How breakup of original Big East still influences Gonzaga, Wichita State and UConn in NCAA Tournament

To jump or not to jump? That was the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to stay in your usually one-bid conference and remain the proverbial big fish, or make the leap of faith and join a league that often gets multiple bids in the hope of improving your chance to dance, or possibly your seed once you arrive. 

Eight years after the breakup of the Big East Conference, this year’s NCAA Tournament field in men’s basketball offers case studies in the value of staying put, the possible benefit of moving, and, in one instance, the joy of coming home.

The conference landscape has been constantly shifting for the past several decades, of course, though much of that movement has been football driven among the so-called Bowl Championship Series Power Five leagues. For this thought exercise, we’ll focus primarily on basketball-centric decisions. Naturally, there are two sides to such — er — courtships. A school might want to join a new league, but the conference has to want you.

The most significant development in the hardwood realm in recent years was the breakup of the Big East in 2013, the result of a schism between the schools that sponsored Bowl Subdivision football and the so-called Catholic Seven whose roots went back to the league’s founding as a basketball power conference. That group of primarily hoops schools retained the league name and sought other members to join.

This brings us to our first subject, Gonzaga. There was more than a little speculation at the time that one target for inclusion in the new/old Big East was Gonzaga. In terms of philosophy and mission it would be a fit, but its Spokane, Washington, home is well outside the league’s geographic footprint. In the end, the Big East went with an expanded Midwest presence adding Butler, Creighton and Xavier.

So Gonzaga remains the flagship program of the West Coast Conference, having just claimed its ninth league tournament title in the past 11 years and 19th championship in all. The Bulldogs are the top overall seed in this year’s field and are a No. 1 region seed for the fourth time in the past eight years. Aggressive non-conference scheduling has helped, of course, and the addition of BYU has improved the WCC’s depth. It’s safe to say that staying put in the WCC hasn’t hurt the Zags’ tournament positioning.

CAPSULES FOR EVERY TEAM:   East |  Midwest |  South |  West


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