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Louisville-Syracuse final would make fitting Big East swan song

The Cardinals and Orange play in different brackets of the Final Four and could meet for the NCAA championship. Both schools, along with Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Notre Dame, are leaving the conference.

April 05, 2013|By Shannon Ryan
  • Louisville coach Rick Pitino could face a familiar foe in Jim Boeheim's Syracuse team in the NCAA championship if both teams advance past their Final Four matchups. The two coaches went head to head three times this season, which included a meeting in the Big East tournament championship.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino could face a familiar foe in Jim Boeheim's… ( Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images )

Ask Louisville Coach Rick Pitino or Syracuse's Jim Boeheim about Madison Square Garden or Big East Conference founder Dave Gavitt.

Even the tight-lipped Boeheim becomes sentimental and is apt to weave a story about a Big East classic.

"I would have been happy if someone said, 'Coach, you're going to coach Syracuse and be in this league 10 years,'" Boeheim said. "'We'll give you 10 pretty good years, but that's it.' I'd have said, 'OK, I'll take it,' right then. It just has been unbelievable."

A happy ending? A bittersweet ending?

Most can agree it's a proper ending.

This NCAA tournament is the last gasp for the original Big East.

Its finale could be memorable.

Two Big East teams — No. 1 Midwest Region seed Louisville and No. 4 East seed Syracuse — play in different brackets Saturday in the Final Four at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. They could wrap things up even more appropriately if they meet in the national championship game.

The teams thought they already had a farewell moment when Louisville pulled away in the second half to win the Big East tournament championship in Madison Square Garden.

That was their third meeting of the season. Syracuse won the first game, at Louisville, but the Cardinals have won the last two. Game 4 will take place only if Louisville can get past No. 9-seed Wichita State from the West and Syracuse can defeat the South's No. 4 seed, Michigan, on Saturday.

The Big Ten was supposed to be the dominant conference this season, with perhaps all four Final Four teams from the conference. But here comes the Big East with two teams loaded with history.

It would be more sentimental if not for the fact these two programs had a hand in tearing apart the Big East.

Both will defect to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Syracuse, an original Big East member, will leave next season; Louisville, a member since leaving Conference USA in 2003, will depart a year later.

Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Notre Dame also are leaving the Big East.

"[Former commissioners] knew what was coming, and was inevitable," Boeheim said. "Nobody should ask how the Big East was broken up. People should ask how did it stay together with the differences, the schools."

The ACC must be drooling with its upgrade. No ACC team made the Final Four this season.

Fans of college basketball at least can look forward to Pitino and Boeheim continuing to square off. At least for a while.

"[Boeheim] said, 'Are you going to retire soon?'" Pitino said. "I don't know why Jim would ask me that. And then my wife grabbed him in a restaurant and said, 'Jim, are you going to retire?' He said, 'No, Rick needs to retire. His children are all grown up. Mine are young. I have to coach 10 or 12 more years.'"

sryan@tribune.com

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