BOSTON — After Villanova finished demolishing Duke on Thursday night, a reporter asked Wildcats coach Jay Wright how Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese would react to having two teams in the East Regional final in the NCAA Tournament.
Wright smiled, because March has been good to Tranghese. The Big East has followed through on its claims of college basketball superiority in this tournament.
On Thursday night, Villanova, Pittsburgh and Connecticut all advanced to regional finals. Louisville and Syracuse have a chance to join them if they can win regional semifinal games tonight.
"I don't think he's gloating or anything,” Wright said of Tranghese after Villanova's 77-54 win. "But he always likes when his guys are successful. I think everybody in the Big East likes this.”
Nobody in the ACC likes this. The ACC finished the regular season atop the RPI, a mathematical formula that combines won-loss record and schedule quality to measure the relative strength of teams.
The Big East finished fourth in the RPI. For most of the season, coaches from both leagues tried to make the case that theirs was the best conference.
It seems the Big East's and ACC’s NCAA Tournament results have settled that dispute. The seven ACC teams that reached the tournament are a combined 5-6, with only North Carolina still alive as it prepares to meet Gonzaga at 9:57 p.m. in today’s South Regional semifinals.
Since expanding to 12 schools before the 2005-06 season, the ACC has won 53.3 percent of its NCAA Tournament games, a 24-21 record. Before expansion, the ACC was 313-153 in its history for a 66.9 percent clip that led all Division I conferences.
Those are numbers that will make even the conference’s most enthusiastic backers cringe. Clearly something has changed in ACC basketball since expansion, and it's not a change for the better.
Meanwhile, the conference that lost Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami to the ACC is dominating the NCAA Tournament. If you're Tranghese, who criticized the ACC as it took the three schools from the Big East, maybe you do gloat a little.
If you're the ACC, maybe you stop trying to claim you're still the best, and you start trying to figure out what you have to do to get better.