Nostalgic for the “Old” Big East Tournament

The best time of the year for college basketball has arrived. Before the main course of the NCAA Tournament, we get the conference tournaments, where teams in the smaller Division I conferences look to lock up a bid to the dance with a championship, and in the larger conferences, teams seen as locks look to improve their stock, even if they don’t win their tournament and those looking for one last chance to get in try to make a miracle run.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, there was no NBA, and the closest thing to professional basketball in the city was the Pittsburgh Panthers. What made it even more exciting growing up there in the 2000s was Pitt being very good and being in the Big East Conference, knowing that in March they would play at the world’s most famous arena: Madison Square Garden.

Today, Pitt basketball is in the ACC and has fallen on hard times. Notre Dame is also a program I follow, and they too used to be in the “old” Big East before it collapsed. So my attention normally turns to the ACC tournament over the current Big East tournament these days. I hate that it constantly switches venues. Knowing the Big East would always have its tournament in Manhattan made it special (and still does).

Man, the Big East tournament provided some great games back then! Especially with Pittsburgh always a contender during the 2000s. Even though they were more times the bridesmaid than the bride at the end, it was always good basketball.

I also remember the bad moments. I was sitting in a beachside restaurant in Myrtle Beach watching as Connecticut knocked off Pittsburgh in the 2011 Big East tournament quarterfinals, as the Huskies would go on to win the tournament and eventually the national championship. My dislike of UConn was very strong in high school and college. Syracuse was a close second.

The Big East is celebrating its 40th year playing its tournament at Madison Square Garden. Rewatching the ESPN 30 for 30 “Requiem for the Big East” for a fourth, or fifth time recently, definitely made me nostalgic for the old Big East that saw the basketball-only schools break off, add a few other Catholic universities, and eventually welcomed UConn back, while everyone else became a part of the newly-formed American Athletic Conference, which is about to become a version of Conference USA as Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida jump ship soon.

The Big East in its current state feels foreign to me. Its games and tournament do not air on ESPN networks. FOX and CBS Sports Network carry games.

Living in Cincinnati means part of the city is Big East country due to Xavier, but it just doesn’t feel right to me.

To be fair, the original conference did become less “East” as it went further south and west beyond its original seven back in 1980 (Syracuse, Providence, Boston College, Seton Hall, Georgetown and St. John’s). For the catholic schools that broke off and took the name with them in 2014, it’s easy to understand why Xavier, Creighton and Butler were added to make the conference more whole.

I’ve tried finding the nostalgia in matchups like St. John’s-Georgetown or Villanova-Providence lately, but it’s hard since I don’t a have a team to follow in the Big East. I know Xavier’s campus sits less than 10 minutes from my apartment, but I’m the person who longs for the old Big East that used to play in the famous venue the “new” Big East still plays in today.

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