Remembering the Big East

MCT Kemba Walker and Jim Calhoun were part of UConn's 2011 title team.
MCT Kemba Walker and Jim Calhoun were part of UConn's 2011 title team.
Posted: March 13, 2013

IN 2011, THE Big East sent an astounding 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament. The year before, it sent eight. Last season, it was nine. This year figures to be in the same ballpark. At least one Big East team has been in each of the previous four Final Fours.

But the league's basketball power is diminishing quicker than a cyclist coming off performance-enhancing drugs. Conference realignment, which allowed the Big East to grow into a behemoth, is now dismantling it. It's all about football, of course, which doesn't help the basketball-heavy league.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh are moving to the ACC. Villanova and Georgetown and five other schools are forming their own league. Connecticut is in limbo. Rutgers is going to the Big Ten. Temple will join the new incarnation of the Big East.

Jane, stop this crazy thing.

"The Big East Tournament will be the last that we are all together the way it is," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "I'm very sentimental about the ending of the Big East. It's something that I thought was very special. It's one of the premier basketball conferences in the history of the game."

With that, here is a look at the Big East from 1979-2013:

Precious memories (Non-Villanova)

The six-overtime game: Big East Tournament games generally aren't quick. But Syracuse and Connecticut playing six overtimes in 2009 was absurd. The Orange almost won it in regulation, but Eric Devendorf missed getting off the winner by mere fingertips. Syracuse did not hold a lead in the first five overtimes, before winning, 127-117, in the sixth. A fun footnote is Syracuse beat West Virginia the very next night - in overtime.

Kemba: Connecticut junior Kemba Walker was a very good guard who became a household name by helping Connecticut win five games in 5 days to capture the Big East Tournament and the six more games to deliver the 2011 national championship. It was a run of unprecedented and epic greatness.

A miracle, by George: Tate George caught an 80-foot pass and hit a jump shot all within 1 second as Connecticut shocked Clemson in a 1990 Sweet 16 game. That was the first season UConn made the NCAAs under Jim Calhoun and it ushered in 2 decades of glory.

Gerry good: Syracuse entered the 2006 Big East Tournament 19-11 with a three-game losing streak that had them on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble. Gerry McNamara hit a game-winner in the first round against Cincinnati and continued to make plays as the Orange stunningly won four games in 4 nights to get the league's automatic NCAA bid. McNamara couldn't sustain the mo' as Syracuse was knocked out by Texas A&M in the first round.

And who could forget?

Chris Mullin's dead-eye shooting and those wonderful St. John's teams of the mid-'80s that are overshadowed by Villanova and Georgetown . . . Georgetown and St. John's playing each other four times in 1984-85: twice in the regular season, for the Big East championship and again in the Final Four. The Hoyas won three.

Ray Allen's acrobatic shot over Allen Iverson to win the 1996 Big East tourney for UConn . . . The backboard-shattering dunk by Pittsburgh's Jerome Lane in 1988 . . . The hug between coach John Thompson and guard Freddie Brown when Georgetown won the national title 2 years after Brown's monumental gaffe in the 1982 title game . . . Lou Carnesseca's sweater . . . Walter Berry blocking Pearl Washington's shot to clinch the 1986 Big East title . . . Pearl's general wizardry . . . Notre Dame beating Louisville in five OTs in 2013.

The blocked shot by Hakim Warrick (Friends' Central) to preserve the 2003 national championship for Syracuse, the only one in school history . . . Billy Curley and Boston College beating North Carolina and Indiana on its way to the 1994 Elite Eight . . . Providence's Marshon Brooks putting up a league-record 52 points in a one-point loss to Notre Dame in 2011. He broke the record of 48 set by Eric Murdock, also of Providence, 20 years earlier . . . Ty Shine coming off the bench with 26 points, including a killer three in overtime, to beat Temple and help Seton Hall get to the 2000 Sweet 16 . . . Scrappy guard Billy Donovan leading Providence to the 1987 Final Four long before he coached Florida to two titles . . . Keith Smart's jumper as Indiana beat Syracuse in the 1987 championship. Syracuse's Derrick Coleman had 19 rebounds that night. He was a freshman.

