10:57 am Mar. 18, 20134
The three-decades plus run of the Big East Conference ended Saturday, with Louisville's 78-61 win over Syracuse in the final game of the old Big East tournament.
But with that game over, the conversation will turn quickly enough to that new configuration to be known as the Big East, and exactly how it will come together.
Over in Brooklyn this weekend, Virginia Commonwealth University made the case to be part of that new Big East.
Here's what we know. The seven breakaway teams from the old Big East are Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, DePaul and Providence. And a pair of reliable reporters, one for the Indianapolis Star and the other from the Omaha World-Herald, have Butler University and Creighton University both set to join the new Big East this week.
So that's nine. At 9-10 teams, the payout per school is substantial, roughly $3 million per school per year. At 12 schools, it is just over $4 million per school per year.
So the question really is, how does the Big East get to 12 teams?
Xavier has been often discussed, and another Catholic university with comparable size and solid basketball tradition makes some sense. The same is true of St. Louis University, which just won the Atlantic 10 tournament this weekend in Brooklyn.
But the Billikens did so against a hostile V.C.U. crowd that made the Atlantic 10 affair at the Barclays Center seem like the Big East tournament just over at Madison Square Garden.
If the Big East wants to use purely things like a Catholic litmus test, arena size or roughly equivalent student bodies, V.C.U. is out. They are a public university, more than 30,000 students strong, and their Verizon Wireless Center in Richmond seats just 7,500.
But if you've been there, the Verizon Wireless Center seats just 7,500, but almost always seats exactly 7,500: the team sells out virtually every game. The V.C.U. crowd is loud, and oppressive toward opponents, and they have a world-class pep band. Playing them is a significant college basketball experience.
More important is where this program is on the court. Their head coach is Shaka Smart, a great young college basketball mind who took over a solid Colonial Athletic Association program with one N.C.A.A. tournament win ever in 2009-10, and led the Rams to a pair of N.C.A.A. runs, including a wild trip to the Final Four in 2010-11, while becoming a basketball power in the Atlantic 10 and earning a top-25 ranking this season. V.C.U. is a five seed in this year's tournament; it would surprise exactly no one if V.C.U. made another Final Four.
V.C.U.'s constant pressure defense, nicknamed Havoc, would fit in perfectly with a defense-first conference like the Big East has always been. And if the conference was known by the end for its legendary coaches, like Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Georgetown's John Thompson Jr., Villanova's Rollie Massimino and others, that isn't how the league originally started. All three were innovators, precisely in the way Smart is, marrying Arkansas' old "40 Minutes of Hell" defense under Nolan Richardson to Florida's three-point intensive offense under Billy Donovan.
Back in 1979-80, Boeheim was a fourth-year coach, successful, but on the rise. Thompson was still transforming Georgetown from a school decades removed from basketball success into more than a regional power. The same was true for Massimino, in his eighth season when Villanova joined in 1980-81. And maybe the most successful Big East coach of them all, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, joined the league in 1986-87 as a 44-year-old upstart from Northeastern University, the season after a 33-year-old who'd coached at Boston University, Rick Pitino, took over at Providence.
The Big East became the Big East by employing the finest young basketball minds in the country, and integrating the strongest basketball programs. And it was football, not the presence of public universities, that tore the league apart.
A league betting everything on basketball superiority, which is its only shot at replicating its namesake's success, certainly didn't harm itself by adding public universities like Connecticut and Pittsburgh three decades ago. And exactly why will it be worse for the league ti include V.C.U.'s 7,500 max capacity arena, filled to the brim each time, alongside Seton Hall's Prudential Center in Newark, with wide swaths of empty seats and a few thousand regularly in support? (There's always the 13,500-seat Richmond Coliseum if capacity is truly a problem.)
V.C.U. has nothing more than a club team for college football.
So V.C.U. stands on the precipice of another N.C.A.A. tournament run. And then, if the Big East truly prides itself on basketball, they'll make Smart and the Rams their 12th team in short order, or some other program will grab Smart and keep the Big East from getting this generation's potential Thompson/Boeheim/Calhoun.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
A 93-80 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday was not particularly competitive.
They lost a huge opportunity to gain ground on the Knicks in the fourth quarter of a 105-93 loss to the Hawks Sunday night.
David Wright is uncertain for Opening Day, while Daniel Murphy could be headed for the disabled list. That leaves Justin Turner and Jordany Valdespin as part of the day one infield.
If Mark Teixeira's wrist doesn't respond to rest, it will mean season-ending surgery.
Iona earned a 15 seed and matchup against Ohio State.
St. John's received an N.I.T. bid, and first-round game Tuesday night against St. Joseph's.