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Last updated: Thu. Jan. 02, 2014 - 02:26 am EDT

Big East returns to its roots to the thrill of hoop fans everywhere

League focuses its energies on basketball in hopes of success

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INDIANAPOLIS – It’s common knowledge that football is the engine – at least financially – that powers the college sports world. From its ticket sales to its television revenue streams, college athletic directors, presidents, and the non-revenue athletic coaches whose programs rely on the sport for funding, all worship the gridiron and its necessary existence.

Except in the Big East Conference.

Over the past year, a group of universities that have long-cherished basketball, and all it can do for a university, not football, formed the reinvented league and if its first day of competition Tuesday was any indication, hoop lovers everywhere have found a home. Or at least returned to it.

“You look at the games,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said after his team won at Butler 76-73 in overtime. “This is what it’s going to be and I love it. And basketball people love it.”

Yes, we do.

The conference held a five-game basketball extravaganza on Tuesday and there were three overtime sessions played, and two other games decided by 10 points or less. And the so-called “bad game” (a 67-49 Creighton win over Marquette) involved two nationally-renowned programs, one featuring possibly the National Player of the Year.

“You’re not going to see better basketball,” Wright said.

This group of people and their universities may be outliers, but in returning to their organizational roots, they will find acceptance for their uniqueness.

The Big East lost its way in the 1990s as it began to deviate from its mission by adding football programs. Original commissioner Dave Gavitt always envisioned a basketball-centric league with an entertaining product airing on national television. That is exactly what happened Tuesday.

The emphasis on the sport, coupled with prominent programs such as Creighton, Marquette, Butler, Xavier, Georgetown, Villanova, and St. John’s – and their venues – oh, their venues – make for remarkable possibilities.

Wright had never coached in a game at Hinkle Fieldhouse prior to Tuesday, but he’s battled in the Palestra (Philadelphia) and Madison Square Garden, just to name a few hallowed venues, and he not only loved the competition with the Bulldogs, but their home, as well.

“The Palestra, the Garden, this is definitely right there,” Wright said. “You can tell when you walk in here, the people are nice and they appreciate basketball.

“That’s what is going to be great about this league. I don’t think everybody in the country yet is going to understand what this is all about because we haven’t had it before (with new members Creighton, Butler and Xavier joining this summer). You can tell by watching those games (Tuesday), basketball is the sport.”

Wright’s team is in a stretch where they played Syracuse (in the Carrier Dome) and Butler (at Hinkle Fieldhouse), and will travel to Madison Square Garden in nine days to face St. John’s.

“What’s better than the Big East and eastern basketball,” Wright pondered. “It’s awesome.”

Tdavis@news-sentinel.com


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