The old Big East lost a decade-long war to the ACC, but they won the last two battles to claim two Final Four teams and bragging rights one last season. In a season in which the ACC uncharacteristically had only two ranked teams throughout the year and neither team made the Final four because the Big East destroyed both of them. On Thursday, Marquette led ACC champ Miami by 22 points with 2:10 to play before four three-pointers made the final closer, and on Sunday Louisville exploded to win by 22 points, 85-63 (see game story this page). Syracuse eliminated Marquette to give the Big East two Final Four teams.
The hatred between the conferences started when the ACC beefed up football credentials by taking Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami after the 2005 season. The Hokies and Hurricanes did not continue to deliver the big wins in football, and in turn the Big East expanded to become the deepest basketball conference ever. Lawsuits resulted, but the changes were made.
The addition of Cincinnati, Marquette and Louisville made the conference even better, creating a true 16-team conference. Even South Florida stunned everyone with a Sweet 16 run in 2012.
The conference was the first to put 11 teams into one NCAA tournament, and the first to advance five teams to the Sweet 16.
In 2011, the conference had perhaps the most stunning accomplishment of all, when a team that finished in the bottom half of the conference won the national championship. UConn went 9-9 in conference play and 23-0 in their other games, as Kemba Walker led the Huskies to another title.
Between that and the 2009 run of five Big East teams into the Sweet 16, the Big East had established itself as the best basketball conference – a title that the ACC had claimed for years.
However, off the court the ACC won again. They conducted a second raid on Big East schools, this time of basketball powers Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame. They will no doubt point out that both Final Four teams will be in the ACC next year, but for one more year the Big East emblems will be on the Final Four court in Atlanta Saturday.
There is even the possibility of one last Big East matchup if both Louisville and Syracuse win Saturday to face off in the title game next Monday.
The Big East has landed well, with Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette leading a core that added Creighton and the one none Catholic member Butler to other Catholic schools bringing the Chicago and New York media markets. However the Golden Age of the Big East is over.