I can already hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth.
"We're the best league in the country. How can we get only seven NCAA tournament bids?"
Well, Big East fans, it's time to face facts. All that talk about a record nine NCAA tournament teams this season (or 10, or 11) was just that. Talk. With only four weeks remaining in the regular season, a bunch of things have to go right for the conference just to match the eight bids it received a year ago.
And it's not as if extra bids aren't there for the taking this season. The SEC isn't exactly teeming with quality or depth. The Pac-10 and, to a lesser extent, Big 12 are off a beat. There is no surge of non-BCS teams coming from the Missouri Valley, Atlantic 10 or wherever. The Mountain West has more tournament candidates than usual, but that situation will sort itself out soon enough.
So, what gives, Mr. Big East? Seven bids among 16 teams -- when nine of 16 have been ranked at various points this season -- seems downright pedestrian.
"That's how good our league is," you suggest. "Teams are beating each other up all the time. If our teams were in the other conferences, their records would be way better."
The Big East is underachieving not because of a meat grinder at the top, but because at least two of its most talented clubs can't beat teams at the bottom. That's not parity. That's bad basketball.
In losing six of seven, Georgetown has lost twice to Cincinnati and once at Seton Hall. Its only victory in the span, a 57-47 uglyfest against 10-14 Rutgers, won't have anyone bragging to the selection committee.
And Notre Dame has been even worse. Since an inexplicable loss at St. John's on Jan. 3, the Irish have given up an average of 85 points per game. Their defensive quotient ranks 14th in the conference.
With the Hoyas and Irish struggling, only Cincinnati has moved forward to pick up the slack. But the Bearcats, with an 0-6 record against InsideRPI Top 25 teams, are less likely to make the NCAA field than 6-5 Syracuse or 5-5 West Virginia are to fall out of it. That's right. We could be looking at six Big East bids before the number gets back to the presumed range of eight or nine.
"It's not fair," the Carrier Dome crowd cries. "We beat Florida. We beat Kansas. We won at Memphis. Put those teams in the Big East, and they don't make it, either."
A more truthful view is that Syracuse isn't playing as well today as Florida, Kansas or Memphis. The Orange have given up 100-plus points in their past two defeats. No way would KU or Memphis do that against Providence and Villanova. And no way could Syracuse go to Spokane right now and lay a beating on Gonzaga the way the Tigers did.
The winner in all this? It's the ACC, with eight of its 12 teams in the current field. If that holds -- also unlikely -- it would be the most impressive single-season showing by any conference ever. Even a final tally of six or seven NCAA tournament teams, by percentage, would rank the ACC ahead of the Big East.
It's simple, really. The middle of the ACC is overachieving. Miami, Florida State, Boston College and Virginia Tech have won and continue to win "up" games within the conference. Meanwhile, the middle of the Big East can't get out of its own way.
Remember, it isn't about wailing. It's about winning.
Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. Comments may be sent to Bracketology@comcast.net.