Gunning for the Big East title

The 31st Big East men's basketball tournament will captivate fans for five days and 15 games before the champion is crowned Saturday night.

Syracuse is the top seed and Louisville is the defending champion; and that’s all we know for certain at this point.

History is not on Syracuse’s side as the 2010 Big East Championship gets underway Tuesday at noon. This year is the sixth time the Orange has entered the conference championship with the top seed since the Big East started a postseason tournament in 1980 (the Orange were the No. 1 seed in the West Division in 2003, but would have been the overall top seed with a 13-3 record), but zero of their five Big East championships came with Syracuse as the top seed. Ironically, at the start of each decade (1980, 1990, 2000, 2010) Syracuse finds itself as the top seed, and then returning to upstate New York without a trophy.

Orange results as No. 1 seed:

2003 – lost to UCONN, 80-67 SEMIFINAL

2000 – lost to #9 G’town, 76-72, QUARTER

1991 – lost to #8 Nova, 70-68, QUARTER

1990 – lost to UCONN, 78-75 - FINAL

1980 – lost to G’town, 87-81 (at Providence) - FINAL

Orange fan’s Starting Five guide to Big East Championship:

Longest – Now that all 16 conference teams are invited to the postseason tournament, the No. 9 to No. 16 seeds (i.e. the bottom half) must ascend the five-games-in-five-days mountain to claim the championship.  Is it possible for a team playing in the dreaded Tuesday slate of games to claim the trophy? Of the Tuesday Titans, watch for Seton Hall and their difficult head coach Bobby Gonzalez to ride shooting guard Jeremy Hazell into Saturday’s finale.

Strongest – Roundly viewed as the best conference in the NCAA, the Big East Championship is a test of endurance, driven by emotion and won by versatility. Teams that can score and defend various ways advance, while one-trick ponies are left to find the next out-bound train from Penn Station. The prediction here is a rematch of the forgotten game, Pittsburgh’s victory in the Carrier Dome on Jan. 2. The Panthers have appeared in seven of the last nine Big East Championship games and the only other conference school to match that run is Syracuse who went seven of eight from 1986-93. A sucker for history, we’ll predict Pittsburgh defeats the Orange again, 73-69.  

Brightest – The flashbulbs pop extra bright for the Big East Championship, taking place in one of America's most famous arenas, in the city that never sleeps. Legends are made during this week (see Gerry McNamera, circa 2006) so here are five players with legend capabilities: Pittsburgh sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs, South Florida guard Dominique Jones, Providence forward Jamine Peterson, and Syracuse forward Rick Jackson. All of these players have the potential to put their ball clubs on their back and secure the Big East Championship.

Neediest – Connecticut roller-coasted through the 2009-10 season, defeating then No. 1 Texas and then No. 2 Villanova while losing to Cincinnati, South Florida and Providence. The Huskies enter its Tuesday match up with St. John’s at 17-14 overall (7-11 Big East), and by all accounts, needs to win out to make the NCAA Tournament. Connecticut, a Final Four participant last season, will likely need to wade through Villanova, Syracuse, and the rest of the mighty Big East on five consecutive days. This dog needs to hurry or be left out in the cold on Selection Sunday.

Freshest – Whether you’re unable to get tickets into the Garden to see the Orange, or you need to drown the sours of a Syracuse loss, a warm hug and a cold brew are within shouting distance of the games: the Blarney Rock Pub, located half a block from MSG (go west on 31st Street, across 7th Avenue), is the meeting place for wayward Syracuse fans. There you’ll find Orange memorabilia plastered on the walls, cream cheese in the jalapeno poppers, and all the charm of an Irish pub.


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