‘Obviously the mistake was made’: Big East remains unbeaten in NCAA Tournament after only 3 bids

UConn center Donovan Clingan (32) and his teammates reacts in the final seconds of the second half of a second-round college basketball game against Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 24, 2024, in New York. UConn won 75-58. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

UConn center Donovan Clingan (32) and his teammates reacts in the final seconds of the second half of a second-round college basketball game against Northwestern in the NCAA Tournament, Sunday, March 24, 2024, in New York. UConn won 75-58. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK (AP) — Since a disappointing Selection Sunday for the Big East, when all its bubble teams got left out of the NCAA field, the conference has not lost a game in the tournament.

Defending national champion UConn, Marquette and Creighton advanced to the Sweet 16, the Huskies rounding out a 6-0 weekend for the Big East with a 75-58 second-round victory over Northwestern on Sunday night.

Three NCAA bids for the Big East was its fewest since 1993, a surprising development because the league was generally considered among the best Division I conferences this season. Now it is the only multibid conference to get through the first week of the tournament without losing a game.

“When you’re on the bubble, it’s precarious when these things happen. But, yes, I think the teams that are left are finding a way to send a bit of a message here,” Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where UConn was playing. “That the Big East is one of the elite basketball conferences in the country.”

After an ugly performance by Virginia in the First Four, the Atlantic Coast Conference also asserted itself during the first weekend of the tournament after what was a viewed as a down regular season for the traditional basketball power conference.

The ACC has four teams in the Sweet 16, the most of any conference: Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Clemson advanced to the regional semifinals that start Thursday.

There are more teams from the 919 area code in North Carolina (three) left in the tournament than from either the Big 12 (two) or Southeastern Conference (two). Those conferences tied for the most bids with eight.

The Big Ten got two of its six teams through to the regional semifinals, including Midwest top seed Purdue. The West Coast Conference and Pac-12 each put one team in the Sweet 16.

The Mountain West had six teams in the field, but only San Diego State remains alive. The fifth-seeded Aztecs will face UConn in a rematch of last year’s championship game on Thursday in the East Region semifinal in Boston.

Ackerman said five bid-stealers, conference tournament winners that would not have gotten in the tournament otherwise, likely cost the Big East at least one more team in the field of 68 — Seton Hall was one of the committee’s first four out — and maybe more.

She also said the Big East plans to ask the NCAA to re-assess the NET ranking metric the selection committee uses to help pick the field.

“They were looking at factors that we have to better understand, is how I would say it,” Ackerman said about the committee’s assessment of the Mountain West compared to the Big East. “But we think we’re better than three bids. Know we are.”

UConn coach Dan Hurley and Clemson coach Brad Brownell have both accused other conferences, notably the Big 12 and Mountain West, of gaming the NET rankings by playing weak out-of-conference schedules.

Sixth-seeded Clemson advanced to the West Region semifinals by beating Baylor of the Big 12 on Sunday.

“You’ve seen how other leagues that got the bids that our league deserved have underperformed,” Hurley said Sunday night.

Hurley said the Big East coaches have a group text that has been blowing up.

“I know everyone is fired up to see us continue to push and rep the league at a high level. I know Val is excited, too,” he said. “Obviously, the mistake was made.”

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This story has been corrected to show that the San Diego State-UConn game is Thursday, not Friday.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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