The late Dave Gavitt started with a dream. He then jotted ideas on cocktail napkins. After that came the conversation stage, and that took some big convincing. Reluctantly, led by John Thompson of Georgetown and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, the dominoes fell into line and the Big East Conference was born in 1978. A year later came the advent of ESPN and the rest is history.
Recently, college presidents (driven mostly by the almighty football dollar and less by tradition and doing the right thing) led to the breakup of this great league. The seven Catholic schools broke away, added three more, and bought the Big East name. The remaining schools have formed the new American Athletic Conference, or made other arrangements. The final Big East Tournaments were bittersweet. The Big East showing in the NCAAs were not.
Half of the Men’s Final Four and three-fourths of the Women’s Final Four consisted of Big East schools. The dominance was clear. Louisville, champions of the last real Big East, won the NCAA Men’s Championship with a thrilling 82-76 victory over Michigan in Atlanta. Louisville will spend one season in the newly-formed AAC, and then depart for the ACC.
The Cardinals won their final 16 games following a five-overtime loss to Notre Dame in a game they led handily late. They later avenged that loss, twice, and came from 16 down in the second half to defeat Syracuse to win the Big East in an electrifying performance. In each game in Atlanta, Louisville trailed by 12 points, and in each game they charged back.
In the national semifinal, they fell behind 47-35 against upstart Wichita State. The Shockers went a 26-minute stretch without a turnover, but the relentless pressure finally got to them, as did Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock. The George Mason transfer, who once beat Villanova at the buzzer as a freshman there, hit back-to-back threes to start the run.
In the championship game, they trailed 35-23 when Hancock scored 14 consecutive points, keying a 14-1 run. Hancock became the first bench player to win MOP since 1975, his five-for-five from three-point range Monday night set a new standard, as well. Louisville is the first team to overcome double-digit deficits in each game at the Final Four.
On the women’s side, Connecticut tied Tennessee with their eighth national championship, 93-60 over Louisville in the most lopsided final ever. UConn will be the anchor of the new AAC, but there is little secret they covet a move to the ACC, as well. Sensational freshman Breanna Stewart dominated in New Orleans, being named the Most Outstanding Player. She set a freshman scoring record by scoring 105 in the tournament (despite missing the first round game) to become the first freshman to win MOP of the Final Four since Tennessee’s Tonya Edwards in 1987. Coach Geno Auriemma is now 8-0 in title games.