Skip to content

Tourney champion Louisville is face of changing Big East

Mar 10, 2012, 11:33 PM EDT

Screen Shot 2012-03-10 at 11.13.35 PM

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.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Latest Posts
  1. No. 1 Duke advances to Elite 8 with win over No. 5 Utah

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:08 AM EDT

    (AP) AP

    No. 1 Duke advanced to the Elite 8 with a win in the South Regional over No. 5 Utah.

  2. Bradley announces Brian Wardle hired as head coach

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Wardle spent five seasons as coach at Green Bay.

  3. Caleb Martin posterizes Montrezl Harrell

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:39 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Caleb Martin’s only two points of the game.

  4. No. 2 Gonzaga gets past No. 11 UCLA to advance to Elite 8

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:26 PM EDT

    (AP) AP

    Gonzaga defeated UCLA to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time under head coach Mark Few.

  5. Andy Toole will remain the head coach at Robert Morris

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:22 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Andy Toole has been with Robert Morris for five seasons.

  6. Five-star Class of 2015 center commits to Maryland

    Mar 27, 2015, 8:32 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Under Armour) (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    Class of 2015 five-star center Diamond Stone committed during a surprise announcement on Friday night.

  7. Cat Barber records an assist while lying on the ground (VIDEO)

    Mar 27, 2015, 8:28 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    One of three assists in the first half for Cat Barber.

  8. Aaron Harrison says finger is sore, but won’t be a ‘big factor in the game’ against Notre Dame

    Mar 27, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Aaron Harrison left Thursday night’s game briefly with a finger injury.

  9. Indiana AD backs Tom Crean again, but says Hoosiers ‘not where we want to be’

    Mar 27, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT

    AP AP

    For the second time this month, the Indiana athletic director backed the school’s head coach.

  10. Back at the point where last season ended, No. 2 Arizona looks to end its Final Four drought

    Mar 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Arizona hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2001, but all involved are focused on Wisconsin and not that streak.

  11. Florida junior Michael Frazier II declares for 2015 NBA Draft

    Mar 27, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Frazier is projected as a second round pick.

  12. Rutgers sophomore forward to transfer

    Mar 27, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The 6-foot-7 forward has two years of eligibility left.

  13. Sources: Rick Barnes not expected to return to Texas

    Mar 27, 2015, 3:36 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Rick Barnes has been with Texas for 17 seasons.

  14. Steve Lavin and St. John’s ‘mutually agree’ to part ways

    Mar 27, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT

    Steve Lavin's three seniors have the NCAA tournament in their sights (AP Photo) AP

    Lavin had been with the St. John’s program for five years.

  15. Steve Prohm agrees to an extension with Murray State

    Mar 27, 2015, 1:31 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Prohm was one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel.