BUFFALO - It's just the first week of the NCAA Tournament, and five of the eight Big East teams in the field have gone down like bugs hitting a windshield. The biggest splat was made by third-seeded Georgetown's first-round loss to 14th-seeded Ohio, but second-seeded Villanova was a close second after getting beaten yesterday by 10th-seeded St. Mary's in the second round.
The Big 12, which still has four of its seven invitees alive, looks like the stronger league - but Kansas' loss yesterday weakens the case a bit. Will the trend continue when 10th-seeded Missouri (23-10) of the Big 12 goes head-to-head with second-seeded West Virginia (28-6), the Big East tournament champ, this afternoon at HSBC Arena?
Mizzou's Zaire Taylor grew up on Staten Island, so, he knows the Big East well. "The Big East has a lot of talented teams,'' said Taylor, setting up the punch line. "But they've got about 30 to 40 teams in the conference. So, when you figure the Big East brings eight out of 20 [eight of 16 actually] into the tournament and the Big 12 brings seven out of 12, we're going over 50 percent.''
As inevitable as the comparison might be, Zaire said the East Regional game has little to do with conferences. "I don't think we're going to be celebrating if any other team in the Big 12 wins the national championship,'' Taylor said. "I don't think we're throwing a party at Missouri Arena.''
If nothing else, all the NCAA upsets let the Mountaineers know they must take every opponent seriously, especially one that presses constantly as Missouri does for the full 40 minutes. "They make everybody [speed up] to play at their pace, which is chaos in a way,'' West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler said. "We can't fall into that.''
At the same time, Butler has pride in representing the Big East. "We have teams that are ranked eighth in our conference that probably can finish in the top two in any other conference,'' Butler said. "That's how tough I think our league is.''
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has seen both sides, spending one season at Kansas State of the Big 12 before spending the past three seasons at West Virginia. "We have had four in the top 10,'' said Huggins, referring to the four Big East teams that spent much of the season atop the polls. "If other leagues did that, they would hail themselves as the greatest league of all-time. We were allegedly in a down year. It's brutal, and it takes a toll.''