A New Look Big East

The white towel Georgetown legend John Thompson used to drape over his shoulder and the sweater Lou Carnesseca often fashioned are distant memories in Big East lore. In fact, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim remains the lone reminder of the conference's fledgling days. What we see in the year 2006 is very different from the original plan laid out by Dave Gavitt. The Big East is now a 16-team powerhouse conference with three teams currently ranked in the top ten in the nation.

People often question Connecticut's schedule and I fail to understand why. UConn challenged itself early by playing three quality opponents in Maui. Since then the Huskies have been feeding on inferior competition. The fans and media would love every game to be a top ten matchup, but I believe that Jim Calhoun did an excellent job of scheduling with a tough road ahead in the conference.

Take Gonzaga for example, who plays a brutal early season schedule. The West Coast Conference does not present enough quality opponents to challenge Mark Few's squad regularly. UConn, on the other hand, will be tested nightly in the Big East. When you are Connecticut and you play most of the conference's best home-and-home there aren't many nights you can operate on cruise control. Conversely, if the Bulldogs want to build a quality resume and receive a decent seed in the NCAA they must play quality competition NOW.

Meanwhile, the Big East is now officially the largest Division I-A conference and will garner plenty of attention this year and for years to come. So while the coaches will likely add more grey hair competing in this powerhouse conference, it has the players chomping at the bit to get things going.

"It's going to be an experience. The Big East Conference is just going to be crazy. I can't wait," stated UConn sophomore Rudy Gay.

The wait ends on Tuesday when UConn takes on a 10-3 Marquette team in Milwaukee. But there are some nuances in the new conference set up. Four teams won't make the trip to Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament – that's three more than last year. No one plays all 15 opponents in a season. The Huskies conference schedule is minus Rutgers, and the newly added DePaul Blue Demons. Gay sees the positives of playing the top competition multiple times.

"I think that will be better than playing somebody once because like Boston College last year – they beat us but we didn't feel as though they could beat us again. We didn't think we should've lost the first time but we never got another shot. So I think that could be better than playing every team once," said Gay.

Rudy's wish has been granted as the Huskies will face Syracuse, Louisville and third-ranked Villanova two times each. Rick Pitino's Louisville squad is one of four new teams UConn will face this season for the first time in conference play.

"It's going to be fun to play against new teams like Louisville and South Florida – you know teams you don't know a whole lot about coming in", said Boone.

As far as the players are concerned the verdict is already in before the first Big East game of the season tips.

"It's going to be a fun experience and it's going to make the league a lot more competitive even though it was ultra-competitive to begin with," said Boone smiling.

"It's going to bring a lot of attention to our league and I think for years to come its going to be one of the best leagues," said Gay.


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