Five forgettable stories

Fightin' mad: Outlandish thuggery marred Big East games in the late 1980s and caused the league to draft a policy specifically to curb fighting.

Missing the grade: Connecticut's poor academic performance resulted in a 1-year postseason ban that is in effect for the 2012-13 academic year. UConn has been one of the Big East's greatest programs and will not compete in this year's conference tournament.

McLain's shame: Two years after helping Villanova win the 1985 national title, point guard Gary McLain confessed to using cocaine since high school, in the Final Four and before the Wildcats' championship visit with President Reagan at the White House.

Pitino scandal: Karen Cunagin Sypher was convicted of extortion after she attempted to blackmail Louisville coach Rick Pitino following an extramarital tryst.

Birthday-suit blues: The lowlight of Kevin Bannon's 4-year stint as Rutgers head coach (1997-01) was players running sprints in the nude for missing free throws during a practice drill.

Villanova memories

April 1, 1985: Beating mighty Georgetown capped the most unlikely postseason run this region ever has experienced. The Wildcats (at No. 8) still are the lowest seed ever to win the national title. On the way, they had to win at Dayton in the first round, beat top-seeded Michigan, get past Lenny Bias and Maryland, and then beat Dean Smith and North Carolina just to get to the Final Four. They took care of Keith Lee and Memphis before playing a nearly perfect game against the Hoyas - and still only won by two. That's how good Georgetown was. The Hoyas lost three games that season, by a total of five points.

March 28, 2009: Scottie Reynolds' mad dash through the Pittsburgh defense that ended with a layup at the buzzer to put the Wildcats in the Final Four. Villanova had run that play only seconds earlier and it resulted in a turnover.

Jan. 31, 1983: Sophomore Ed Pinckney had 27 points and 22 rebounds as Villanova rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Patrick Ewing and Georgetown, 68-67, at the Palestra. "This is my finest hour as a college player," Pinckney said after doing a postgame radio show as thousands of fans refused to leave the Palestra, "and I'm going to enjoy it."

Feb. 26, 1981: John Pinone hit a 17-footer at the buzzer in overtime as seventh-ranked Villanova beat ninth-ranked St. John's before a packed house at the Spectrum.

Jan. 22, 2005: More than 13,000 supporters trudged to the Wachovia Center to see the Wildcats dismantle second-ranked Kansas, 83-62. The snowstorm that kept the crowd light reminded Jay Wright of this 1983 game:

Feb. 13, 1983: A blizzard closed PHL and forced the Wildcats to take a 2-hour bus ride to Atlantic City before flying to North Carolina for a game against the top-ranked Tar Heels. Then, midway through the second half, Pinckney turned his ankle. But the 'Cats persevered and eventually beat Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins and the defending champs, 56-53.

And who could forget? ....

Getting hammered by Pittsburgh to close out the 1985 regular season, but rebounding to beat the Panthers 4 days later in the first round of the Big East Tournament. Without that victory, Villanova almost surely would have had a much different set of opponents in the NCAA tourney. If it would have gotten in, that is . . . Three years later, the sixth-seeded Wildcats made a run to the Elite Eight that included wins over third-seeded Illinois (Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill) and second-seeded Kentucky (Rex Chapman) . . . Will Sheridan hit a goaltended layup with 3 seconds left to beat Boston College and put 'Nova in the 2006 Elite Eight . . . Beat a pair of top-five teams within 4 days this past January (No. 5 Louisville, then No. 3 Syracuse) and then essentially clinched an NCAA bid by beating No. 5 Georgetown 6 weeks later . . . Leo Rautins' tip-in with three seconds left was the deciding bucket as Syracuse beat Villanova in triple overtime in the 1981 Big East Tournament championship. Syracuse hosted the 1981 tourney. It moved into Madison Square Garden in 1983 after a year in Hartford . . . Erased LSU's 21-point lead with 8 minutes left and rallied to beat the Tigers, 68-67, in 2007-08.

And finally . . .

We're going to yield the last word of this tribute to Tom Noie, of the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune.

"This year's tournament will be a lasting reminder of what the Big East meant to college basketball," he wrote, "and also a statement of how greed in today's world of college athletics wrecked it all."

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