Posted by Matt Norlander
NEW YORK — After what the first two and a half days of Big East tournament basketball presented, a come-down was to be expected.
The good news for the conference is, while Notre Dame and Louisville’s cruise-control blowouts were snoozers, they set up the best possible scenario for Friday night. When given the bracket, most would’ve picked the four teams left standing as the best possible group if you combine talent, fan interest and television draw.
Louisville didn’t mess around in the late game. It defeated Marquette, 81-56, and made no question about its performance. This was crucial for Rick Pitino and his Cardinals because they defeated Marquette in one of the most unlikely ways earlier this season, when the Golden Eagles blew a 19-point lead in six minutes and fell, 71-70.
Pitino called that win over Marquette on “a fluke” on his team’s behalf. This one was certainly not. Afterward, Pitino said he hasn’t had this much fun coaching a basketball team since 1987, when he coached Providence to the Final Four.
Three of the top four seeds won Thursday. The last time that happened was 2007, when all four favorites advanced to Friday-night play. In one of the most competitive years in the history of the conference, seeding has done a decent job of holding to form. Pitino said he was a little cautious coming in due to the elongated layoff.
“I worry about the double-bye sometimes, not being prepared,” Pitino said. “I don’t think any coach is a big proponent of the double-bye.”
Marquette was playing its third game in as many nights. And just as in 2010, it ran out of gas in the second half against a superior opponent.
“The same thing happened to us last year,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “Ten minutes to go against Georgetown last year, our third game in three nights, it was a tie ball game—they beat us by 23. Halftime tonight, we’re down five, and we get blitzed.”
The Cardinals pretty much did what they wanted. They may not have looked as good as Notre Dame did against Cincinnati, but it was close. The Golden Eagles couldn’t stop the long ball.
“If the team you’re playing scores 50 percent of their points from 3, you can probably deduct it was a long night,” Williams said.
The loss may have been good for Marquette though, as it will surely dodge the 8/9 game, instead getting a 10 or 11, and thus an easier second-round opponent, should it get there.
“I think the carryover that I hope we will have is that we arrived in New York not knowing what tournament we would play in,” Williams said. “And we go back to Milwaukee knowing what tournament that is.”
Louisville and Notre Dame will face each other for the first time in Big East tournament history Friday night. The Irish will play for a one seed, while Louisville will continue to go about its business, not a future NBA player on the team.
“Not since 1996 did I walk into a place and feel as confident as this,” Pitino said. “We know Notre Dame is very, very tough. They’re very, very skilled. They put on a passing clinic each night.”
In 1996, Rick Pitino was coaching a Kentucky team that’s considered one of the greatest of all-time.
Mike Brey and Pitino have done two of the best coaching jobs this season. It’s only fitting they get the chance to face each other for the right to play for a conference title. And odds are Friday night’s going to go a lot better than Thursday.
|More College Basketball coverage|