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. Top 25 Countdown: No. 14 Florida Gators

    Oct 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The Gators are good enough to win the SEC. They have enough question marks to finish outside the top 25 as well.

  2. 2014-2015 Season Preview: College Basketball’s Top 13 Dunkers (VIDEOS)

    Oct 21, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Michael Qualls, Arkansas (Getty Images) Michael Qualls, Arkansas (Getty Images)

    These are the players to keep an eye on if you like seeing aerial acrobatics.

  3. Kansas State loses redshirt freshman to transfer

    Oct 20, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

    La Salle v Kansas State Getty Images

    Kansas State is losing a redshirt freshman to transfer.

  4. Virginia lands four-star guard from 2016 class

    Oct 20, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

    (adidas) (adidas)

    Virginia got a very skilled guard in the 2016 class.

  5. Florida lands three-star 2015 wing

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT

    Billy Donovan AP

    Florida landed an in-state Class of 2015 wing to make it a four-man class.

  6. Memphis grabs a commitment from a 2016 guard

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT

    Josh Pastner AP

    Memphis found a 2016 guard to join center Nick Marshall in the recruiting class.

  7. Report: SMU big man has work to do to be eligible for season

    Oct 20, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Markus Kennedy AP

    SMU could be in trouble if a second-team all-league pick is ruled ineligible.

  8. Washington adds two forwards in 2015 class

    Oct 20, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    Indian Hills Community College Indian Hills Community College

    Lorenzo Romar now has a six-man recruiting class for 2015.

  9. Top 25 Countdown: No. 15 Oklahoma Sooners

    Oct 20, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    Buddy Hield (AP Photo) Buddy Hield (AP Photo)

    Oklahoma has a chance to be the second-best team in the Big 12, especially if a key player receives a waiver.

  10. St. Joseph’s loses another front court piece for the 2014-15 season

    Oct 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Phil Martelli AP

    The Hawks will have a thin front court this season.

  11. 2014-2015 Season Preview: Which new coaching hires will succeed?

    Oct 20, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    Steve Wojciechowski AP

    Five new hires that should thrive, and five who may end up struggling.

  12. Report: Former Oklahoma State guard leaves his junior college

    Oct 20, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT

    Stevie Clark, Jevon Taylor AP

    Stevie Clark was dismissed from Oklahoma State after a pair of bizarre incidents involving the police.

  13. Maryland lands commitment from junior college point guard

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

    Mark Turgeon

    Jaylen Brantley is Maryland’s first commitment in the class.

  14. No longer supplementary pieces, two Texans will lead the way at Weber State

    Oct 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Randy Rahe AP

    After riding the coattails of a pair of Californians, Weber State’s focus on recruiting the state of Texas will pay off this season.

  15. Former NBA guard says Emmanuel Mudiay ‘handled himself well’ in first game in China

    Oct 20, 2014, 10:39 AM EDT

    unnamed-1

    Mudiay has now played two preseason games as a professional.

  16. 2014-2015 Season Preview: Weber State won’t lack for challengers in Big Sky

    Oct 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Weber State's Joel Bolomboy (AP Photo) AP

    Weber State will be the preseason favorites, but Northern Arizona, Sacramento State and Eastern Washington will lead a group of challengers capable of pushing the reigning champs.