Mandel’s Musings: College Basketball Landscape Will Never Be the Same

Published on: 15th March, 2013

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Boeheim
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New York –The Big East may not be the league of superstars it used to be but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of putting on a great display of Big East “style” basketball. The grit and the physical nature of this league, dominant elements in every Big East season since it’s inception in 1980, was on display again tonight, here at Madison Square Garden when two of the original teams, Syracuse and Georgetown fittingly squared off for the right to play in tomorrow night’s championship game.

It was two legendary programs, two legendary coaches in Jim Boeheim and John Thompson III (okay, he’s offspring of legend) in front of a packed New York crowd and a national television audience.  In the end, and quite appropriately, the game went to overtime before the Orangemen pulled it out, 58-55.

Brandon Triche scored the go-ahead basket early in the overtime period and No. 19 Syracuse advanced to the Big East championship game tomorrow night.  The Orange (26-8) will make their 15th appearance in the tournament title game and go for their sixth crown Saturday night at Madison Square Garden against fourth-ranked Louisville, the defending champion who defeated Notre Dame in tonight’s second semi-final, 69-57.

Triche, James Southerland and backup center Baye Moussa Keita all had 13 points for Syracuse, trying to close out its Big East tenure with one more championship before bolting for the ACC next season. The last Orange title came in 2006, their second in a row.

The Orange held top-seeded Georgetown (25-6) to 22 percent shooting from 3-point range (4 of 18) with their trademark 2-3 zone and got a big game from their bench to avenge a pair of double-digit losses to the Hoyas this season.

“Just us losing last time by 20, that meant a lot for us to even get to play against them again,” Triche said. “Just reading comments from them, talking trash about us, it made it even more important to win a game like this.”

Georgetown is one of seven basketball-focused Catholic schools splitting off from the conference to create their own league, which will begin play next season and keep the Big East name. Syracuse already was headed to the ACC, as are several other schools.

“This is just to do with football. You know that. It’s just where everything is going,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said when asked why the school would walk away from this event. “Just wait a few more years. Everything will be gone.”

There’s an interest on both sides to resume the rivalry as nonconference foes, but no deal has been completed.The teams ended up splitting 14 meetings in the Big East tournament, another appropriate conclusion.Two original Big East titans toe-to-toe on the New York stage for one final time. It certainly delivered.

“It’s a shame they’re heading down to Tobacco Road for a few dollars more,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “This is a rivalry that meant a lot to our program and to their program and to this conference.”

As good as the games may be, as competitive as they are out on the court, the college game, as seen in the Big East Conference, is no longer your father’s game. You see, when your dad watched this conference performing back in the day, in any given game, he would have seen the likes of Chris Mullin, Bill Wennington, Walter Berry, Patrick Ewing,  and Pearl Washington exhibiting brilliance up and down the floor. At the same time. In the same game. In later eras, he would have seen Ray Allen, Derrick Coleman, Billy Owens, Charles Smith, and Reggie Williams would have been performing on the same floor. All stars at the college level, many of whom became bigger stars in the N.B.A.

No more, though. The college game has all changed. After this year, the Big East, as we know it, will no longer exist. Syracuse is leaving to join the ACC, so is Louisville, and U Conn won’t be there, either. These schools have followed the money, mostly driven by their football programs, to join leagues that are mostly about football and secondarily about basketball. Selling 70,000 football seats will certainly put more dollars in the pockets of the universities than the selling of a skimpy 15-20,000 seats for their basketball games.

The television contracts conferences like the ACC and the Big Ten have procured from the networks have guaranteed to line the pockets of the universities, once higher institutions of learning, with millions of dollars more. It’s left the Big East to pursue a conference of strictly basketball-focused schools who don’t care a bit for helmets and shoulder pads.

The Big East will consist, next year of the so-called Catholic Seven, the schools who do not have football programs but have long traditions of basketball excellence. They include St. Johns, Georgetown, Villanova, Providence, DePaul, Seton Hall and Marquette.  Three additional schools, Butler, Xavier and Creighton will be added shortly to form a 10-team league ready for play at the start of the 2013-2014 season.

It remains to be seen whether the new Big East’s business model, and make no mistake, this is all about business, will succeed on a national scale through the recruiting of blue-chip athletes and the garnering of revenues through television and sold-out arenas. Or, as Boeheim said tonight after Syracuse’s big win, “Just wait a few more years, everything will be gone.”

He wasn’t talking about the Atlantic Coast Conference, for sure.

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