Six years ago, Madison Square Garden was home to the Big East Tournament, as usual. But this time there was a different feeling in the air. Major changes were coming: a complete realignment of the conference.
Longtime Big East schools Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Louisville would leave to go the powerhouse ACC. Meanwhile, UCONN, Cincinnati, and USF would be leaving to form the AAC, and Rutgers to the Big Ten.
Without a true identity, the conference suddenly shrunk to ten schools. Legendary coaches left the conference for good, and longtime rivalries vanished into thin air.
Many thought the Big East would eventually end, with many saying it couldn’t sustain the success it had for decades. Some even called the once powerful conference the daunted phrase “Mid-Major”.
The Last Hurrah?
But what those critics didn’t predict was that Big East would reinvent itself with a chip on their shoulder and fully embrace its underdog identity. The conference added Creighton, Butler, and Xavier in hopes that these gritty schools would help bring old school values to the new Big East.
However, even with these additions, many thought this would be the last hurrah for the conference.
Fast forward to today, The Big East again witnessed a streak of sell-outs for the Big East Tournament which ended in a Championship Game pitting Villanova against Seton Hall, two original members of the Big East and now bitter rivals since its reconstruction.
Since the realignment, an original member of the conference has won the conference tournament each season (Villanova 2015, 2017-2019, Providence 2014, Seton Hall 2015). While the winners may come from the original Big East, the conference would need more than their tournament to truly get their name back in the running as the top conference in college basketball.
The Big East saw two of their legends as players return to coach their alma maters. Chris Mullen returned to St. Johns, and his long-time foe and friend Patrick Ewing returned to Georgetown.
Villanova has won two national championships since 2014, beating North Carolina in their first go around and then Michigan in their second trip.
The Big East is Officially Back
This year, though, the Big East showed the country its true power.
While DePaul finished in last place once again, it beat top teams in the conference, including Georgetown, Seton Hall, and St. Johns. At the same time, Xavier, Crieghton, and Butler all showed they won’t be pushed around as outsiders to conference lore.
Georgetown is looking up, as freshmen James Akinjo and Mac McClung have become a notorious duo in the conference for both their abilities and toughness. The same goes for the Hauser brothers at Marquette, who are a forced to be reckoned with.
St. Johns has proven they are just as good as everyone else, even though the results haven’t always been there. Myles Powell and Seton Hall have fully embraced the New Jersey toughness as they’ve returned to relevance in what was supposed to be a down year. The Pirates beat top teams like Kentucky, Villanova, and Marquette (twice).
Meanwhile, Villanova has taken the face of the villain, as they’ve repeatedly shown that it’ll take a lot to knock them out of the national picture.
As a conference that was once in disarray because schools wanted to compete with better competition in other sports, one truth still holds: the Big East will be around for long time.
As March Madness rolls around, keep your eye on the likes of Villanova, Marquette, and Seton Hall to make a big run in the Big Dance.
Questions about filling out your bracket? Hit up the Sneaky Plays crew on Twitter to get the upper hand on your friends and co-workers!
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