Since 1979 the Big East Conference has been a bastion of college basketball. From Providence’s trip to the Final Four to the 1985 title game between Villanova and Georgetown and six overtimes in the Big East Tournament between Syracuse and Connecticut. The conference has been the source of countless memorable moments. From Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing to Ray Allen and Derrick Coleman to Carmelo Anthony, Luke Harangoady and Kemba Walker the league has also been home to some of the memorable players in the landscape of college hoops. Not to mention historic coaches such as Jim Boeheim, Lou Carnaseca, John Thompson, Rollie Massimino, Jim Calhoun and Rick Pitino, the conference has housed some of the most legendary coaches in college basketball.
The historic league is its final year as we know it. Conference realignment has dismantled the league that plenty of fans have grown up on. Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Notre Dame are all headed to the ACC in the next couple of seasons and Rutgers is leaving for the Big Ten. Central Florida, Memphis, Temple, Tulane, Houston and SMU enter to replace the departing teams. Some of the remaining teams in the conference, the “Catholic 7” (St. John’s, Villanova, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul) are soon to announce that they will be breaking off to form their own basketball conference. There may be replacements in place but there are no replacements for the history, rivalries and passion that has been developed and nurtured over the past 34 years.
In the final season of this Big East in its current incarnation has the look of roller derby jammers jockeying for position, sling-shotting to the front and then falling back and fighting their way back to the front. With four games remaining on the regular season schedule the top five teams (Connecticut is ineligible for post-season play) are within two games of each other. League-leading Georgetown (11-3) fresh off an impressive win at Syracuse leads the Orange, Louisville and Marquette (10-4) by a game and Notre Dame (9-5) by two and hold wins over the four teams chasing them.
Villanova (9-6), St. John’s, Pittsburgh (8-6) and Cincinnati (7-7) are just two games behind the Irish in the loss column. All nine of these teams are either in the field of 68 or on the cusp of it according to bracketologists. By the time March 9th rolls around the league could be even tighter as Villanova finishes with games with Pittsburgh and Georgetown, in addition also has a game with St. John’s. The Red Storm may have the toughest schedule remaining with three of their four games against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Marquette and finally Cincinnati has road games against Notre Dame and Louisville left on their docket.
The final Big East Tournament as we know it could be wild and wooly leaving us all with a lasting memory of what we remember and what we will be missing going forward. It is the end of an era, let’s enjoy it.