Will Big East basketball ever be the same? Will it ever regain the national exposure and reputation from the glory days of the 1980s and ‘90s?
With Villanova’s impressive 95- 51 drubbing of Oklahoma and a stunning 77-74 victory over North Carolina on a Kris Jenkins buzzer-beating three-pointer in the championship, one can certainly assume that all signs point to yes.
With five teams from the conference making the NCAA Tournament this season, the nation saw the grit and toughness the Big East plays with, highlighted by ‘Nova proving why the conference deserves more recognition by win- ning it all in dramatic fashion, but not surprisingly to those who have followed this conference night in and night out.
However, anyone who has seen the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary The Requiem of the Big East knows that this conference will never be what it once was. Classic conference rivalries of Georgetown-Syracuse, Villanova-Pittsburgh and Xavier-Cincinnati are no more.
If there was no conference realignment, recent years would have told the story of how Big East basketball is stronger than ever. The conference could have had a national champion in 2014, when Connecticut won the NCAA Tournament.
Six former Big East teams—and seven if you include Miami—made the Big Dance this season.
Of those seven, three made it the Sweet Sixteen, and Syracuse made an improbable run to the Final Four.
Instead, only the eventual champion, Villanova, won more than one game in this year’s tournament.And yet, the Big East has found a way to move on and grow as a conference. Since 2013, when the conference realignment occurred, the conference has stressed being a Catholic-affiliated, non-football conference that has still retained the tenacity that its basketball teams held when the conference was formed.
The rise of former mid-major programs in Butler, Xavier and Creighton have proved that being added has not resulted in a lack of play. These three teams have combined to go 192-114 since the realignment.
To top it all off, has it been mentioned that Villanova won it all this year? There is also talk of expanding the Big East even further. On March 25, Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen said he would advocate for the Big East to increase from 10 programs to 12, according to Sporting News. Those two teams? Wichita State and Gonzaga.
While those schools do fit the mold of predominantly Catholic, basketball-oriented schools, Gonzaga is geographically nowhere near any of the other Big East members, and Wichita State does not share the ideal of a small, Catholic, urban institution like many of the current schools.
This idea, Rasmussen stated in the article, is far-fetched, being that conference commissioner Val Ackerman and current university presidents are not looking to expand the conference at the moment.
Although this idea seems to be far from even a preliminary thought, it does motion to the fact that the Big East is getting closer to reaching a definitive identity that many believe is lacking.
While the current mentality of the way basketball is played in the Big East remains the same since its inception in 1979, we are not in 1979 anymore, or even 2013 for that matter.
Change is here for now, and not going anywhere anytime soon.
Matthew Lamb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org