Big East Title Game Offers Redemption, Hope for Cats & Pirates
In one corner, you have the team that, despite a series of single digit NCAA Tournament appearances over the past decade, that's still trying to prove itself.
In the distant further corner, you have a team that considers it a victory just to be here after the disaster that was last year, but can fully wash the sins of the past away with a victory in one of college basketball's biggest stages.
But, hey, a weird championship game is nothing new in the Big East, right?
Even the start time is unconventional, as the Villanova Wildcats will face off against the Seton Hall Pirates today at 5:30 PM for the Big East title at Madison Square Garden.
Villanova, currently the third ranked team in the nation, has the accolades to show off to the ever judgmental critics of college basketball. However, they're still in need of a victory here today, one that would capture back-to-back Big East title after going ringless since 1995. A loss could possibly cost Villanova a shot at a valuable one seed, and respawn an analogy those around Philadelphia are tired of hearing....Villanova is to March Madness as the Bengals are to the NFL Playoffs.
For the Seton Hall Pirates, it was a win over Villanova last season that gave the Pirates and their fans a glimmer of hope after years of pitch black darkness. Graced with no tournament appearances since the 2006 season, the Pirates picked up an epic overtime victory over the then-#6 Wildcats, capping a week that saw them top another ranked Big East foe in St. John's. It appeared the ship was finally being righted for SHU.
And then, thud. The Pirates saw their own cargo raided, as several players, citing team disunity, transferred away, including Sterling Gibbs to UConn. The 12-2 mark after the Nova win quickly spiraled out of control, as the Pirates fell out of not just March Madness contention, but NIT as well, going 4-13 the rest of the way, capping things off with an embarrassing one and done appearance in New York, a 78-56 loss to Marquette.
The eventual winners of that Garden party, Villanova, obviously recovered from the Hall loss. Surviving a tough semifinal match with Providence (much like they did on Friday night in this year's edition), the Cats clawed Xavier away for the Big East crown. After seeing so many Marches start off in disappointment in New York...including a buzzer beater loss to an 8th seeded Seton Hall team courtesy of Gibbs in 2014...capturing the Big East crown was supposed to be the catalyst behind a script rewrite that saw the Cats return to Final Four glory, a place they haven't been since 2009. However, awarded a top seed, they instead fell in tough fashion to North Carolina State, failing once again to escape from the tournament's opening weekend.
The script is different now for both sides. Villanova has been one of the country's hottest teams all year. Of the over 300 programs in NCAA Division I basketball, the Cats are the only who hasn't lost to an unranked opponent. They spent time as the top ranked team in the country. A talented senior class, led by Ryan Arcidiacono, he off the patented 3 row dive, wants to go out with more than just "top regular season ranking" on their post-Nova resumes. Another ring to close out their Big East careers may be just the confidence booster they're looking for heading into the craziest time of the year.
Seton Hall, likewise, has a chance for a script flip of redemption. Recovering from an early season loss to Long Beach State, the Pirates may be getting hot at just the right time, behind the spectacular play of their own guard Isaiah Whitehead. Dispatching of the Xavier Musketeers for the second time of the season last night, the Pirates have not the Big East title in their grasp since 1993. To end both that drought and the cursed season of 2014-15 would be nothing short of a pile of gold for the Pirates.
Some say Big East basketball isn't what it used to be, what with several key members departing. With these two charter members going for not just personal redemption, but conference redemption, and even further redemptions beyond the Garden's limits...that statement couldn't be further from the truth. Pirates and Cats going at it in a battle for the ages. Time to admit it...The Big East is back in the New York Groove.
Geoff Magliocchetti will be at today's Big East title events. Tweet him your thoughts @GeoffMags5490.
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