Farewell to the Big East Tournament, But Not to the Memories

NEW YORK, N.Y.-- How do you sum up a tournament that has single handedly changed the face of college basketball over the past 34 years? This is all I could think about as I sat on the center of the court at Madison Square Garden (yes the goofball above) while covering a tournament that I looked forward to every year growing up. Whether it was friends wanting to catch a movie in middle school, or a girlfriend in college wanting to have one of those "date nights", there were no plans that got in the way of me watching the Big East tournament. But, why is this the case? I'll do my best to explain while referencing my trip to New York for the tourney's last hurrah when I can.

The City. New York, New York. The city so nice they...well you get it. I’ve always looked at the New York City area as it’s own little district because it seems incomparable with any other destination in the country. The streets have a specific feel, and there is never a dull moment. The fast paced environment and entertainment generated scene present the perfect platform for the Big East to call home for its annual tournament.

Madison Square Garden. I honestly should just end this paragraph here because MSG really needs no explanation for why it's such an amazing venue for a basketball tournament, but I will continue anyway. The arena itself has been renovated over the past few years so I cannot speak for what it looked like for the majority of its tenure of hosting the Big East tournament, but I can imagine it looks similar today as it did in the past.

It’s hard to describe what I felt walking out of the same tunnel as the players and looking up at the vast spiral ceiling of the arena and the glowing court in front of me. Without getting too cheesy, you simply get the feeling that you are in a historic arena even if you were unaware of its past. I was always curious of how the fans could see what they were doing because on television it always appeared as though the lighting on the crowd was very dim, but it was less of a disparity than I had imagined in person. Either way the court still had a unique glow that is second to none and is a loud reminder that you are in a truly special spot.

The Passion. As I entered Madison Square Garden a few hours before the tip-off of the opening game of the tournament between Seton Hall and USF, I was told that a press conference that was going to announce the Big East coach and player of the year was about to begin. So, without needing much time to lull over whether to attend or not, I made the smart choice and flew down to the conference room at a Usain Bolt-like pace. As I walked in, right in front of me was John Thompson. No, not John Thompson III (even though he was also there to receive coach of the year honors) but the John Thompson. The same John Thompson that led his Georgetown team to an NCAA championship while emphasizing a very physical style of play throughout his team. This is when the passion and tradition of the Big East truly hit me, and I was doing everything I could to not freak out a little on the inside that I was even in the same room as such a legendary figure in the college basketball landscape. It must have been a similar feeling to what an intoxicated college student feels when they stumble upon a 24-hour pizza place at 2 A.M. on a Saturday; I knew I was in the only place I wanted to be at that very moment.

From the classic Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry, to the fabulous players that would go on to dominate in the NBA like Alan Iverson and Ray Allen, this league has seen plenty of passion every night and it always lived up to its own hype. You knew that every year in early March you were going to see teams that were stacked with talent and grit from top to bottom that featured stars that weren’t afraid to rough it up and do anything possible to win. This tradition and culture of the Big East is what separated itself from every other conference in the country and still does today. It was fascinating to just see the determination every team put into the tournament this year, knowing that all they wanted to do was leave the conference as we know it on top. The Big East may be separating, but that passion and tradition will never be forgotten.

The Classics. When I think of classic college basketball games, the first thing that comes to my mind are the Friday and Saturday matchups of the Big East tournament. And to be specific I’m only talking about the games I’ve seen on television in my time, because I’m not a huge fan of people who act like they were around when games happened before they even existed, its just not a good look.

While I grew up following Boston College, I was never a big fan of UConn, but it's hard to look back at the Big East tournament and not have the Huskies on the top of the classic games list. Look back no further than 2011 when UConn made such an improbable run on the back of Kemba Walker, winning five games in five days to capture the Big East crown. Or, sticking with the five wins in five days plan, when Gerry McNamara led Syracuse, who was the No. 9 seed in the tournament, to an improbable conference title, winning all five games by a combined total of eight points. And who can forget the six overtime thriller between Syracuse and UConn that featured too many clutch moments to count on two hands. There are an endless amount of classic results from the Big East tournament just in the past decade, and this is just another reason why you could never miss the later, or even earlier rounds of this event.

The People. There are reporters from all over the country that make it a priority to get to Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament and I can promise you that this is not the case with some of the other major six conferences. Just in sitting by the court at halftime of a game between Syracuse and Seton Hall I sparked up a conversation with one of the referees and he gave me a good feel for how much passion and pride he had seen in these tournament games first hand over the years. Everyone I came in contact with at the Garden, from ESPN reporter Andy Katz, to Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, not a single person had a bad thing to say about the Big East tournament. And how can you blame them? Each of the aforementioned reasons are plenty enough for any college basketball fan to fall in love with the thrilling tournament. And fall in love we have.

So, it looks like this is it. Farewell, Big East. The memories you have created will far outlast any controversy that has graced your conference over the past few years. Those memories are what will truly live on forever.

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