November 13, 2013

New Flavor To Big East Hoops

For many Big East basketball fans, the past year has, understandably, been depressing. The conference that was built on hoops, was destroyed by the pigskin. Syracuse and Pittsburgh chased football dollars to the ACC. Notre Dame and Louisville followed suit.

Meantime, UConn is stuck in the American Athletic Conference, stalling until finding a new and more prosperous home. Great basketball rivalries such as Georgetown-Syracuse, Syracuse-UConn, and Villanova-Pittsburgh are dead. But, as the Big East embarks on a new journey, there is plenty to look forward to.

First off, it is important to remember how conference realignment could have been a much bigger disaster for the Big East. There were rumors that the ACC would take over Madison Square Garden for their conference tournament. Also, many predicted the Big East would disintegrate and those left over would all be looking for a new home. But, with the additions of Xavier, Creighton and Butler, combined with hold overs Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette and Depaul, the conference is back to what it was founded as in 1979: a basketball conference. All the schools prioritize basketball over every other sport.

Additionally, the Big East will get more television time than it used to. Fox agreed to a 12-year deal, which includes airing 108 Big East games on Fox Sports 1 this season. To put that in perspective, that is more games than ESPN airs of the NBA each season.

For a 10-team league mostly focused on smaller Catholic schools in the northeast, that is an incredible boost nationally. Also, CBS and CBS Sports Network bought in to a sub-licensing deal to air 20 Big East games.

These TV deals have the ability to give the conference immediate respect. Fans and media members will be able to catch a Big East game on just about any night of the week this winter. The quality competition should help boost the conference's stature nationally.

On the court, East End Big East fans will enjoy two familiar faces atop the conference in Marquette and Georgetown. The Golden Eagles will rely on frontcourt partners Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson.

Georgetown lost All-American Otto Porter, and will need guards Markel Starks and Jabril Trawick to flourish, along with UCLA transfer Josh Smith. Big East fans likely have little affiliation with Creighton, who comes from the Missouri Valley Conference. But the Bluejays can absolutely win the conference behind All-American returnee Doug McDermott and guard Grant Gibbs.

Elsewhere, Villanova returns four starters from an NCAA Tournament team, and Xavier has arguably the best NBA-prospect in the conference with point guard Semaj Christon.

Locally, St. John's might have the most talented roster in the conference. A top-20 freshman, Rysheed Jordan, joins returnees D'Angelo Harrison and 2012-13 Big East Rookie of the Year JaKarr Sampson. The Red Storm returns their top five scorers from last season.

Last year, St. John's led the nation in blocked shots per game at 7.3. But, they were 338th in the nation in three pointers made per game at 3.6. The pressure could be on Jordan to open up the floor for shooters and find the open man.

Those of us who are Big East fans will undoubtedly need an adjustment period as we watch the new conference unfold. Rivalries are never developed overnight. They take years of different games and various scenarios to develop.

St. John's fans won't have the same juice watching the Red Storm play Xavier as they would Syracuse. But, with massive TV deals, and a conference that has 10 Universities, all with the same priorities, the new Big East is off to a great start . . . we just need to give it a chance.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He's currently a Sports Anchor at WCBS 880 and WFAN radio in NYC. He can be reached via email at peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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