The Final Big East Tourney As We Know It: Reflections and Thank YousPosted by Nick Fasulo on March 17th, 2013
Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent. He has been at the Big East Tournament this week taking in all of the action. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.
Austin Croshere. That name evokes the first true memory I have of Big East basketball. I’m not even making this up for effect.
It was 1995. My family had finally taken the plunge and signed up for, that’s right, cable television. I was young. Third or fourth grade, and nearly all of my college basketball consumption to date was through March Madness on CBS. I really liked Duke, but I also really didn’t know any better. Then when the number of available channels on my family’s living room television ballooned from five to 55, I became exposed to a whole new world. Most importantly for the development of my nascent mind: Championship Week.
In that year’s Big East Tournament, Austin Croshere was a sophomore role player at Providence College. The Friars were the defending champions, but had lost key players from a season before and limped into Madison Square Garden with a 7-11 conference record. In the Friars’ quarterfinal game against Syracuse, the first sporting event broadcast on cable in my home, Croshere produced an unforgettable performance. He scored a career-high 28 points – 18 of those in the game’s final 10 minutes – and led the Friars to a dramatic upset overtime victory. The New York Post‘s Howard Blatt called Croshere “an outrageous force” in his game recap. It was truly mesmerizing theater, and something you couldn’t have watched on channels 6, 8 or 13.
On its proverbial headstone, the now old Big East Conference should have an epitaph that is something along the lines of “Never be the same again.” For me, its existence began with Austin Croshere, and ended with Montrezl Harrell. Live, right in front of me. A moment in time where I actually believe I was in the center of the universe.
Since the tournament expanded to quite a few more teams and commencing on a Tuesday, the real ebb and flow we’ve grown to love has taken a few days to get up to speed. In this, the final Big East Tournament As We Know It, it really got going in between the quarterfinal match-ups between Louisville-Villanova and Marquette-Notre Dame. The Cardinals handled the Wildcats with ease, but their press conference was delayed due to a meet and greet – and Instragram session – with former President Bill Clinton. That was the first real jolt for this tournament. Meanwhile, the Irish and Golden Eagles were setting the tone on the court with a back and forth pace that kept the Garden relatively full until the final buzzer. By that time, a handful of fans had been ejected as a result of a long day of basketball and perhaps binge drinking. The back and forth between Drunk Bros. vs. Security Bros. with New York City flair until Drunk Bros. conceded with an ounce of force served as a nice little side show.
Entering Friday, the Syracuse-Georgetown matchup we hoped and wished for was granted, ending in a classic overtime match-up that fell in favor of a pro-Syracuse crowd. It was a game that signaled the end of a conference rivalry between two teams that many in the arena agreed were the two most powerful and important programs to the growth of Dave Gavitt’s Big East.
On Saturday, the final Big East Tournament championship game as we knew it provided an electricity that, well, let’s be honest, will probably not be topped by the new Big East for a very long time. The anticipation of all those in attendance for Syracuse-Louisville was a unique vibe. People got to their seats early. We all wanted the game to start. We never wanted the game to end. Moments before the second half of the championship game commenced, Michael Carter-Williams yelled to each of his teammates: “This is the Big East Tournament.” The awareness was not enough, as the Cardinals outscored the Orange by nearly 30 points in the second half. Dropping the mic as the 34th and final installment of this event came to an end. “This is a moment that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” an exhausted Rick Pitino said after the game. “They say New York is the city that never sleeps, well, tonight, after that week, I am going to need some rest.”
But aside from the actual great moments that this tournament created to earn its reputation as the ultimate and perhaps most important conference tournament for the past 20+ years, it’s the location that truly made it so special and separated the Big East from its competitors. Sure the Pac-12 has often held its conference tournament in Los Angeles, and the Big Ten frequently flips between big market Chicago and hoops heaven Indianapolis, but the sophistication that New York City adds to any event, sporting or non, is unbeatable, and that element is what truly made this Big East Tournament great.
The blend of rambunctious college life with the sophistication and speed of Big Apple life (grown men, well-off grown men, were seen chanting “Let’s Go Big East” in rhythm in a bathroom urinal row) created an atmosphere that could not be beat. The Big East Tournament mattered to people who mattered, in a part of the country that often overlooks big-time college athletics. Wall Street Bro co-mingled with College Bro, and they both get along just fine.
So with the Big East As We Know It officially closed, it’s fitting and time for some formal thank yous. To Ray Allen’s Floater, Taliek Brown’s Heave, Kemba Walker’s Step Back, Gerry McNamara’s Run, 1:22 a.m. on March 13th 2009, and players like Julius Page, Troy Bell, Kevin Pittsnogle, Bootsy Thornton Da’Sean Butler, Mike Gansey, Khalid El-Amin, Scoonie Penn, Kerry Kittles… and even Victor Page.
From Austin to Montrezl, and the foundation that was set well before I even had formed an affinity for basketball, there will never been anything like that Big East as we know it and its grand basketball tournament.