Program Tiers: Big East
Our recent piece on schools that should be perennial powers received a good deal of feedback, so we figured it's the perfect time to capitalize and bring more of the same content.
All jobs aren't created equal. There are some schools that have more funding, more prestige and better resources at their disposal to make recruiting (and, by extension, winning) more sustainable. As an attempt at pegging which jobs in the major conferences are best and which are most difficult based on those factors, we developed a seven-prong tier system, ranging from the perennial blue bloods to the spots with annual uphill battles.
A good coach can raise their program a tier, perhaps even two if there's longevity involved. These rankings fluctuate slightly as a result of the man in the head chair, but are largely dependent on factors outside of who the boss is right now.
The Big East is not what it once was. Once upon a time, Syracuse, Connecticut, Georgetown and Villanova were among the nation's most storied programs, cashing in on rivalry and depth within the league to attract the best players. The league's dissolution and change over the last 20 years has changed much of its prestige. But outside a few remaining thorough-breads from the old glory days, there isn't a spot within the league that isn't capable of pushing for a multi-year run atop the Big East.
Tier #1 - Bluebloods
None - The Big East isn't what it once was. The collapse of the conference as a premier basketball destination has harmed all of its former inhabitants. There are places who are greatly sustaining success, but none who are seen as basketball royalty no matter what their record says.
Tier #2 - Consistent and Historic
Villanova - It's turned into the best job in the league thanks to what Jay Wright has done to create a Villanova culture. The school leverages its location so well; they do fantastic in their backyard, one of the most talent-rich in the country. They crush the prep school world and have reach into DC when they need. And there's enough there to attract out-of-region kids who are the perfect fit.
Tier #3 - Have it Rolling Right Now
None - I wouldn't consider any Big East schools to be in the position where they're humming. Every spot has its disadvantages and challenges. Plus, the conference has taken a step back on the national scene. No school can have a "down" year and still be ranked in the top-25 anymore.
Tier #4 - Should Be in Tier 2
Connecticut - Jim Calhoun's empire in Storrs should keep the Huskies amongst national powers long after his time. Two national title appearances under Kevin Ollie were great, but the program has struggled to stay in that realm amidst NCAA probes. Really, there are a ton of advantages there: proximity to New York City (where they dominate when they're at their best), tons of prep programs nearby and the opportunity to win their league every year. They need to get this thing rolling again.
Georgetown - The history, the prestige and name recognition, and the richness of their home talent base means what's gone on at Georgetown for the last decade is pretty inexcusable. It used to be that this Jordan-brand school had such a swagger factor. Perhaps the days of John Thompson making this a school where black athletes wanted to excel is gone. As an alum, it's pretty disappointing to see and, when you consider the financial tools at the department's disposal, hard to swallow. Many Big East schools don't have football -- I don't want to hear that its absence prevents them from establishing a large reach.
Tier #5 - You Can Sustain Winning There
St. John's - New York City. That's really all it is. The coaching staff should be able to make an NCAA tournament without traveling more than 40 miles to recruit. The allure of the Garden is ever-present, and with some rich NBA alums to give the program a shot in the arm, the Johnnies provide coaching staffs a place where winning can be found.
Marquette - There's a lot of wealth in this athletic department. Sure, they're a bit out of region, but campus is gorgeous, the facilities top-notch and the fact they charter everywhere a major plus. The Golden Eagles do well enough locally to snatch up some solid talent, but the Catholic prestige helps them draw from elsewhere. It's a good job in this league.
Butler - The Bulldogs do a really good job in-state, taking enough of the depth of talent and picking the right high-end guys to compete anywhere. While they bring a bit of the underdog mentality to the recruiting trail, it feels like an important place to be once you step into Hinkle Fieldhouse. They won't out-spend anyone in the conference and have to fend off enough in-state competition for their guys, but it's definitely a place you can be successful.
Xavier - Cincinnati is one of the more slept-on basketball cities in the country. Really good local talent in Ohio exists. The rivalry with Cincinnati is one of the best non-conference battles every year. Outside of OSU, who doesn't stay exclusively in-state for recruiting, the Musketeers can always pull enough home-grown, blue collar talent to keep themselves in the top-half of the league. Unfortunately, guys who win here will always move up to bigger Power Five jobs, so it's hard to see them getting into a higher tier any time soon.
Creighton - McDermott is an unbelievable coach and is sustaining winning there. But part of their success feels like it's on him. Omaha is a solid place and they have some of the most underrated facilities in the country. Still, a team from Nebraska playing league games in Connecticut and Rhode Island is a little odd. I'm not sure if they have a consistent well to tap into when they need a good class.
Seton Hall - In their proximity to New York City and as the dominant in-state Jersey basketball program, the Hall is a place where coaches can win. Facilities aren't great and it takes a blue collar mentality to keep and sustain this place. But there's too much talent nearby for them to continually strike out. Awareness of their identity is a huge strength.
Tier #6 - In Someone Else's Shadow
Providence - Let's face it... where the Friars have been the last decade is a bit of an overachievement. They need a coach like Cooley to appeal to a certain kid and style. They grind it out and hang their hat on being a blue collar program, doing the gritty to win. It fits the identity they have to recruit. The school and campus are nice, but they're still lower on the totem pole in New England and NYC circles. Other than the recent success Cooley has brought, it's been a bottom-tier job for many, many years.
Tier #7 - Uphill Battles
DePaul - I so badly want this team to be in Tier #6. There is a blueprint for turning them around and making this dormant program into a giant. We all see it: talent-rich Chicago, Big East competition. But their arena is so far removed from the city that sustaining local buzz is so hard to do. The athletic department can't get out of its own way historically and few midwest kids who aren't proven will choose them over mid-major powers lately. This place can get higher, but it's been low for so long that getting momentum going is even an uphill battle.
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Assistant Men's Basketball Coach, Dickinson College.