Clingan.

Entering the Sweet 16, the Big East was the only conference to win every game. And really, doesn’t winning games define things at this point of the season?

“Seton Hall beat us by 15,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “We’ve won eight straight in this tournament, all by significant margins, and they were good enough to beat us and they were good enough to beat Marquette. There should have been five or six Big East teams in this tournament.

“Obviously, the mistake was made,” he added. “It [stinks].’’

The Huskies (33-3) will meet San Diego State in the Sweet 16 at 7:39 p.m. Thursday in Boston.

“The teams that are left are finding a way to send a bit of a message here: that the Big East is one of the elite basketball conferences in the country and we play at the highest levels,” Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said Sunday at halftime.

The Mountain West Conference got six entries, and only San Diego State is still standing.

Somehow the “experts” thought the placement of the MWC teams in the bracket was under-seeded because of their high metrics. In reality, the committee actually overestimated them.

The selection committee’s assessment of the Big East looked increasingly out of touch with the results of the four teams that got bids ahead of them. Virginia got crushed in the First Four. Colorado State advanced but scored only 44 points against Texas in the first round. Boise State got taken down at the First Four by Colorado, which acquitted itself well by beating Florida in the first round before Marquette showed it the door Sunday.

“You’ve seen how other leagues that got the bids that our league deserved have underperformed,” Hurley said.

“It’s reaffirming that we’re playing at the highest level of college basketball,” Ackerman said. “That’s who we think we are.”

The committee seemed to use different criteria in considering each case instead of being consistent, and that’s confounding. Lean hardest into metrics, and there’s St. John’s at No. 32 in the NET. Lean hardest into beating top-caliber teams, and there’s Seton Hall with the wins over UConn and Marquette. Lean hardest into Quad 1 victories, and there’s Providence with six.

Given that each one was strong in one place or another, selecting none is a head-scratcher.

When asked about St. John’s, Ackerman replied, “We need to better understand what they’re looking at because it sounds like having a strong under-40 NET isn’t the only thing you’re looking at.”

Asked if the Red Storm would have won a couple of NCAA games, she said, “I think so . . . I would have loved to watch that.”

Creighton, No. 3 in the Midwest Regional, displayed endurance and savvy as it wore out Oregon in double overtime Saturday by scoring the first 15 points of the second extra period. Marquette, No. 2 in the South Regional, was very gritty in dispatching No. 10 Colorado on Sunday afternoon.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott used his starters more minutes because timeouts in NCAA broadcasts are an extra minute. Golden Eagles coach Shaka Smart credited keeping players together for multiple years when he said, “We’ve let them know we’re invested in them rather than taking transfers.”

Some might say those Big East teams barely got through to the Sweet 16. We wouldn’t. We see them as repeatedly battle-tested by the rigors of Big East play, which helped them evolve into teams that know how to win a game — any kind of game.

Ackerman said the NET formula could be tinkered with and that Big East officials plan to meet with NCAA senior VP of men’s basketball Dan Gavitt to clarify the “mystery of how it’s calculated.”

In the meantime, the Big East Three are worth rooting for. Hurley said the Big East coaches have a group chat and “I know everyone is fired up to see us continue to push and rep the league at a high level.”


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