WVU's title awfully sweet

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NEW YORK -- A friend of Georgetown coach John Thompson III told him the other day that there's nothing better than Friday night in New York, other than Saturday night in New York.

Looks like someone's credentials in the Psychic Friends Network might be up for review.

Playing for the third day in row, Georgetown smoked Marquette Friday night, but a fourth in a row wasn't nearly as manageable. West Virginia's seriously capable Mountaineers instead spend their Saturday Night lives winning the school's first Big East Conference tournament, 60-58.

How sweet is that when you take it from a school that has won this thing seven times?

Awfully. Awfully.

Basketball people will tell you that of all the Big Apple's routinely delicious weekends, none compares to this one, when the Big East tournament rattles Madison Square Garden and crowns its champion, but for some of these 16 conference schools, the coming convulsion among the major conferences will represent a looming end to a golden era.

That new gerrymandering of the college sports map is inevitable, if not within a couple of years than certainly within the next five, and from all accounts will be triggered by the Big Ten's ambitions to expand its 11-school footprint. When the dominoes start tipping, somebody -- Rutgers, Pitt, Syracuse or West Virginia -- is going to lose their connection not only with this marvelous weekend, but perhaps with New York basketball itself.

That will be sad, frankly, and though it won't be necessarily permanent, there will be damage.

For the championship game Saturday, West Virginia sent to the floor of the world's most famous arena Devin Ebanks of St. Thomas More School in Long Island City, Kevin Jones of Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High, Wellington Smith of Summit (N.J.) High, Darryl Bryant of St. Raymond's High in Brooklyn and Da'Sean Butler of Bloomfield Tech in Newark, an all-Metro starting lineup.

The tournament's signature moment might have been Butler's horn-beating 3-pointer over the straining outstretched fingers of Cincinnati's electrifying Lance Stephenson, a freshman from Coney Island.

"Honestly, I think if we weren't in the Big East, we can't recruit those guys," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said after his team outlasted Notre Dame Friday in a semifinal. "What the people in this league have done over the years has made it the best league in the country, and I've been around enough and been in other leagues. And I've said this a lot, when you're in the other leagues you say, 'Man, it ain't that good,' and then you get in here, and you see."

Someone asked him if there was a New York feel to what's going on in Morgantown.

"You've never been to Morgantown, have you?" Huggins cracked.

Pitt's recruiting base is just as dependent on Greater New York as anyone in the conference, and the prospect of Panthers basketball winding up as programming for the Big Ten network frightens a lot of people, though I'm not at all sure that conference considers Pitt a good fit or that, if it does, Pitt couldn't recover quickly in recruiting. This isn't the only city with great basketball players, nor are impactful basketball players found exclusively in the northeast. (The best player on the floor this week, Georgetown center Greg Monroe, is from New Orleans.)

Just as Pitt has one of the top basketball programs in the Big East, it would before long have one of the top programs in the Big Ten, perhaps even the top program. But the politics that could bring that about are impossible to forecast, and there's little use at this point in a curdling discussion of a near 30-year institution.

For the moment anyway, the only real issue with the Big East tournament is what it always has been. It's a great event, but other than its adrenalin boost for the conference's financial health, what does it all mean? What does it measure?

Pitt's won it twice, and didn't reach the regional final of the NCAA either time. Last year, when Pitt lost in the first game against West Virginia, it came as close to the Final Four as you can get.

The Big East tournament championship has been far more significant to Georgetown, it appears. After winning it seven times, the Hoyas went to four Final Fours and won one national championship. But after losing in the title game in New York five times, they were eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament four times and lost in the regional final on the other occasion.

Logically, you would expect an abbreviated March for JTIII's team, but that's about as predictable as penny slots. It's the whole madness thing.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com . First Published March 14, 2010 5:15 AM


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