As the season comes to a close and there is only a few days left until the Final Four games begin, it serves as a time to reflect.
People can reflect on specific plays, games or scenarios, but it is time to recognize what the Big East is. Not what it once was, but in its current state and what the conference has accomplished in just a span of three seasons.
The Big East has characteristics and qualities that separates itself from every other conference in the country. The Big East is special, and that is something that is never going to change. In terms of college basketball, it simply does not get any better.
Here is what makes the Big East one of the most special and unique conferences collegiate athletics has ever seen.
Big Man On Campus
The star basketball player at a Big East school is not just the big man on campus, but the team features the big men on campus. The basketball teams are the focal point of every single Big East institution, and can put more effort and time into their basketball program than any other team of a different conference.
Even if other teams wanted too, they couldn't use as much resources on the basketball team because they have football to worry about. With the exception of blue blood programs (Duke, Kansas, UNC and UK), no matter how successful their basketball programs become, their football programs will always be vastly more important to their institutions than their basketball program.
Every single Big East basketball program is the face of their athletics, and that is something no other conference can say.
The Big East is almost like it's own basketball team. There is a support for one another's team to do well that I have never seen in any other conference. When Jay Wright was interviewed about his upcoming trip to the final four, the first thing he said was, "We're really proud we did this for our league."
Could you imagine Jim Boeheim or Coach K ever saying that to start an interview? The pride that the coaches have about being in a basketball only conference is unprecedented. When Kevin Willard was asked about the ACC Tournament coming to New York he said, "The ACC and the Big Ten, they want to come in to New York. It's the Big East's home. We are the home. We will always be the home. They are going to be tourists. I've said it before. They're going to come in. They're going to get a slice of pizza. Hopefully a bacon, egg and cheese and a coffee, and then they're going to leave. But at the end of the day, the Big East will still be here. It's a basketball conference."
You don't hear any coach from any other conference talk about their conference with this much pride.
The Big East realizes that they have faced a lot of doubters since forming the new conference, and they keep doing better and better each season. This year they had half the conference in the tournament, with each team holding their own. Providence and Butler both won their first round games and held their own against two number one seeds. Seton Hall went from mediocrity to beating Xavier and Villanova in back to back games in order to win the BET.
Xavier was ranked in the top ten for almost the entire season, and Villanova is just Villanova at this point. They have been the most consistent team in the country since the conference formed, and are in the 2016 Final Four by beating Kansas in the Elite Eight.
The conference is a college basketball fans dream and the members of the conference take pride in what they have accomplished while fighting an uphill battle the whole way.
The only teams in the Big East that have not been to the Final Four are Xavier and Creighton. Thats 80 percent of the conference having been to the Final Four. If you take the starting five from all the greats who would have played on Big East teams, you would have Allen Iverson as your Point Guard, Dwyane Wade as your Shooting Guard, Chris Mullin or Mark Aguirre at Small Forward, Alonzo Mourning or Marvin Barnes as your Power Forward, and Patrick Ewing at Center. Just the thought of that team coming from a conference of ten teams blows my mind. The Big East's defining players and illustrious history spans the length of college basketball.
In the 60's you have the great Providence teams that had legendary basketball figures like John Thompson, Lenny Wilkens (Only member of the Hall of Fame to be inducted as both a coach and player), and former No. 1 pick in the draft Jimmy Walker. Providence continued its run in the 70's with outstanding players like Ernie Digregorio and Marvin Barnes, not to mention being coached by the founder of the Big East, Dave Gavitt. DePaul became a national power with Mark Aguirre, and later came the Big East's prime.
Patrick Ewing became one of the greatest college basketball players of all time and leading the Hoyas to three final four appearances in the mid eighties. Chris Mullin became one of the best shooters in college basketball history, and in 1985 Villanova, St. John's, and Georgetown all met in the Final Four. The best weekend in a conference's history.
Even Providence and Seton Hall both made Final Four appearances. In the 90s, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson led Georgetown to large amounts of success, and in the 2000s, Dwyane Wade led Marquette to the Final Four. Butler shocked the basketball world by having back to back National Championship appearances, and Georgetown had its own Final Four run in 2007. In recent years the Big East had the National Player of the Year in Doug McDermott, and Villanova of course going to the Final Four this year and in 2009.
This is unbelievable success that people have either forgotten or refuse to acknowledge. There is no "Old" or "New" Big East, it's just the Big East. And this is what makes the Big East the best basketball conference in America.