Memories of the Big East, as it once was

Georgetown will face Syracuse today in the Big East Conference tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

If there’s ever been a more fitting showdown for the final Big East tourney as we once knew it, it’s a matchup of the Orange and the Hoyas, two of the original members of the old league, two of the titans of the Big East.

OK, so James Southerland isn’t exactly Billy Owens and Otto Porter isn’t the same as Reggie Williams, but the meaning is still there. Sure, it’s Boeheim vs. Thompson, but this time, it’s the big, burly Thompson’s kid, not the menacing giant with the towel draped on his shoulder.

But it’s almost like karma that these two teams face each other today for the very last time _ unless they somehow meet in the Final Four. Syracuse took the ACC’s money and ran, a move that really didn’t make much sense for their entire athletic program, considering Syracuse is only beginning to become relevant in football again after many years of dormancy.

I don’t care what bowl game Syracuse goes to in the years to come, because the school was, is and always will be a basketball school _ make that a basketball powerhouse.

And we all know what Georgetown is.

But Syracuse leaving for the greener (as in $$$$$) pastures of the ACC can’t exactly excite the rabid followers of Orange basketball. Are they getting pumped up right now for that classic Syracuse-Clemson showdown? How about the Orange against Virginia Tech? Or even Virginia, for that matter? I just cannot see 30,000 screaming basketball junkies jamming the Carrier Dome for those games. Sure, Duke and North Carolina will stir some interest, but the rest of the ACC? There are no rivalries there.

Not like Syracuse-St. John’s in the heyday, with Pearl Washington going up againstChris Mullin. Or Syracuse against Villanova or Syracuse-UConn. Those were basketball games.

So this is the final year of the Big East as we once knew it. Sure, there will be a conference called the Big East next year and some of the familiar names, like Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova will be part of it, as will my alma mater, Marquette. They’ll even play the tournament in Madison Square Garden, the arena that helped to build the Big East.

But will it be the Big East? Hardly. Not without Syracuse. Not without Pitt. Those were Big East mainstays.

For me, the Big East will be 1985, when three members of the league went to the Final Four in Lexington, Kentucky and Villanova shocked the world by stealing the NCAA title. Earlier that year, St. John’s and Georgetown met in a regular season game at the Garden, with Patrick Ewing going up against Mullin and Walter Berry. They were the top two teams in the country, facing off on a Wednesday night, with the Garden abuzz. Lou Carnesecca had that ugly sweater and Thompson unveiled a matching one. It was classic showmanship.

That game was so huge that practically every sports fan in Jersey City flocked to bars in Bayonne, because Jersey City didn’t have cable television yet. I remember standing the entire game watching in a now-defunct bar in Bayonne, where a Domino’s pizza store now stands, and the place was packed with Jersey City basketball fans.

There were other great moments, like Pearl Washington’s three-quarter court running shot, like the 1996 tourney final pitting Allen Iverson against Ray Allen, like the six overtime classic between UConn and Syracuse, like the sharpshooting of Gerry McNamara.

There were even the two Big East Tournament titles won by local favorite Seton Hall, championships thought to be unreachable when the Hall was the doormat of the league in its inception.

It was a basketball haven for Hall of Fame coaches. Just think of all the coaching greats that participated in that league. Thompson, Boeheim, Carnesecca, Calhoun, Pitino _ all Hall of Famers.

So the Big East as we knew it ends this weekend. It should remain a strong basketball conference for the years to come with the Catholic 7, along with Xavier and Butler, forming a solid conglomeration.

But can it match what it once was? No way, no how.

And we can thank the pursuit, the greed of the almighty green, for the league’s passing.

It’s basically like Dallas replacing Barbara Bel Geddes with Donna Reed or the Three Stooges replacing Curly with Shemp. Sure, the show must go on, but it’s just not the same show.

And for a basketball purist like me, it’s sad.

I was already in love with college basketball by the time the Big East came around during my senior year of high school. I already watched Bill Walton capture my fancy with the UCLA teams and saw David Thompson became David Skywalker during his North Carolina State days in the early 1970s.

And of course, I was hooked by the time my future school, Marquette, won it all in 1977.

But the Big East became my home. I gobbled up those games, those tournaments, those memories.

It’s a shame that it all ends, the way it was, this weekend. That’s why Georgetown-Syracuse tonight proves to be something special, one for the ages, one last dance to remember what it once was.

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I am so totally through with Mike Francesa.

The blow-hard egotistical windbag sealed that deal earlier this week, when he took yet another passing blow at the New York Jets and especially head coach Rex Ryan.

Now, I’m not a Jets fan, but Francesa made it a point to open his show Wednesday morning taking more pot shots at the Jets and Ryan. However, this time, the narcoleptic know-it-all actually went as far as to say that maybe the Jets could play all four quarterbacks at the same time. He thought that was funny.

But when he went as far as to say, “And where is Rex during all of this? He’s invisible. He thinks he lost so much weight that he can’t be seen.”

Now, Francesa should have taken a slice of life from his former good friend Bill Parcells,who used to be as thick as thieves together, owning horses together, and now don’t speak. Gee, I wonder why.

Where in the world does Francesa get off criticizing someone for losing weight? As Parcells once said,  it was time for Francesa to take a long look “at the man in the glass,” because Francesa is beyond portly.

I’ve had it with Francesa’s condescending tone to callers, his hypocritical approach with interview guests, where he kisses their collective asses when they’re in front of him, then blasts them when they’re gone. I’m done with him constantly repeating himself, over and over, to the point of annoyance.

Did anyone catch his reporting of the new Pope? It’s beyond ridiculous. And for that, he gets paid in the millions.

But when you’re a fat ass (like I am as well), you have no right to make fun of someone’s weight loss. If you are in dire need of a salad to go along with that Diet Coke you swill, then you cannot poke fun at a guy like Ryan, who had the lapband surgery and has dropped over 100 pounds.

I’m done with him. I was an avid listener and even called the mo-mo to knock him down a few pegs when he was wrong about St. Peter’s playing Monmouth in that 6 a.m. game a few years ago. He had no idea what he was talking about.

Now, I won’t listen. I have better things to tune in to. Like 80s on 8 on XM Radio.

Come on Eileen from Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Much better than blowhard Francesa any day.
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You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.comwww.theobserver.com andwww.dailyrecord.com, where I have a great feature about famed figure skater JoJo Starbuck and her twin sons. Check it out.

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Posted on March 25, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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