It's one thing to bag three of an NCAA tournament's top four seeds. But in that alone there's no proof, only promise. And the Big East, touted as the college game's preeminent league since November, is keeping its promises. And then some.
In Thursday night's regional semifinals, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Villanova made clear that the Big East merits the adjective suggested by a fusion of the words in its name: beasty. Finesse, those three teams made clear, is
Thus here we are: If Big East tournament finalists Louisville and Syracuse also punch their Elite Eight tickets tonight, it would represent the first time one conference has sent so many teams so deep into March since the tourney field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The Big East's NCAA tourney survivors are just that, survivors. They play through. Nothing seems to faze them -- not no-calls, not incidental contact, not ugly wins, not (to go briefly back to the Big East tournament here) multiple overtimes or double byes. Even carpers like me -- I harp on the lousy free-throw shooting of four of the league's remaining teams (only Villanova sinks better than 68 percent) -- give them no pause.
Indeed, the Duke mystique made no impression on Villanova, 77-54 victors in one East Region semifinal last night. So what if
Neither a freshly uncovered scandal nor an opponent that has long served as exemplar of the Big Ten, college basketball's original smash-mouth league, fazed UConn. The Huskies whupped Purdue 72-60 in their West Region semifinal by bringing their own relentlessness to the Boilermakers' half-court discipline.
How did the Big East come to sit so majestically astride the game? It's partly the result of the league's expansion in 2006 to 16 teams. Out went football-minded Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College; in came the cream of Conference USA, which gave the league a foothold in the deep recruiting pools of the urban Midwest.
The league's best teams aren't clones of one another. But most have depth, experience and backcourt poise. Three tune their ears to current or future Hall of Famers in
During the regular season, Calhoun fretted the league would wind up beating one another up and stumble come March. The opposite has happened: The Big East has sent forth deep and resourceful teams adapted, as that Vegas tout
Thus there's a good chance that Detroit's Ford Field will resemble Rupp Arena in 1985, when three of the Final Four called the Big East home.
Indeed, as I write this, it's still possible that the league
Either way, it would be quite a 30th birthday present to itself.