On to Detroit for the Big East Invita… (er, not so fast)

So, I’m always a little dubious about “prevailing wisdom” in sports journalism. 

Look, I get it.  Sportswriters and their editors can only cover so many angles.  And when the buzz becomes a roar, there is almost an obligation to allocate resources toward a story.  And, of course, there are only so many resources within each organization to cover an event anyway.

With that in mind, on top of the unquestionable East Coast media bias, it was not surprising that the drums have been beating louder and louder for the Big East Conference over the last few weeks.  I actually think that the selection committee started to hear them, too, in selecting three #1 seeds from the conference.

Yes, the Big East was the best conference in basketball this year, but there are some great basketball teams in other parts of the country as well.  And the coronation of the Big East’s 2008-09 version as the best conference of all-time took a huge hit today.

march-madness

Ironically, the two schools with the most Final Four appearances this decade (4 each) will take their place in Detroit alongside the two Big East representatives next weekend. 

One of them, Michigan State, took out the most overrated Big East squad this afternoon, 64-52.  More on Louisville later. 

But, the Spartans immediately grab the reins as the story du jour by delivering a new convenient headline with their status as quasi-hometown representatives just down the road from Ford Field

Tom Izzo‘s fifth overall Final Four appearance also coincides nicely with the 30th anniversary of Michigan State’s first NCAA Championship.  Expect to hear about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird ad nauseum over the next week.  As a replacement for the Big East hype, I guess I can’t complain too much.

The other 4-time Final Four school over the last 10 years, North Carolina, wiped out Blake Griffin and the Oklahoma Sooners, 72-60

Head Coach Roy Williams has essentially relegated Duke to second-class status in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Research Triangle by winning a title and capturing 3 Final Fours in his first 6 seasons since taking over at his alma mater. 

Last year’s National Player of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough, has been able to rely on his teammates in this year’s easy run to the Final Four and the balance that the Tar Heels have right now might make Barack Obama look prophetic by next Monday night.

Now, as for those Big East schools. 

I am glad to see Connecticut make it to the Final Four.  There is no doubt that this is one of the top four teams in the country this season. 

Apparently, you can set your calendars by the fact that every five years Jim Calhoun and the Huskies will dominate the West Region and advance through the regional finals as champions.  Their hope is to take that history lesson one step further and, as they accomplished in 1999 and 2004, enjoy their One Shining Moment cutting down the nets as tournament champions.

Villanova earned every ounce of respect by clawing their way through the East Region on their way to their first Final Four since their amazing title run 24 years ago. 

Jay Wright has the Wildcats playing as well as anyone right now and, despite reaching Detroit as the lowest remaining seed (#3) in the field, they will give North Carolina all it can handle on Saturday night.

Pittsburgh, this one’s gonna hurt for a while.  Ultimately, making the Elite Eight for the first time since 1974 is no consolation prize for the fact that the first trip to the Final Four in 68 years was within their grasp and slipped away. 

That second slot for the Big East in the Final Four could have gone either way, but it will be tough for the western Pennsylvanians to watch their neighbors to the east play in a game that the Panthers believe should be theirs.

Louisville, you were exposed for what you were. 

A good, but hardly great, team that took advantage of circumstances to rise to the #1 seed overall in the tournament.  But, c’mon.  The reality is that it wasn’t too hard to poke holes in the Cardinals’ resume. 

With a lesser coach than Rick Pitino, anyone could have seen that the early season losses to Western Kentucky, Minnesota, and UNLV combined with a 17-point home loss to Connecticut (and no return trip due to fortuitous Big East scheduling) and a cakewalk ride in both the Big East tournament (missing Connecticut and Pittsburgh) and the first three games of the NCAA Tournament (highest seed played, #9 Siena, actually led Louisville late in the game) meant that the clock was bound to strike midnight at any minute. 

In the end, the squad will remember its Big East regular-season and conference tournament titles, but the added attention of the last few weeks guarantees that this will be remembered by the general public as a disappointment. 

Yes, the East Coast press would have loved to have seen Pitino, the native New Yorker, back on the big stage at the Final Four for the sixth time in his coaching career, but this was not the squad that was going to get it done.  Sorry about that, Rick.

I’m going to stay away from predictions for now.  Other than to say that the games on Saturday and Monday are likely to make up for some of the drama that’s been missing in a majority of the games so far. 

Michigan State and Connecticut tip it off at 6:07pm Eastern on Saturday, followed by North Carolina and Villanova at approximately 8:47pm Eastern.  And next Monday night’s title game will be epic, whether the Big East sends a representative or not.

By the way, if you are wondering how to get tickets to the Final Four, check out the NCAA’s Online Ticket Application.  Forget about tickets to this year’s games, but look ahead to San Antonio in 2010 and get your application in now. 

And get set for three great games before this season is finally one for the books.

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~ by acm213 on March 29, 2009.

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