It’s possible that in winning four games in four days, topped off by a 50-44 victory over Cincinnati in March, the last great Big East Conference Tournament title belongs to Louisville.
A league that sent a record 11 schools to the 2011 NCAA Tournament and eight teams on three other occasions will soon lose some of its traditional powers in favor of mid-majors with traditions etched in losing.
That doesn’t mean Madison Square Garden won’t host some memorable tournaments in years to come, even without Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
Southern Methodist’s hiring of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown to his first college job in a quarter century is the perfect example.
Though the conference’s overall profile will fall, realignment provides a chance for the newcomers to ramp up donations, basketball spending and winning.
Hello, Larry Brown, the only coach to win both an NCAA championship (1988 at Kansas) and an NBA title (2004 at Detroit).
Without a Big East contract sweetening the deal, it’s hard to believe he’d have ended up at SMU — a program that’s committing to $40 million in renovations to its Moody Coliseum and recently built a new practice facility.
Those schools replace charter members Syracuse and Pittsburgh, both headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference after next season. West Virginia is already off to the Big 12 Conference, having played its last game as a Big East member.
And more could leave, too, as rumors of Louisville and Cincinnati’s interest in Big 12 membership continue.
But SMU and the Big East have Larry Brown.
They have 18 teams set to tip in 2013.
They have hope that conference realignment moves geared toward football will somehow leave the Big East a strong men’s basketball league.
A few years down the road, this league might prove stronger than most expect depending on how the new programs leverage their transitions.
College basketball will never again see anything like the Big East that played from 2005-2011. It went from traditional powerhouse to absolute juggernaut after adding Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and others from Conference-USA.
The new Big East is an 18-team league that will only have 10 of those playing Big East football — that’s where real revenue is grown through the Bowl Championship Series — and there’s work to be done in maintaing the old league’s reputation. Or salvaging anything at all, because who knows which programs still want out.
Memphis and Temple will stand their ground, though none of UCF (22-11), Houston (15-15) or SMU (13-19) even made the NCAA Tournament last season. UCF went to the NIT, but the school will soon face sanctions following a recruiting scandal within its football and men’s basketball programs.
Still, transition into a major league — what SMU athletic director Steve Orsini called “the nation’s top basketball conference” — marks a chance for those current-day doormats to spruce up their programs, lest they become the Big East’s next DePaul.
It’s an opportunity for a fresh start — for fans, recruits, and the rest of the country to see programs taking college basketball seriously.
Thanks to the Big East, Houston could recreate Phi Slama Jama.
And UCF is primed to start its own legacy, maybe by regularly selling out its new 10,000-seat UCF Arena.
Both programs need a Larry Brown — not necessarily a new coach, but something to invigorate them. While the Big East is still big, now’s the time to act.
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