NEW YORK – In this the 30th year in which (a nicely renovated) Madison Square Garden has hosted the Big East’s annual fundraising party in which students and alumni from near and far converge on the city for a couple of days of fun(drinking), and great basketball, it’s also the near swan song for this rite of passage for Orange Nation, the caravans that come down from central New York each March, mixed in with the massive alumni base in the metropolitan area.
The practically sold-out Garden was rocking in orange as the now 31-1 Orange rallied and held off pesky Connecticut down the stretch 58-55 in Thursday’s quarterfinal round game of the 2012 tourney, ending the defending champion Huskies 13-game post-season winning streak, UConn’s first tournament defeat of any kind since an NIT loss at Virginia Tech in 2010.
But with a near certain exit to the ACC lined up for the fall of 2013, after this weekend there’s only next year for the ‘Cuse faithful to enjoy March hoops under the shadow of the Empire State Building before the southward conference migration.
As Big East lame ducks it’s practically a moot point to rail against the uneven conference tournament format in New York that has the top four seeds sitting out for two days while 12 other teams play, instead of the more equitable manner in which similar to an NCAA regional bracket, the top four seeds would play seeds 13-16 respectively the first day, the winners moving into Thursday’s quarterfinals after a day off, with the other teams, seeds 5-12, playing on Wednesday, the winners advancing to the quarterfinals the next day with no day off. This way, all 16 teams play by the end of the second day.
For a while on this late spring-like Thursday in The City it appeared for the third year in a row the ‘Cuse would be knocked off by a lower seeded team playing well with a game or two under its belt, following a loss to Georgetown in 2010, and a near escape against St. John’s and subsequent loss to Connecticut last season, before Dion Waiters and James Sutherland (a combined 28 points) keyed the Orange offense over the final six minutes to beat the Huskies this time around.
“I hate sitting around all week, it’s very difficult,” Jim Boeheim, a major proponent of the change in tournament logistics, lamented afterwards. “I’m glad that we were able to get a win. We haven’t played that many games (three in 12 days) and we need to play again. Tomorrow’s game (Cincinnati in the semi-finals) will help us, but this was a tremendous comeback.”
And a win that will fill the Garden up in orange again Friday night, a precursor to future non-ACC games that SU will play against marquee names moving forward, keeping the “New York’s College Team” presence on the biggest stage once the glory years of the Big East in the Big Apple have faded away.