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Same Name, New Big East Tournament

With a new-look conference, the Big East will look to create more memories on the final road to the Big Dance.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Big East has arguably been the premier college basketball conference since its original inception in 1979. Over the years, the Big East has given us moment after moment - from the 1985 National Championship game to Cardiac Kemba.

No bigger memories have been made than those at the Big East Tournament. Since 1983, Madison Square Garden has opened its doors to the Big East faithful every March, and each year, something spectacular happens.

But thanks to conference realignment in college football, the Big East has been missing that magic for the first time in the conference's illustrious history. When Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College fled to the ACC nearly a decade ago, Big East football took a major hit, but basketball didn't miss a beat, continuing to flourish, even adding six more schools in 2005, most notably last season's national champion, Louisville.

While Big East basketball forged on with new memories and new legends, football tried desperately hard to keep pace with the stronger power conferences. No offense to Connecticut, but when the 8-5 Huskies are your representation in a BCS bowl game, it's pretty pathetic.

Then the conference began to dissolve. In a move that crippled Big East basketball in its previous incarnation, Syracuse and Pitt announced they were moving to the ACC, followed by a move to the Big 12 for West Virginia effective the following season. TCU, not even a member yet, decided against joining and opted for the Big 12 as well. When Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville made their intent to leave the conference known, it spelled the final nail in the old Big East's coffin.

Although the seven Catholic schools remaining in the Big East - plus the additions of Creighton, Butler and Xavier - kept the Big East alive, it has struggled to maintain that same aura of dominance. Only two programs - Villanova and Creighton - have secured a seat in the NCAA Tournament, while the middle of the 10-team conference have had up-and-down seasons, and Marquette, a top-25 team in November, experienced a major fall after failing to defeat a ranked team all season.

It doesn't help that conference games are failing to generate an audience on the new FOX Sports 1, trailing all other national networks in Big East viewership.

But while the days of UConn and Syracuse as conference powers are over, they still have one thing to salvage their reputation: the Big East tournament.

In an arena that is known for creating unbelievable moments, the same can happen in the condensed, but still super-sized Big East Tournament, which begins Wednesday. With Georgetown, Xavier, St. John's and Providence all trying to lock down seeds in the Big Dance, and now No. 3 Villanova on the cusp of earning a #1 seed, the Big East tourney still is what it's always been: Must-See TV.

Yes, the conference has experienced a slide. It was expected. When you lose three programs responsible for a third of the last 15 national championships, including the reigning champ, it's not expected to be rainbows and sunshine on the other end right out the gates. But you can't escape the mystique of what will take place in MSG this week. The Big East Tournament is something magical that produces scripts even the heads of Disney would marvel at. It's the most enthralling conference tournament in the world, and if history repeats itself, we're sure to see more priceless memories starting Wednesday.