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.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Wichita State is unbeaten, but would they get the nod over the Gators when Selection Sunday rolls around?
Mar 10, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
Doug McDermott is on the list, but who joined him on the first team?
Mar 10, 2014, 1:16 AM EDT
We know Joel Embiid’s back is bothering him, but should we be worried about whether or not he’ll be healthy for the NCAA tournament?
Mar 10, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT
Three more teams earn automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, Nebraska strengthens its resume and two regular season champions fall in conference tournaments.
Mar 9, 2014, 11:09 PM EDT
Catch up on all of today’s bubble action. Is Nebraska a lock after beating Wisconsin? Can St. Joseph’s still dance after losing to La Salle?
Mar 9, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
Picked to finish last in the Big Ten’s preseason poll, Nebraska moved closer to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998 with a win over No. 9 Wisconsin.
Mar 9, 2014, 9:26 PM EDT
William & Mary beats Towson, moving to within 40 minutes of their first NCAA tournament berth.
Mar 9, 2014, 8:50 PM EDT
No. 22 Michigan State’s late-game execution left much to be desired on Sunday.
Mar 9, 2014, 7:39 PM EDT
LaQuinton Ross finally found his scoring touch, but that wasn’t the main reason the Buckeyes won.
Mar 9, 2014, 7:38 PM EDT
Did she say yes?
Mar 9, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
Top-seeded Fightin’ Blue Hens will play William & Mary (7 p.m., NBCSN) with an NCAA tournament berth on the line.
Mar 9, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT
Get to know the fifth entry into the 2014 NCAA Tournament field, the Mercer Bears
Mar 9, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
The Missouri Valley Conference had an unfortunate mistake in the t-shirts that they gave Wichita State for winning the conference tournament.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:54 PM EDT
Wichita State Shockers will head into the NCAA tournament at 34-0, the first team to be undefeated on Selection Sunday in 23 years.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:49 PM EDT
Winner gets a chance to earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
Mar 9, 2014, 4:27 PM EDT
Does this give the Orange a chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament?
Mar 9, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT
Jordair Jett helped snap a three-game losing streak while also delivering Saint Louis the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a last-second win over UMass.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
Ex-Secretary of State was in town for a fundraiser.
Mar 9, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Eight teams open play on Monday.
- Bracketology: Florida in driver’s seat for overall No. 1 seed 1
- NBCSports.com’s 2014 College Basketball All-Americans 3
- Bubble Banter: Nebraska’s marquee win, St. Joseph’s problematic loss 1
- Turnovers help Ohio State beat No. 22 Michigan State in regular season finale 1
- Wichita State will head into the NCAA tournament 34-0 as a No. 1 seed 11
- Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood score 54 in No. 4 Duke’s win over No. 14 UNC 0
- Bubble Banter: Oregon, Tennessee headline Saturday’s early winners 0
- Wichita State will head into the NCAA tournament 34-0 as a No. 1 seed (11)
- No. 7 Syracuse falls to Georgia Tech in a shocking home loss (9)
- College Basketball Talk’s latest Top 25 (6)
- Assigned Reading: Dean Smith’s health continues to deteriorate (6)
- No. 1 Florida’s undefeated SEC season not just a by-product of their league (6)