In-Depth; the Unbalanced Big East Schedule

As the Out-of-Conference portion of the basketball schedules wind down we begin to look ahead to the BE season. A round-robin schedule isn't possible since the league has more than ten teams (and has had more than 10 since the 95-96 season when Notre Dame, West Virginia, and Rutgers were all added to the league). So, in this era of unbalanced schedules, which team has the toughest Big East basketball schedule for 2005-06?

Since the purpose of this article is for me to attempt to answer the question, I must first define who I think the BE's toughest teams are.  At this point in the season I firmly believe that Connecticut and Villanova are the two best teams in the league.  Both teams are Final Four good.


They are followed by a group of six teams that, depending upon how things shake out, have the potential to be Sweet 16 teams.  Now, obviously, not all of them will make it that far in the tourney, but the potential is there.  These six teams, in alpha order are Cincinnati (as of this writing 13-4), Louisville (13-3), Marquette (12-5), Pittsburgh (14-0), Syracuse (15-3), and West Virginia (13-3).


After those six teams, there are two other teams that I believe are slightly above the rest of the league and will likely be bubble teams for the NCAAs - they are Georgetown (10-4) and Notre Dame (10-5).  In reviewing BE schedules, I focused upon the above 10 teams.  So Rutgers and DePaul fans try not to be too offended.  Besides, everyone knows lists only need 10.

I'm going to do this review of these 10 teams' BE schedules by beginning with the team which I believe has the softest schedule (softest, of course being relative to the other teams) then gradually building to the team which I believe has the toughest schedule.


#10. Notre Dame -  The Irish only play nine games against the other teams, playing Marquette in a home-and-home series; playing Syracuse, Georgetown, and Villanova at home while playing at Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Louisville, and Connecticut.  They don't play Cincinnati at all.  I'm sure their fans are pleased with the schedule since for the past couple of years they have been complaining that they have had the hardest BE schedule.  Guess we won't be hearing that particular complaint this year.


#9. Georgetown -  The Hoyas also only play 9 games against the BE best.  Their only home-and-home series against the upper echelon teams is West Virginia; they play Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Marquette and Syracuse at home; and they get Connecticut, Notre Dame and Villanova on the road.  They don't have to play Louisville at all.  Since both ND and G'Town play UConn on the road the main distinction I saw between the two is that the Hoyas have to play Villanova on the road.


#8. Marquette - The Golden Eagles play 10 games against the upper echelon BE teams.  They have home-and-home series with Pitt and ND; they play UConn, Cincinnati, and Georgetown at home; and they face West Virginia, Villanova, and Louisville on the road.  They don't play Syracuse at all.  Tom Crean's squad is young, but tough (particularly at home, just ask Cards‘ fans about this), and with an easier schedule than some of the rest they just might surprise.


#7. Pittsburgh -  The Panthers play 10 games against the best the BE has to offer.  They play Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Cincinnati at home; Louisville, Connecticut, and Georgetown on the road; and have home-and-home series against West Virginia and Marquette.  Oddly, they don't play in-state rival Villanova at all.  Something I'm sure the Wildcats' players are happy about, not having to be pulled, grabbed, scratched, clawed, kneed, and elbowed for 40 minutes.  Pitt's recent win over Wisconsin shows they will be a force in the Big East again this year.


#6. West Virginia - The Mountaineers incredible run in both the BE tournament and the NCAAs is still fondly remembered by this Syracuse fan, but I'm sure I'll take a little flack from Eers' fans for ranking their BE schedule as being less strenuous than some others - especially since they are one of two teams that must face the upper echelon teams 12 times.  However, 3 of those 12 games are against Georgetown and Notre Dame, while only 2 are being played against Connecticut and Villanova.  The nitty-gritty details are as follows: they play home-and-home series against Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati; they play Notre Dame, Connecticut, and Louisville at home; and they play Marquette, Villanova, Syracuse, and Cincinnati on the road.  They do play all 9 upper echelon teams.


#5. Villanova - Like the Mountaineers, the Wildcats had a tremendous run in the NCAA tournaments, and some (including myself) feel they would have beaten eventual champion North Carolina in the Sweet 16s, if they had Curtis Sumpter available.  Unfortunately for them, Sumpter is out for this season as well, but they are still playing fantastic.  In terms of their BE schedule, they are playing 11 games against the upper echelon teams.  They play home-and-home series with Connecticut, Syracuse, and Louisville; they play West Virginia, Marquette, and Georgetown at home; and they get Notre Dame and Georgetown on the road.  As previously mentioned, they don't have to face Pittsburgh at all.


#4. Connecticut - Like West Virginia, Connecticut plays all 9 of the other upper echelon teams for a total of 12 games.  They also have to play the Wildcats twice.  So, why are they only ranked number #4 on this list?  Simple.  They get 7 of those games at home - yes, that's right, s-e-v-e-n of the 12 toughest BE games at home.  As for the fine print, they play Villanova, Louisville, and Syracuse in home-and-home series; they play Cincinnati, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame at home; and they get Marquette and West Virginia on the road.


#3.  Cincinnati -  The Bearcats' early season play already has Dick Vitale back-peddling on his prediction that Cincinnati wouldn't make the NCAAs this year after 14 consecutive entries into the Big Dance.  To be perfectly honest, I'm a little surprised myself.  But that bunker mentality the great Huggins inspired in the team definitely seems to be paying dividends in this season of turmoil.  The Bearcats play only 8 of the upper echelon teams since they won't be getting the opportunity to play Notre Dame.  However, of the 11 games they do play, 7 of them are on the road.  They play Louisville, Syracuse, and West Virginia in home-and-home series; they play Villanova at home; and they face Marquette, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown on the road.


#2. Louisville - The Cardinals were given no favors in their premiere Big East football schedule (having to play their first three BE games on the road) and they didn't do much better in terms of their basketball schedule either.  Like one other team, they got the dubious distinction of having to play both Connecticut and Villanova twice - probably not the year in which you want this to occur.  They do only have to play 8 of the upper echelon teams, missing out on playing Georgetown.  And they can also take solace in the fact that their 11 games are divided 6 at home and 5 away games.  The complete picture says they play Connecticut, Villanova, and Cincinnati in home-and-home series; they play Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and Marquette at home; and they get Syracuse and West Virginia on the road.  A tough schedule, but still not as tough as…


#1. Syracuse - The Orange just can't seem to catch a break lately.  And as usual, the Big East stuck it to them in terms of schedule - What else is new?  They are one of only two teams (the Cards being the other) that get the challenge of facing the two best teams - Connecticut and Villanova - twice.  And to top it off, like Cincinnati, they have to play more of these games on the road than they do at home.  What's that saying about, if it weren't for bad luck…?  Anyway, the not so pretty picture is as follows: the Orange play Connecticut, Villanova, and Cincinnati in home-and-home series; they play Louisville and West Virginia at home; and they face Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown on the road.  The only break the Orange gets is that they don't have to face Marquette.


Hopefully, they come out of Big East play bruised and tested but undaunted.  After all, there is another saying that goes, "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." 


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