NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — It’s the game that every college basketball fan hoped to see one last time.
Syracuse and Georgetown, one more heavyweight clash in Madison Square Garden.
Two original Big East titans toe-to-toe on the New York stage.
Jim Boeheim. John Thompson.
OK, so it’s John Thompson III now. Still a juicy matchup.
One … last … time.
And that’s not all. How’s this for a second act in the Friday night semifinals? Notre Dame against Louisville in the latest rematch of their five-overtime epic.
The final Big East tournament of this era is about to deliver. Big time.
“Unbelievable,” Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey said. “We’re trying to get our money’s worth out of this thing.”
Afternoon wins by top-seeded Georgetown (over Cincinnati) and fifth-seeded Syracuse (over Pittsburgh) in the quarterfinals Thursday set up the familiar game everyone was hoping to see again before the Big East goes bust.
The Hoyas own seven tournament championships, tied with Connecticut for the most among member schools. They won the first one 33 years ago in Providence, beating Syracuse in the final, and would love to put a bow on this era of Big East basketball by ending it with one more.
The Orange are next with five tournament titles, all under Boeheim. It will be the 14th meeting between these longtime rivals at the Big East championship.
“The doubleheader that’s going to be here (Friday) night will be a great basketball night, I think. I think you’re going to have arguably four of the best teams in the country playing here,” Boeheim said. “It’s a great way for this league to go out.”
Georgetown is one of seven basketball-centric Catholic schools breaking away from the conference to create their own league, which will begin play next season and retain the Big East name. Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are headed to the ACC, with Louisville to follow a year later.
Rutgers leaves for the Big Ten in 2014-15.
“The whole thing is tragic,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “Nobody cares about student athletes. All anybody cares about is money. Everybody in the NCAA, in college administration, they talk about academics and student athletes. If people cared about student athletes, West Virginia wouldn’t be in the Big 12 with 10 teams flying 800 miles to their closest home game. That’s really conducive to studying. The whole thing is a hypocrisy. … The money has ruined it. If I was a fan, I’d be very disenchanted.
“The fact that we’re sitting here and this is the last Big East tournament is beyond ridiculous,” he added. “This is the greatest tradition in college athletics, this tournament, at one site for over 30-something years.”
Boeheim and his father-son coaching counterparts at Georgetown have plenty to do with that. John Thompson coached the Hoyas to their first six tournament titles before John Thompson III won their last one in 2007, which followed consecutive championships for Syracuse.
The teams played twice this season and Georgetown took both games, including a 61-39 blowout last Saturday.
“Not too many teams have done that. I remember beating them twice, and the third time they beat us. That was in the Big East tournament. We’re trying to pretty much return the favor,” Syracuse senior guard Brandon Triche said. “That means a lot. Anybody that beats you by 20 points, you want revenge.”
Louisville got some revenge against Notre Dame last Saturday, winning 73-57 one month after a 104-101 defeat in five overtimes at South Bend. It was the longest regular-season game in Big East history and maybe the most exciting contest in the country all season. It also was the only loss in the last 12 games for the Cardinals, the defending tournament champion.
Five of the last seven and six of the past nine matchups between Notre Dame and Louisville have gone to overtime. The Fighting Irish (25-8) reached the Big East semifinals for the fourth straight year, but they’ve never been to the championship game. The last two times the road ended against — who else? — Louisville.
“Here we go again,” Brey said Thursday night after the sixth-seeded Irish held off Marquette. “When the games have been in overtime, that’s when we’ve gotten our wins. When they’ve won, they’ve usually thumped us. I hope it’s overtime. They’re really good. We just played them last Saturday, and they’re playing with a great rhythm, and it comes down to taking care of the ball.”
Second-seeded Louisville (27-5) smothered Villanova 74-55, forcing the seventh-seeded Wildcats (20-13) into 25 unsightly turnovers. Russ Smith scored 28 points in a bittersweet homecoming, hours after the death of his esteemed high school coach.
Back home in New York, Smith received sad news early in the day about Jack Curran, the longtime coaching great at Archbishop Molloy High School, who died Thursday at 82. He was among the nation’s winningest prep coaches in basketball and baseball.
“It was really hard for me for about 45 minutes when I was on the bus crying and stuff,” Smith said. “It was almost heartbreaking to think about it.
“Today was definitely Coach Curran day for me, and it will be the rest of my life,” he added. “I’m going to miss him. He was everything to me, and to my mom, my family. He treated everyone with respect. He taught me a lot of things.”
Louisville coach Rick Pitino huddled his players after their morning shootaround and informed them of Curran’s death, then led the team in a prayer.
“Russ had a heavy heart tonight,” said Pitino, who also called Curran a good friend. “I just told Russ we have to play this tournament and the NCAAs for Coach Curran.”
No. 4 Louisville has won eight straight games — seven by at least 14 points.
After the game, the Cardinals received a surprise visit from President Bill Clinton. A longtime basketball fan, he and Pitino have been friendly since Pitino was at Kentucky and introduced Clinton on campus.
“We got the chance to take a lot of pictures. It was a big treat for our guys,” Pitino said. “It was a lot of fun. … He was just telling a lot of stories.”
And two original Big East titans meet one last time in this great tournament. Are you picking the Orange or the Hoyas to reach the final? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)