Mar 10, 2012, 11:33 PM EDT
NEW YORK–Welcome to the future of the Big East.
For the first time in the history of the conference, the tournament title game featured two teams who were not members of the league at the time of its formation, and this is what we got.
In front of a crowd that was at less than capacity at Madison Square Garden, Louisville took control early and beat fourth-seeded Cincinnati, 50-44, to win the Big East tournament title on Saturday night in New York City.
“[The championship] is special because I love coaching these guys,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. “We’ve got a great group. You saw how much enthusiasm they had for winning that championship. It means so much to them to win.”
Chris Smith led Louisville in scoring with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Kyle Kuric added 13 points.
But, man, it wasn’t pretty.
In a tournament that has seen slow, grinding games from USF, Villanova, and Louisville before, the title game followed suit.
The Cardinals shot just 35% from the floor and had 14 turnovers. They mustered just 50 points.
Of course, credit is due to their defense, which kept Cincinnati to 44 points and 3-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc. Center Gorgui Dieng had three blocks and continued to anchor the middle of the Cardinal defense.
“We knew it was going to take defense to win this game,” said Pitino. “We thought it was going to take offense to beat Marquette, we thought it was going to take defense to win this one.”
Point guard Peyton Siva won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, answering the questions of his early-season critics.
“You could tell he stepped into the role we needed him to play,” said Kuric. “The Peyton that we’re all used to, you could tell he didn’t want to lose and he wasn’t going to let us lose.”
Louisville has gained momentum in this tournament, but with such difficulties shooting the ball, it’s hard to say how far Louisville can go in the NCAA’s, now that they have punched their automatic ticket.
Will we see the team that shot 56% from the floor in Friday night’s big win over Notre Dame, or will the sluggish offense of Saturday night prevail?
But this game speaks to a larger point, less related to the actual performance of these two teams tonight, and more to the direction of the league.
This is not an isolated incident. This is the future.
With Syracuse and Pitt bolting for the ACC, and the suggestion that they could leave even earlier than expected, the complexion of the league is changing.
“I’m a traditionalist, and I’m very disappointed that teams are leaving, certainly,” said Pitino. “That’s the worst thing about [college basketball] culture: The gratification is so short, and the way they handle failure is so short…Everybody wants change nowadays. Let’s go to this league…It’s bizarre how everybody just leaves.”
Syracuse has historically owned Madison Square Garden; it’s almost the Carrier Dome South. But cut out the Orange and add Conference-USA transplants, and you’re left with the scene we saw on Saturday night.
To be clear, no one here is lamenting the death of a power conference. Far from it.
Cincinnati and Louisville are strong national programs. The Big East is adding more quality schools in Memphis, Temple, and others, but the variable that changes is that intangible, difficult-to-quantify feel.
Villanova coach Jay Wright described it earlier in the year: that feeling of taking his team on a bus and heading up the New Jersey Turnpike to play at Madison Square Garden.
With expansion, that may be lost.
In a game that was close throughout on Saturday night, there was less than a handful of “loud” moments and never a time that was truly deafening in the Garden. A nationally televised championship game for a conference that will send the most teams to the NCAA tournament and I could hear myself think throughout.
The Big East still retains some of its Northeast, old school, blue-collar swagger. Villanova is still here. Georgetown is a mainstay. Providence, St. John’s, and Rutgers are programs on the rise. But how would a Memphis-Marquette Big East final look, somewhere down the line? Does that pack the Garden? Does that have the same glow on the marquee as Georgetown-Syracuse?
It’s a transition in changing times. It’s an inevitable shift in the increasingly nationalized business of college sports. It becomes clearer as the realignment dust settles.
Oh, and in case you forgot, Louisville is headed to the NCAA tournament.
Apr 16, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT
Caris LeVert reiterated his decision to return to Michigan for his junior year at the team’s postseason banquet Wednesday.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT
According to a report, New Mexico State center Sim Bhullar will forego his final two seasons of eligibility to turn pro.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
After leading USC in scoring last season, Byron Wesley announced that he’ll be transferring after graduating this summer.
Apr 16, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
Arizona State’s Jahii Carson made official the news that’s been known since October: he’ll be entering the 2014 NBA Draft.
Apr 16, 2014, 6:32 PM EDT
Former Northwestern guard/forward Kale Abrahamson will finish out his career in his home state.
Apr 16, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT
UCLA’s Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine made official their decisions to enter the 2014 NBA Draft.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
After considering leaving school to enter the NBA Draft, Purdue’s A.J. Hammons will return for his junior season.
Apr 16, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Three years after shortening the time players have to make a decision regarding the NBA, it’s time for the NCAA to re-adopt the NBA’s pre-draft calendar.
Apr 16, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
The Arizona State transfer is headed to Rice.
Apr 16, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
The Dukes have landed the for Massachusetts Player of the Year.
Apr 16, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
There may not be a recruit with a more interesting back story that Devonta Pollard.
Apr 16, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Do you like them?
Apr 16, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Getting Kansas State to the NCAA tournament earned Bruce Weber an extension.
Apr 16, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
Jim Christian wins his first recruiting battle as the head coach at BC.
Apr 16, 2014, 11:26 AM EDT
What Early Entry decisions will have the biggest impact on the 2014-2015 college basketball season?
Apr 16, 2014, 10:20 AM EDT
The next big thing to come from Canada isn’t going to be all that big.
Apr 15, 2014, 10:13 PM EDT
The Mustangs and Bulldogs are looking to meet in a home-and-home series.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
Watch the 7-foot-6 center play baseball.
Apr 15, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Austin will leave Waco after two seasons.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:34 PM EDT
He will have two years of eligibility remaining.
- It’s beyond time for college basketball to return to NBA’s early entry calendar 0
- Former Alabama player Devonta Pollard receiving interest from Kentucky 1
- 2014 NBA Draft: What early entry decisions are we still waiting for? 0
- Cuonzo Martin and Tennessee parting ways is good for everyone involved 9
- Report: Cuonzo Martin to become the new head coach at California 10
- Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein returning to Kentucky 5
- Montrezl Harrell will be returning to Louisville for his junior season 0
- Report: Cuonzo Martin to become the new head coach at California (10)
- NCAA approves unlimited meals and snacks for Division I student-athletes (10)
- Cuonzo Martin and Tennessee parting ways is good for everyone involved (9)
- Syracuse freshman Chinoso Obokoh could lose year of eligibility due to NCAA issue (6)
- John Calipari reveals what ‘the tweak’ actually was (5)