|Notre Dame is also soon to leave the Big East. The leagues, they are a-changin'. (AP)|
NEW YORK -- Jim Calhoun was nowhere to be found. I looked outside, thinking maybe he had another bike accident and was lying down on the streets of Manhattan, yelling for help. Bob Huggins wasn't at his regular table, either. Maybe West Virginia's head coach hit his head on the corner of another coffee table or something and was passed out in a downtown hotel room.
Then it hit me.
Calhoun retired a month or so ago and has been temporarily replaced at Connecticut by his polished, semi-vanilla former player, Kevin Ollie. Huggins wasn't in New York, either; he was in Kansas City for Big 12 media day with his Mountaineers, who made the move as part of the mammoth realignment this past year.
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Well, at least Jim Boeheim was here. He's always good for a quote. Ditto for Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, whose Panthers have been as successful in league play as anyone in the Big East over the past decade or so. And Mike Brey, who has done remarkable things in South Bend lately.
Boeheim and Dixon, though, were on their Big East Media Day swan songs -- Syracuse and Pittsburgh are both headed to the ACC next season. Brey could join them, as well as Coach K and Roy, down in North Carolina a year from now.
But don't worry.
Rick Pitino will still be here. He told me he's going to sign a contract extension sometime in the next year that will take him beyond the 2017 season, but Louisville's coach did just turn 60 -- and he's been known to change his mind a time or two. Memphis' Josh Pastner will also be here. You know about him, the baby-faced wonder who can recruit with just about anyone but still has yet to win an NCAA tournament game in his three seasons with the Tigers. Fran Dunphy and Temple will arrive next year -- and so will Larry Brown. That is, if the 72-year-old can make it through Year One at SMU.
Oh, yeah, and we'll bring in James Dickey and Donnie Jones. You might not have heard of them, but they are the coaches at Houston and Central Florida, two more teams that will join the league in 2013-14.
"We don't lose anything on the court," Pitino said in his go-to comment Wednesday at the New York Athletic Club in reference to Memphis and Temple making up for the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
Boeheim, sitting clear across the room, got a nice chuckle in when he was informed about Pitino's comments. He wasn't alone.
"Rick's full of shit if that's what he really said," Boeheim said. "If he was in the Big 12, he'd be saying the Big 12 is better."
Boeheim, who later made it clear he was joking with his shot at Pitino, then continued to say that Louisville clearly wanted to leave the Big East.
"Everyone knows it," Boeheim said.
I'm going to miss the verbal sparring between Boeheim, Calhoun and Pitino as much as the coaching matchups between them.
This league has changed.
"It's sad," Brey said.
Poor Mike Aresco. The former CBS television guy is facing an uphill battle. The good news is you never want to come in and replace a legend. He won't have that problem as he takes over for former commissioner John Marinatto, who was shellshocked when Syracuse and Pittsburgh opted to bolt from what wasn't long ago college hoops' premier league.
He's still got some decent programs: Louisville is the flag-bearer now, but who knows whether the Cards will stick around in the Big East or eventually be plucked by someone else (i.e. Big 12). Georgetown isn't what is was back in the day under Big John, but JT3 has the Hoyas as a perennial NCAA tournament team. UConn isn't, well, UConn without Calhoun, depth on the roster or being postseason-eligible -- but the Huskies still have tradition to fall back on. Buzz Williams has done a superb job at Marquette, but he and athletic director Larry Williams aren't exactly bosom buddies and there's no telling how long he'll remain in Milwaukee. Jay Wright used to be the nation's hottest coach (he even spurned Kentucky), but now Villanova's roster doesn't look any more intimidating than that of Houston or UCF.
Then there's Cincinnati, St. John's, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Providence, South Florida, DePaul. Some programs a step ahead of others, and all possessing quality coaches, but none of them holding any semblance of cache on the national level.
"In some ways, the league has solidified itself," Dixon said. "They pulled in next-tier teams and have solidified themselves as a long-term league. They aren't going away, and that was an ongoing question for a while."
The Big East is still here, but it'll never be the same.