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The beginning of the end of the Big East tournament starts today

Mar 12, 2013, 12:37 PM EDT

Big East Future Basketball AP

My first memory of college basketball is a Big East tournament game. It was just a couple week before my 11th birthday. I was on the couch with my dad, watching UConn — and my hero at the time, Ray Allen — take on Georgetown and Allen Iverson in the 1996 Big East title game. Georgetown pushed their lead up to 11 points with about three minutes left, and thinking that the game was over, my dad tried to get me to go to sleep.

I wasn’t budging. I somehow managed to negotiate my way into a couple more possessions, which led to seeing Allen’s miracle floater and Jerome Williams’ inability to make a layup live.

It was awesome.

I can pretty much pinpoint my college hoops fandom to that exact moment in time, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that seeing that shot go in changed my life. Not in some hokey, romanticized way, but if I don’t become a college hoops junkie, I’m not doing this for a living today. That shot was what got me hooked. It was what created my need for a fix on a nightly basis from November through early April.

Which is why today is so depressing.

Tuesday marks the beginning of the end of the Big East as we know it.

The last first round of the Big East tournament will kick off, as South Florida and Seton Hall square off before Rutgers and DePaul tangle in the nightcap, which will undoubtedly spawn thousands of jokes from the twitter comedians about how empty MSG is and how bad DePaul has been.

It’s been an annual tradition, really. We make fun of the first day or two of games before enjoying just how amazing it is to see the Garden packed at Noon on a Thursday for a quarterfinal game. And while the Big East will live on with the Catholic 7, it won’t be the same without UConn, Syracuse or Pitt taking part.

Wistful Big East hoop fans and disappointed media members aren’t the only ones sad to see the end of the Big East as we know it.

The players that made all those memories that we, as fans, cherish, they’re none-too-pleased about the recent conference realignment developments, as you might imagine:

“To see the way it’s going now, it’s kind of sad for me because I was there,” Anthony said. “I was in it. I was part of those games. I was part of those rivalries. I was part of the Big East family.”

So were Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning. So were Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson. So were Ray Allen and Emeka Okafor.

“I don’t know who is in the Big East now, to be honest,” said Okafor, a former Connecticut Husky who plays center for the Washington Wizards. “I could tell you who was in it when I was in it. But now I’m all confused.”

I’ve come to grips with it at this point. It’s a business. It’s not about fans or tradition, it’s about dollar signs.

Doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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