The Big East will be just fine, thank you very much.
Over the past six months, the Big East conference has been all shook up with the defection of West Virginia to the Big 12 following this season and the loss of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, likely after next year. But if the Big East is going to miss these teams, it isn’t showing it.
Only one of the bunch, Syracuse, was one of the tournament’s final four teams and with Cincinnati’s 71-68 win over the Orange on Friday night, none of the defecting programs will lift the conference tournament championship. And now it is the Bearcats, among other programs, who will be called on to fill the void as the Big East transitions yet again. They started with a signature win.
“Well, it's a huge win for our program,” Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said.
“It took us a while to develop toughness, and now that our toughness has caught up to our talent. When we make shots we can beat anybody. But our defense hung us in there last night. You need that all against Syracuse because they are arguably the best team in the country. But it's a great win for our program. Maybe the guys that vote in the coaches' poll will give us at least one vote on the also-rans. We didn't get any last week despite winning eight of our last 10.”
The loss of the three basketball teams, a move precipitated by the schools to upgrade the conference their football programs play in, will hurt the Big East. Since 2001, the Big East tournament has been won seven times by a team that has already left the conference or will surely do so.
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After Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College left the Big East earlier last decade, it was Cincinnati on the football side who stepped up to help replace those teams. Since 2006, the first year when the aforementioned programs left for the ACC, the Bearcats have won outright or shared the Big East football title three times.
Now in hoops, they look poised to do the same thing.
“I've got faith in my team. When our toughness rises to the level of our talent, we've got a great team,” Cronin said. “We can beat anybody. We came here to win the tournament, and we've got one more tomorrow night at 9 o'clock.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.