Big East Future Basketball

The beginning of the end of the Big East tournament starts today

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My first memory of college basketball is a Big East tournament game. It was just a couple week before my 11th birthday. I was on the couch with my dad, watching UConn — and my hero at the time, Ray Allen — take on Georgetown and Allen Iverson in the 1996 Big East title game. Georgetown pushed their lead up to 11 points with about three minutes left, and thinking that the game was over, my dad tried to get me to go to sleep.

I wasn’t budging. I somehow managed to negotiate my way into a couple more possessions, which led to seeing Allen’s miracle floater and Jerome Williams’ inability to make a layup live.

It was awesome.

I can pretty much pinpoint my college hoops fandom to that exact moment in time, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that seeing that shot go in changed my life. Not in some hokey, romanticized way, but if I don’t become a college hoops junkie, I’m not doing this for a living today. That shot was what got me hooked. It was what created my need for a fix on a nightly basis from November through early April.

Which is why today is so depressing.

Tuesday marks the beginning of the end of the Big East as we know it.

The last first round of the Big East tournament will kick off, as South Florida and Seton Hall square off before Rutgers and DePaul tangle in the nightcap, which will undoubtedly spawn thousands of jokes from the twitter comedians about how empty MSG is and how bad DePaul has been.

It’s been an annual tradition, really. We make fun of the first day or two of games before enjoying just how amazing it is to see the Garden packed at Noon on a Thursday for a quarterfinal game. And while the Big East will live on with the Catholic 7, it won’t be the same without UConn, Syracuse or Pitt taking part.

Wistful Big East hoop fans and disappointed media members aren’t the only ones sad to see the end of the Big East as we know it.

The players that made all those memories that we, as fans, cherish, they’re none-too-pleased about the recent conference realignment developments, as you might imagine:

“To see the way it’s going now, it’s kind of sad for me because I was there,” Anthony said. “I was in it. I was part of those games. I was part of those rivalries. I was part of the Big East family.”

So were Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning. So were Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson. So were Ray Allen and Emeka Okafor.

“I don’t know who is in the Big East now, to be honest,” said Okafor, a former Connecticut Husky who plays center for the Washington Wizards. “I could tell you who was in it when I was in it. But now I’m all confused.”

I’ve come to grips with it at this point. It’s a business. It’s not about fans or tradition, it’s about dollar signs.

Doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.