Villanova players and coaches pose for photographs after an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in the finals of the Big East Conference tournament Saturday, March 14, 2015, in New York. Villanova won the game 69-52. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II
March 16, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) Entering this season, there were plenty of people ready to eliminate the Big East from the list of power conferences.

No longer a football league, no reason it would be mentioned in the same breath as the Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference.

But back when Butler, Creighton and Xavier joined the seven remaining members after eight schools with top-tier football programs headed for other leagues, the Big East started calling itself a ''basketball-centric'' conference.

Good description of what is still a very good basketball conference.

When the field of 68 was released Sunday night, six Big East schools were in the bracket: Villanova, Georgetown, Butler, Providence, Xavier and St. John's. All except ninth-seeded St. John's were seeded sixth or better. Villanova, the regular-season and tournament champion, was the second overall No. 1 seed behind Kentucky.

Georgetown was a No. 4 seed and Providence, Butler and Xavier were all on the No. 6 line.

Not bad for a conference that wasn't supposed to stay near the top when the new college basketball order was created two seasons ago.

Last year the Big East had four teams in the NCAA Tournament - Villanova, Xavier, Creighton and Providence - and this year the number grew by two.

''This is such a tough conference,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ''This tournament is a killer but you play it in Madison Square Garden, in New York, where other conferences all want to move their tournaments. You make it through the Big East, you are ready for the rest of the country.''

The Big Ten and ACC will both be playing their conference tournaments in New York in the next few years.

The Big East has had an incredible run since it was founded by the late Dave Gavitt in 1979. He took his Providence program and joined six other schools to create a league that took off to heights older conferences soon became envious of.

The Big East is still the only conference to have three schools in one Final Four - Villanova, Georgetown and St. John's in 1985. It holds the record for most teams in an NCAA Tournament, 11 in 2010-11 when it had 16 teams. Connecticut won it all that year.

''It's hard to believe people could ever think schools with this kind of tradition wouldn't be one of the best leagues in the country,'' St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. ''Every game has a tournament feel. All of us have a tough nonconference schedule. This is a basketball conference, only a basketball conference.''

For most of the season, the Big East was ranked second to the Big 12 in the conference RPI rankings. Not bad for a league that wasn't supposed to be able to keep up with the power conferences.

''We had an outstanding and highly competitive season and are very excited to see many of our teams rewarded with a tournament berth,'' commissioner Val Ackerman said Sunday. ''Like everyone else, we can't wait for the games to begin.''

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