The world's most famous arena is once again hosting the country's most famous conference basketball tournament. Perhaps, the former most famous basketball tournament to be more specific.
Of all the conference tournaments that happen in March, the Big East tournament has been the most noted one over the years. Taking place at Madison Square Garden, showing off some of the best talent in college basketball. The tournament has had everything. The excitement, the intensity and the atmosphere made it stand out.
From just watching the first few games in this years tournament, this current Big East conference, which is now reserved for only basketball, seems to be missing something. Something that had made this tournament in particular, different than the others.
That missing piece are the schools that went away when the old Big East split up.
The history of the conference has always centered around the names connected to the schools. In college basketball, some coaches are bigger stars than their players.
Men like Jim Boehiem, Rick Pitino and Tim Calhoun were the big names associated with the Big East. Other guys like Jamie Dixon, Bob Huggins and even Mike Brey became well-known names in college basketball over the years.
Rivalries like Syracuse-Georgetown highlighted the Big East schedule. Pittsburgh and West Virginia had their "Backyard Brawl" with Interstate 79 and just under a 90 minute drive separating them.
But all of this is gone.
Pittsburgh and Syracuse's move to the ACC was an early sign that the Big East was about to break up.
West Virginia saw the warning signs and bailed a year earlier than the Panthers and Orange for the Big 12.
Notre Dame followed Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC.
Louisville is spending a year in the ruins of what used to be a part of the Big East in football and basketball, the American Athletic Conference, before moving to the ACC in the fall.
Connecticut is stuck. Marooned on that misfit island that is the AAC with no place for their basketball program to go.
The seven Catholic schools, four of which that founded the original conference, have moved on, kept the Big East name, brought in Xavier, Creighton and Butler to fill the void the five former members left, and continue to host their tournament at Madison Square Garden. For some, it is easier to move on than it is for others.
This weekend in Manhattan will have a different feel. To know that Syracuse and Connecticut, two of the original founders, are not there. The games are not on ESPN like they have been in the past. The conference needed a new television contract, and landed with FOX Sports, with all the conference games being shown on FOX Sports 1. Making it a tougher task for some to locate the channel number on their cable.
Life after the breakup has reached this stage, the big stage in which the Big East always shines. The conference is still well known, and has a possible number one seed in the NCAA Tournament in Villanova. But there will be an emptiness felt for some time by the schools who left that put Big East basketball on the map.
Those are memories we can all look back on. More recent ones like the six overtime game between founding schools Syracuse and UConn in the 2009 quarterfinals, or the 2011 tournament in which the Huskies were a nine seed, and needed to win the Big East championship in order to make the dance. UConn did win the conference title and topped that with a National Championship.
New memories will be made in this new era of the Big East tournament. Seton Hall got it started with a buzzer beater win over top-ranked Villanova Thursday afternoon.
But the Big East and its conference tournament will never be the same.
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