PHILADELPHIA — A day before their NCAA Tournament openers at the Wells Fargo Center, three teams met at an odd Big East crossroad.
After winning seven Missouri Valley Conference championships since 2000, Creighton will join the new Big East next season (along with Butler and Xavier). Georgetown, among the original seven Catholic schools leaving the old conference for the new incarnation, welcomed the Bluejays. Cincinnati, a member of the Big East since 2005, saw no need for overtures of loyalty on its way to the yet-to-be-named old Big East.
“It’s huge for the school,” said Creighton All-American Doug McDermott. “I mean, you can’t say no to that when that offer comes because not a lot of schools could say they could join the Big East Conference.”
The Hoyas saw a storied rivalry end last week in the Big East tournament when they met Syracuse, which will join the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I’m excited about our new league,” said Hoyas coach John Thompson III. “I think you’ll quickly see . . . we’re going to be one of the best basketball conferences in the country, and that’s something I say confidently.”
While the Big East sent eight teams to NCAA Tournament this year, Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said he never waves the flag for the conference.
“Right now, everybody’s solo trying to advance,” Cronin said. “That would be no difference than the previous years, in my opinion.
“What I would say is the schools involved in this year are all going to care about their own record in the NCAA Tournament. I’m rooting for my friends and they might not necessarily be in the Big East.”
For the first time in America East history, the top five teams won at least 17 games. And all of them made a postseason tournament. For Albany, getting to the NCAAs meant setting a school record for wins (24) and beating three of the league’s top five teams in the conference tournament.
“Duke loses in the quarterfinals of their conference tournament, they get a couple extra days to rest and relax and prepare,” said Albany coach Will Brown. “The 8-9 game in the Big East tournament, the loser goes home and gets to rest and relax and get ready for the NCAA Tournament. You lose in the America East Conference tournament, you are not going to the NCAA Tournament. That’s just a fact.
“With that being said, I thought there were five teams in our league that played tremendous basketball all year long. I think it’s a league that’s underappreciated.”
Right man for job?
Before the 76ers gave up the Wells Fargo Center to the tournament teams, Sixers coach Doug Collins endorsed his son, longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins, whose name has come up in Northwestern’s search for a new coach. Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski chimed in as well, saying like father, like son. “That heart, that soul, that passion,” Krzyzewski said, “his son has it, too.”