Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Top 5 Big East Tournament Moments

As a pure college basketball fan this week is going to be bittersweet to say the least. One of the greatest tournaments and a true catalyst for "March Madness" - the Big East tournament - is wrapping up it's final chapter as the conference splits following this season.

Yes, the Big East will stay around in name and some of it's original members will still be involved in the new version of the Big East, but just like the new "retro" versions of classic muscle cars, it's just not the same. Well, as a result it's time to take a small trip down memory lane and as folks that love history, we here at the Sports Intelligentsia present our Top 5 Big East Tournament Moments.

Now, this list isn't limited to just specific plays from the tournament or players or games themselves - it's all about moments - you know things that will last a lifetime in the memory banks of those of us who love the game and it's rich history. With that in mind we give you the Top 5 Moments in Big East Tournament History:

5) St John's 1983 Big East Tournament Champions

It's simple, simple stuff that can sometimes be the greatest things of all and while it may seem obvious, we've got to honor the first ever Big East tournament champions at Madison Square Garden and that was the 1983 St. John's team.

That doesn't mean this team wasn't special either, as this was the foundation that made the Big East what it is today - one of the top conferences in the country - and it happened to feature one of the iconic players in Big East history as well: Chris Mullen.

St. John's beat Pitt, Villanova, and Boston College (man does it feel good remembering the original Big East, huh?) and beat them BAD on their way to the 1st ever crown at the iconic arena and while there was nothing super special about how it was done, the fact that they were the first is magical in it's own right.

Add in the fact that it was the beginning of Chris Mullen's legend and it helps elevate the moment even more. He was Big East player of the year for that year as well as 1984 and 1985 - winning national player of the year honors in '85 as well.

4) 1996 Championship Game: UConn vs. Georgetown

What could be better than two of the most memorable players in Big East history doing battle for the Big East conference championship? We got that in this one as Ray Allen of UConn met up with Allen Iverson of Georgetown. It appeared Iverson's Hoyas would walk away with the title, up 11 points with just over 4 minutes to play, but Allen refused to lose and sparked a 10-0 run late in the game to set up this moment - down 74-73 with 18 seconds left in the game Ray Allen takes over for the Huskies and this is how the game finishes:

Now I don't know about you folks, but that's pretty damn close to as good as it gets as both stars figure in on both ends of one of the wildest finishes in Big East tournament history. Oh, and even more incredible? That bucket by Allen was his only one of the ENTIRE 2nd half of the ball game - that's the stuff of legend right there.

3) 2006 Syracuse Big East Champions

This is what made the Big East tournament amazing - coming into the tournament that year no team had ever done it. The it? Win four games in four days to become Big East champions. It's what made this tournament legendary - it couldn't be done. Until Jerry McNamara decided he'd had enough of it, making huge shot, after huge pass, after huge shot on the way to Syracuse making history in the Big East tournament once again.

What's so great about an iconic team like Syracuse doing this feat? Well, for starters they were the No. 9 seed in that tournament, not exactly an easy road for them to travel to the title. Add in the fact that they had to win with buzzer beaters, overtime upsets, and close games all the way and it's even more improbable. Their 65-61 win over No. 7 seed Pittsburgh was actually their biggest "blow out" of the tournament, believe it our not. To borrow a phrase from the love him or hate him - Dick Vitale - this run was "simply sensational baby" and is perhaps one of the greatest tournament runs of any kind in the history of college basketball.

2) 2011 UConn Big East Champions

How the heck to do you top winning four games in four days as the No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament to become champions? Try winning five games in five days like the UConn Huskies did in 2011 to take their own improbable Big East championship.

This moment gets somewhat forgotten, and it's hard to blame some folks for it, since they went on to win 6 more games that season, for an 11 game run that saw them go from the outside of the NCAA tournament to not only Big East champions, but National Champions as well. Now, that's how you top what Syracuse pulled off in 2006 if you ask me.

It also provided us with one of the greatest individual moments in Big East tournament history as Kemba Walker not only set the single tournament scoring record but left us with an iconic single moment of his own in the quarterfinals against No. 1 seed Pitt. He took the ball at the top of the key with seven seconds left and used a mismatch against a bigger man, broke him down off the dribble and buried a step back buzzer beater to advance his Huskies into the semi-finals. It's about as pretty a step back jumper as you'll ever see.

1) 6 OT: 2009 Syracuse vs. UConn

It only seems fitting that two teams who would make the biggest and most improbable runs in Big East tournament history would also team up to give us the most insane and memorable single game in history as well. Words don't do this game justice so just take it all in:

Seriously, how do you top that? We say you can't and for that it lands as our greatest moment in Big East tournament history.

What are your top moments in Big East tournament history? Share them in the comments below & follow us on Twitter @SIntelligentsia and drop us a line there.

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