Akron, Ohio, Kent, Western Michigan, Valparaiso, Detroit, Belmont, Murray State, SF Austin, Northwestern State, Santa Clara, BYU, St. Mary’s and Gonzaga can all thank the Big East for their double-byes this year. The reason the opening day of the Big East tournament featured a 5-13 Rutgers team beating last place DePaul, and Seton Hall winning a battle of 3-15 teams is that when the Big East went to 16 teams in 2004 they instituted the double-bye.
They decided against the prospect of eliminating a bye for the top seeds by having the 1-seed play the 16-seed. Instead they rewarded the top four teams with double-byes, a move that has recently been copied by other conferences.
First round winners can always remember UConn, which finished 10th place and then won five games in five days to claim an NCAA bid and then won the NCAA title to earn the all-time bragging rights for a conference. That year Kemba Walker went 9-9 during the Big East season, but never lost to a non-Big East team. However, Walker does not play for either of these teams. The opening night field was even weaker on as the historic tournament kicked off. West Virginia’s departure for the Big 12 and the NCAA’s banning of UConn for academic standards left the Big East with only two opening night games.
Normally Tuesday would have featured two strong teams, with 9-seed Cincinnati hosting a 16-seed, and 10-seed St. John’s hosting a 15-seed on their home court of Madison Square Garden. Instead, those teams also got a single bye to play, respectively, Providence and Villanova Wednesday.
Rutgers’ advance gives them a game against Notre Dame, and Seton Hall’s win pits them against Syracuse Wednesday.
Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette and Pitt will start Thursday after getting four double-byes this year, meaning they only need to win three games to win the tournament.
While he is not Walker, one of the best players in the Big East scored 17 points in a game that was tied 37-37 at the end of regulation, to help the Pirates rally for a 46-42 win in overtime. Gene Teague added 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Seton Hall can now hope the struggles continue for No. 19 Syracuse, their Wednesday opponent.
Rutgers had much less trouble as Wally Judge dominated DePaul for 20 points and had 10 rebounds in a 76-57 win. Rutgers can also have hope of a UConn-type run to the title, as they nearly upset Notre Dame on the road, losing 69-66, and now they get the No. 24 Irish Thursday.