By Ray Mernagh
Talk about a no news weekend with Big East basketball huh?
Yes, that first sentence is dripping with sarcasm.
As we all know by now Pitt and Syracuse have jumped to the ACC. UCONN and Rutgers are probably next. West Virginia, rest assured, has some plans of their own.
Without a doubt it’s the end of something very special. The end of an era in which Big East Basketball was synonymous with best/greatest/elite or whatever term you choose to go with to describe the league that last season saw it’s 9th place finisher win the National Title. Even Coach K, now that he knows Pitt and Syracuse (and UConn?) are coming, has admitted that maybe the ACC wasn’t as great as his comments the last few years would have led us to believe.
As a Pitt grad, and primarily a basketball writer, I have mixed emotions about this. It sucks that Big East basketball is going to change over to something completely different than it is, or cease to exist if you believe some, depending on what happens in the days, weeks and months ahead. It also blows that football, which I love to watch, is driving all of these changes towards super-conferences. But, if you’re Pitt or Syracuse, or anyone else in their positions, it’s about self-preservation at this point. If Pitt and Syracuse hadn’t been the first to jump, somebody else would’ve been.
It’s money. Plain and simple.
How does it effect Pitt basketball-wise?
Some think it could be the death knell for the program.
I can’t see that.
Pitt’s recruiting has long ago switched from being a primarily New York/New Jersey based operation. They continue to make in-roads with DC programs, Maryland kids and the New England Prep Schools. They’ve dipped into Ohio occasionally and recently went out of the country to land the two biggest recruits in the program’s history since Sam Young and DeJuan Blair (2011′s Khem Birch, from Canada via Notre Dame Prep and 2012 7-footer Steven Adams from New Zealand, who’s scheduled to arrive at Notre Dame Prep this winter before matriculating to Pitt).
The other 2012 recruit is DeMatha point guard James Robinson, a 6’3″ kid who will have an impact earlier than most points in the Pitt system due to his size, strength and athleticism. You think kids from that area won’t want to get away to a city campus like Pitt’s while still having the chance to play Maryland, Duke and UNC every year? The last two schools mentioned are where the hesitation lies when it comes to Pitt entering the league.
It’s obvious anyone coming in is going to be a third fiddle to Saint Roy and Pope K. It’s just the way things work in the Triangle. And yeah, maybe that’s upsetting to some important folks inside the Petersen Events Center. But, if it does upset them, it will pass. Pitt basketball competes. It should be a challenge that’s eventually welcomed by those that have built the program, if it hasn’t been already.
Levance Fields will pop up in more than a few recruiting pitches. The move could take the program to the next level because maybe some of those DC/Maryland/NC kids that, for whatever reason, were passed on by Roy and K (and each of them makes some recruiting mistakes) will opt for Pitt in the future knowing they’ll have a crack at UNC/Duke every year. It also gives Jamie Dixon a chance to go head up with the two guys most consider the elite in coaching right now. I don’t see Dixon running from that challenge. I see him embracing it. Time will tell.
Syracuse fits in perfectly style of play wise. The thing for the Orange that will be crucial is when the change happens from Jim Boeheim to Mike Hopkins but that was always going to be the question no matter what league the Orange were in (It’s an even bigger question at UConn with whoever replaces Jim “Cutty” Calhoun). The Orange have built a monster program in Upstate New York but there’s yet to be that transition made from the Hall of Famer to the coach in waiting. Hopkins seems like he’s ready and equipped whenever the time comes. The man is connected and everyone loves him. Again, time will tell.
For now, it’s a sad day for Big East basketball, who’s founder Dave Gavitt ironically, passed away the evening the news was broken by Pete Thamel. Gavitt’s legacy is the Big East, but he was also a spectacular coach who’s influence stretched far and wide.
College sports, and the world it exists in, is changing. Gavitt saw the future once and made one helluva decision to create a spectacular conference at just the right time. How the people making these current decisions will be looked at in the future is questionable — they can only hope to be held in the esteem with which the masses hold Gavitt.
We’ll look at how this all impacts those remaining in the league as more changes happen. Change isn’t always good, but often there’s not a lot any of us can do about it except listen to the spin that folks put on it.
Acceptance is always the answer to most problems.
In this case, especially for fans of Big East basketball, acceptance is also a very tough pill to swallow.