|The Big East is playings its final conference tournament as the conference we grew up knowing. (wikipedia.com)|
For years, the Big East Tournament has been a great appetizer to the NCAA Tournament a week later. Regularly holding the title as one of the most competitive and best conferences in college basketball, the Big East has for years put on a show in the world's best basketball arena: Madison Square Garden.
The Big East Tournament as we know it will come to an end Saturday with the final championship game with a stacked lineup of contenders. The new Big East will still have solid teams, yet is an interesting group, but it won't be the same.
One of the reasons that the Big East is so popular is the great matchups that form long before the title game. Starting as early as the quarterfinal rounds, nationally ranked teams and conference rivals have to begin the brutal march to Saturday, with no cakewalks thrown in. Take this year for example, as No. 1-seed Georgetown has to face a 22-win Cincinnati team in the quarterfinals today, while No. 19 Syracuse and No. 17 Pittsburgh and No. 24 Notre Dame and No. 12 Marquette face off later in the day. By having so many talented teams playing each other in the early rounds really makes the title game wide open. Any of the teams just mentioned, not even including No. 2-seed Louisville, could win the Big East Tournament this year.
The conference tournament that gave us so many great moments (those Georgetown games in the 1980s, Kemba Walker's amazing tournament performance in 2011 to lead UCONN to the title and the Syracuse/UCONN six-overtime thriller in 2009 just to name a few) has one more chance to wow the country with great matchups and memorable performances. Let's hope the tournament give fans a high note or two to end the era on, because an underdog in the championship game, an overtime thriller or a few buzzer-beaters is what we've grown to expect from the Big East Tournament, and it would be a fitting way to say goodbye.
The motivation to win should be even higher in this final year. Whenever dealing with the breakup of a group (relationship, business, AC/DC cover band) you always want to be the one to walk out on top. There is a mountain of pride and bragging rights awaiting Saturday and the tournament's winner, who can always say it was the Big East champion in the final year of the "old" Big East. For those teams leaving for the ACC, this would be a great way to go out and a trophy to hold over the heads of those left behind. For a member of the Catholic 7, it proves your new conference will have legitimate contenders. Every team has a reason to win, and with the stakes this high, the competition should be fierce.
In the age of conference realignment, we should be used to change. Nearly every fan base in the country has been affected by it over the past three or four years. While change is natural, it is disappointing to have to say goodbye to some of the most thrilling and hyped moments of the sport, and the Big East Tournament was definitely one of those.