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Best conference around

Laura Myers | Thursday, March 24, 2011

After the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament this weekend, a lot of media types have been writing a lot of columns and features and blog posts about a certain basketball conference that didn’t exactly live up to expectations.

But I’m not going to write about that.

I’m going to tell you about a conference better than any other, one that sent an NCAA record nine teams to the tournament, and then sent nine teams to the Round of 32. It has five advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Two pulled off upsets to get there, including a No. 7-seeded team defeating a No. 2. The four members of this conference that lost in the second round fell to No. 1- or No. 2-seeds, and all but one put up a real fight on their way down.

The five teams are distributed between three brackets, which means four could advance to the Elite Eight. And while it’s not likely, three could reach the Final Four. Two have a legitimate chance. No other conference even has that possibility.

What is this crazy powerful conference I’m talking about? Why, it’s none other than the Big East.

That’s right, the women’s Big East conference is easily the best in all of college basketball.

For the past couple of years, the Big East (and, let’s be honest, women’s college basketball) has been looked at as Connecticut and a bunch of other teams. But other Big East teams have historically taken the reins — Rutgers used to be a powerhouse, and of course there’s the small matter of Notre Dame’s 2001 national championship.

Now, the Big East, from Connecticut on down, simply dominates on the national stage.

Take the past four days.

There was No. 9-seed Marquette, tied with No. 1 Tennessee late in the second half before ultimately losing 70-61. There was No. 3 DePaul, facing No. 6 Penn State in University Park, fighting back from a double-digit deficit in a hostile environment to win 75-73. And there was No. 7 Louisville, beating No. 2 Xavier in Cincinnati. Of course, there were No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Notre Dame, doing what they should have done by disposing of Purdue and Temple.

Take Wednesday’s announcement of All-America finalists.

The list includes 40 players from across the country. Ten are from the Big East, representing six different schools. The Big 12 is next, with six nominated athletes.

There’s a possibility that some seemingly great conferences in college basketball haven’t matched their hype, expectations or even talent levels during the NCAA tournament. The Big East is clearly not among that group.