Gary McGhee (52) of the Pittsburgh Panthers reacts to their loss to the Butler Bulldogs during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Verizon Center on March 19, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Big East Basketball: How March Madness Got The Best Of The Nation's 'Best' Conference

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Big East Basketball: How March Madnees Got The Best Of The Nation's 'Best' Conference

The nation's best conference. I used that term a lot this year, and if you're a Big East basketball follower like myself you more than likely felt the same way.

Well, just eight days after the nation's "best' conference earned a record 11 invites to the 68-team NCAA Tournament field that statement no longer holds a lot of merit. At least, not with non-Big East basketball enthusiasts (mainly those from the Atlantic Coast Conference or Big Ten schools) who saw the conference lose nine teams in rounds two and three.

"The results obviously aren’t what we were hoping for," Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said.

"The body of work that our schools created over the course of the year certainly overshadows what happens in the tournament," Marinatto said. "In the tournament, you have to get lucky, you have to be fortunate. Everything has to come together."

The results after round two were respectable. Out of the 11 squads, just four (No. 4-seeded Louisville Cardinals, No. 6 Georgetown Hoyas, No. 6 St. John's Red Storm and No. 9 Villanova Wildcats) were knocked out. Big East fans probably were pleased with those results considering: 'Nova was on a five-game losing streak entering the tournament; Georgetown had been playing without its second-best player (guard Chris Wright) for about a month and no one knew how well he would play; St. John's little March Madness experience showed as a better TEAM, No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs, dominated the inside; and Louisville fell victim to the most shocking round-"one" upset to No. 13 Morehead St. Eagles.

The Big East entered round three with a 7-4 record and still had -- at least this is what most supporters thought -- four Final Four contenders remaining (No. 1 Pittsburgh Panthers, No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, No. 3 Syracuse Orange and No. 3 Connecticut Huskies). On Saturday night, however, Pitt lost a last-second thriller to No. 8 Butler Bulldogs, 71-70; then on Sunday Syracuse was outplayed by No. 11 Marquette, 66-62; and Notre Dame was dominated by No. 10 Florida St. Seminoles -- yeah, a team that went 11-5 in the ACC!

Now, Kemba Walker and the Huskies, who defeated Cincinnati, 69-58, Saturday night, is the Big East's only hope for Final Four appearance. What the heck happened? Here are a few thoughts:

Thought one: The grueling 18-game schedule and five-day conference tournament leaves teams fatigued.

"If fatigue were a factor, indeed, one might have expected it to have the most impact on Connecticut, which played five teams in five consecutive days to win the Big East tournament," wrote Nate Silver of the NY Times on Monday. "But Connecticut has played very well so far, as has Marquette, which played three games at Madison Square Garden. Instead, Pittsburgh, which played only one conference tournament game, failed to hold up its end of the bargain — as did Notre Dame, which played two."

The rest of Silver's article and be found here...

Thought two: "The Big East had many good teams but not great ones".

That's the headline at Larry Brown Sports, which could be true but I am still pretty sure that Pittsburgh would have lost just three games in the Big Ten and or ACC play. If you watched the Panthers on a consistent basis this year (much like I did) they were top-3 team all season. The Panthers was a great team, but they ALWAYS find a way to lose in March.

Thought three: The Big East, which receives massive amounts of media coverage, was just overrated.

I don't know if it was being overrated or just over-exposure causing a bias, but it's clear that at least for one season the Big East dropped the ball. And, like most things that don't live up to the hype, the conference is paying the rightful price of being smashed by every media outlet there is.

"...Perception is reality," wrote SB Nation's Sean Keeley of Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician. "And unless UConn and Marquette both make magical runs to the Final Four, that perception won't change. Even if they do, it still probably won't. In the off-season ahead, we'll be reminded that at the end of the day, regular-season wins are nice but ultimately futile in the big picture.

The Big East needs to win tourney games and it needs to send more teams to the Final Four. Point blank period. Until then we'll merely live up to the expectation we've created for ourselves."

Thought four: I blog about the Big East, picked them to win every first-round game, had four teams going to the Elite 8, two in the Final Four, therefore the conference was doomed from the start.

Yes, in the end. Just blame me. I can take it.

Thought five: Other conferences were amped about playing teams from the nation's "best" conference and pumped up there game.

Thought six: It's March Madness, crazy things happen.

In the end, I think it's combination of all the above, but the facts are the facts. The Big East lost a lot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament and pre-tournament Big East naysayers have a right to gloat. That's the life of being a sports fan, who lives and dies with their team(s).

This year's NCAA Tournament title will again go to the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac 10,  but just wait until next season. It's going to be different. The nation's best conference will redeem itself (because I'll make sure to pick against every team that makes the tournament).

Visit SB Nation's NCAA hoops hub for the rest of your tournament needs, including a 2011 NCAA Tournament Printable Bracket updated following each round.

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