The Big East sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA tournament in March and it wasn't by accident. The conference's scheduling strategy of projecting which teams should play each other twice certainly didn't hurt the team power ratings.
The league is entering its final season of the current scheduling format, which consists of 18 conference games with 16 teams playing three of those squads twice and the other 12 once. When TCU joins the Big East in 2012-13, the 17-team league will still play 18 conference games but the breakdown calls for teams to play two opponents twice and the other 14 once.
There's a method to the madness. The Big East sought out a specially designed software program to help with the scheduling matrix. The hope was that there was more of an equitable home and road split. Because make no mistake: How the Big East decides who plays who twice can ultimately be a deciding factor on Selection Sunday.
Individual teams will announce their overall Big East home/road schedules sometime today, but the league has finalized the matchups. Next for the Big East will be figuring out dates since there are so many arena conflicts with the NBA, NHL and minor league hockey. South Florida gives the Big East another headache with the Bulls playing next season in the St. Pete Times Forum -- home of the Tampa Bay Lightning -- due to renovations at the Sun Dome.
The Big East has used a coach’s vote to determine a tier system for scheduling. Previously, the conference broke it down by three tiers, sometimes four. This year, the Big East went to five tiers.
Officials from the conference weren’t at liberty to hand out the exact tiers, but an analysis of the schedules shows that at least six Big East teams must have been projected in the first or second tier with Louisville, Connecticut, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Marquette and Villanova appearing to have the toughest slate of three home-and-home series.
The league will announce the official list Thursday afternoon, but ESPN.com has learned of the scheduling breakdown in advance. Here are the repeat opponents for the 2011-12 season, along with list from last year:
Cincinnati: Villanova, Marquette, St. John’s
My preseason top 25: 19
Last season: DePaul, Georgetown, St. John’s
Finish: 26-9, 11-7 (NCAA)
Connecticut: Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Syracuse
My preseason top 25: No. 6
Last season: Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame
Finish: 32-9, 9-9 (NCAA)
DePaul: Louisville, St. John’s, Seton Hall
Last season: Cincinnati, South Florida, West Virginia
Finish: 7-24, 1-17
Georgetown: Marquette, Providence, St. John’s
Last season: Cincinnati, St. John’s, Syracuse
Finish: 21-11, 10-8 (NCAA)
Louisville: Pitt, Syracuse, DePaul
My preseason top 25: No. 9
Last season: Connecticut, Providence, West Virginia
Finish: 25-10, 12-6 (NCAA)
Marquette: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Villanova
My preseason top 25: No. 13
Last season: Connecticut, Notre Dame, Seton Hall
Finish: 22-15, 9-9 (NCAA)
Notre Dame: Connecticut, Rutgers, West Virginia
Last season: Connecticut, Marquette, St. John’s
Finish: 27-7, 14-4 (NCAA)
Pittsburgh: Louisville, South Florida, West Virginia
My preseason top 25: No. 17
Last season: South Florida, Villanova, West Virginia
Finish: 28-6, 15-3 (NCAA)
Providence: Georgetown, South Florida, Syracuse
Last season: Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida
Finish: 15-17, 4-14
Rutgers: Notre Dame, Seton Hall, West Virginia
Last season: Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova
Finish: 15-17, 5-13
St. John’s: Cincinnati, DePaul, Georgetown
Last season: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Notre Dame
Finish: 21-12, 12-6 (NCAA)
Seton Hall: Connecticut, DePaul, Rutgers
Last season: Marquette, Rutgers, Syracuse
Finish: 13-18, 7-11
South Florida: Pitt, Providence, Villanova
Last season: DePaul, Pitt, Providence
Finish: 10-23, 3-15
Syracuse: Connecticut, Providence, Louisville
My preseason top 25: No. 4
Last season: Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova
Finish: 27-8, 12-6 (NCAA)
Villanova: Marquette, South Florida, Cincinnati
Last season: Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse
Finish: 21-12, 9-9
West Virginia: Pitt, Notre Dame, Rutgers
Last season: DePaul, Louisville, Pitt
Finish: 21-12, 11-7 (NCAA)
A few initial observations:
-- The Big East was able to avoid having any team play the same three teams it played twice last season.
-- Syracuse has one of the toughest schedules, with four games against Connecticut and Louisville. Cincinnati and Marquette might be next with the teams playing each other twice, and then the Bearcats playing Villanova and St. John’s twice while Marquette has to play Villanova and Georgetown twice. The Hoyas are rebuilding but will still be formidable in league play. Villanova has to play Marquette and Cincinnati twice each.
-- Connecticut, a possible favorite, might have caught a break. Syracuse home and away will be tough tests. But getting Notre Dame, which lost quite a bit, led by Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough, will not be as daunting this season. Seton Hall is likely to be a second-division team.
-- The Big East did make life a bit tougher for projected lower-level teams South Florida and DePaul. The Bulls will have to play four games against projected NCAA teams Villanova and Pitt. The Blue Demons have four against Louisville and St. John's.
-- Pitt’s schedule was fair with Louisville being a projected title contender and Notre Dame and West Virginia being fellow retooling teams.
-- If Georgetown is a bubble team in March, it will help playing Marquette twice and possibly St. John’s. Sleeper Rutgers has winnable games against Notre Dame, Seton Hall and West Virginia. St. John’s, which has a loaded nonconference schedule with road games at Kentucky and Duke, will have at least one projected NCAA team in Cincinnati, an unknown against Georgetown and a likely lower-level team DePaul.
-- The Big East did a fair and equitable job in selecting the repeat games. And if you’re a fan of Cincinnati or Marquette, take solace in knowing the league must consider your team to be a conference contender this season.