Villanova win over Louisville 1 of last of its kind

Posted: January 23, 2013

THIS WAS the type of night when the impending disintegration of the Big East Conference hit home in Philadelphia.

Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, Villanova upset fifth-ranked Louisville, 73-64, in front of 11,887 fans. It was a good night that ended with students rushing the court.

But with the Cardinals said to be jumping ship to the Atlantic Coast Conference as early as next season, it was likely their last appearance in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.

The same scenario will play out on Saturday when 'Nova plays Syracuse in South Philly for the 12th and last time as members of the Big East.

It's sad.

There's no doubt that Villanova and the other schools of the so-called "Catholic Seven" did the right thing when they decided to break away from a Big East Conference that had devolved from the one they had known.

When BCS football schools Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers and Louisville announced they were leaving the Big East, the fates of the longstanding basketball-centric schools - Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette and DePaul - were left to the whims of newcomers primarily interested in finding a piece of the BCS football pie.

Five of those universities spent more than 3 decades building the Big East from ground zero to the best basketball conference in the country.

Their lifeblood is big-time college basketball, and that wasn't going to remain the case with the changes in the conference.

Considering its core members, whatever additions the seven breakaways get to join them should produce a league with instant basketball credibility as far as ranking power and NCAA Tournament bids.

But it still won't be what the old Big East was, and ultimately, that's going to affect the status of the marquee college basketball games being played at the Wells Fargo Center.

Since the Wells Fargo Center opened as the CoreStates Center in 1996-97, Villanova has played 60 regular-season games there. From 2006-07 to the end of this season, 'Nova will have played 31 games in the 20,000-seat arena.

And while only 15 percent of the games have been sellouts, the 16,249 fans Villanova has averaged there is nearly 2 1/2 times the capacity of The Pavilion (6,500), the on-campus home that has sold out every regular-season game since the start of 2001.

That's a lot of revenue for routinely switching three or four marquee matchups from the Main Line to South Philly.

What's interesting about Villanova, the Big East and the Wells Fargo Center is that the Wildcats have scheduled only 12 nonconference games there. Because of the attractiveness of the Big East, Villanova only had to move the right conference home games to assure a crowd double the normal size.

That also speaks of what the Wildcats are going to lose when the Big East meltdown is finally complete.

Syracuse (11 times at Wells Fargo), Connecticut (10), Notre Dame (seven) and Louisville (five) will no longer be certain Villanova home games after realignment.

Georgetown (seven) is the only member of the "Catholic Seven" that has played Villanova in South Philly more than twice. DePaul and Seton Hall have never been scheduled in Wells Fargo.

None of the schools mentioned as possible targets for expansion - Butler, Saint Louis, Xavier, Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth and Dayton - has the profile to match Syracuse, Connecticut, Notre Dame or Louisville.

That means Villanova will likely have to look more out of conference for games to bring to the Wells Fargo, and that's not going to be easy.

"It's so early we don't even know what things are going to look like," Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro said. "I think we'll have some teams that will be attractive enough for people to want to see.

"But we're committed to continuing to bring big games [to Wells Fargo] as much as possible. That might mean we have to step outside and play nonconference games, as we have done from time to time."

Without the conference RPI weight of a whole Big East Conference behind it, Villanova becomes a high-risk/low-reward road game, and most schools pause before stepping into situations like that. They usually ask for concessions that end up being one-sided.

As a member of the Big East, Villanova never had to worry about things like that. It almost always negotiated on even terms or simply stepped away.

"I think it gets to be a little more complicated, but I don't think it's a challenge we cannot overcome," Nicastro said.

"It's a little early to be kind of contemplating this, but if we can do it in a more systematic way where we have challenge events or scheduling alliances with other conferences, then it's sort of built in automatically."

Still, it won't be long before Philadelphia realizes how much it's going to miss the old Big East.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/Smallwood

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