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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Surreal feeling as Big East prepares to split

In the last couple of years there has been an intriguing aura surrounding the Big East tournament as the lame-duck teams prepare to try to leave the conference on the best possible note.

Last year it was West Virginia's time to play its final act before exiting stage left en route for the Big 12. The focus this year figured to be on new ACC members Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Of course that all changed when the Big East officially announced that DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova would be breaking off on their own at season's end.

When you add in the possibility that Notre Dame could leave at the end of the academic year to join the ACC and that Louisville and Rutgers have just one season remaining before heading off to the ACC and Big Ten respectively and it is safe to say that this tournament will have a feeling of finality to it on so many levels.

"I forget who I had this conversation with but it did become a little nostalgic," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after Thursday practice. "The conference used to rotate. When I went to Catholic school you had to be fair, you had to be Christian like so everybody got a chance whether you place sat 2,500 or whether it sat 10,000. It was small time, it was very much unlike anything we had today. Back then if you would have said to all those schools 'you know what for a whole bunch of years you guys are going to have this tournament in Hartford and there are going to be 10-11,000 people there and ESPN is going to televise the semifinals and finals', they would have told you that you are out of your mind. ESPN didn't televise any of those games, nobody televised any of those games and here we are today. I'd like to think we had a lot to do with that. Now it is over and it is time to start over again."

UConn doesn't know the name of the conference it will be playing in next season but does know who will be in the conference as holdovers Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida will be joined by Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Temple. Notre Dame is the one school currently in limbo although it is looking more likely that they won't be sticking around to defend their Big East regular-season title.

The conference UConn is playing in during the 2013-14 is locked into 18 league games. If Notre Dame leaves it will be easy as each team will play the other nine schools home and away. If Notre Dame says then it is slightly trickier as each other would play eight of the 10 twice and meet the other two squads once each. Also, look for the site of the conference tournament to be announced as early as May at the conference meeting.

As for the Catholic 7, there are still countless details to be negotiated.

"We as coaches have to live in the moment, we still have a lot of work to do," DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. "I think all the people who made this league happen, the (Dave) Gavitts of the world, the Mike Tragheses, the John Marinattos of the world who made this happen and all the players and scores who made this happen for all of these years. We are here for eight years and all of these other people put their whole life into their whole league. It has been a great league for us and we are gong to miss the present and we are going to have to embrace the future.

"Show me what tee box to show up on, tell me what time we are teeing off and we are going to swing away and we are looking forward to some great challenges because somebody has to step up to the plate and somebody has to make themselves the next UConn. You talk about th great coaches, the great administrators in the Big East over the years but don't forget Geno and the program at Connecticut to make the Big East women's basketball what the Big East women's basketball is. (Notre Dame coach) Muffet (McGraw) acknowledges Notre Dame would not be where they are at without the Big East, we wouldn't be where we are at without the Big East and that means the bar that Connecticut has set and that is huge here and something that is going to be sorely missed and people are going to say how can you miss getting drubbed by 47, well it is not the drubbing by 47, it is the gold standard that Connecticut sets. When we break off, we have a responsibility, those of us who are breaking off, of 'let's go' and that is the way we have to approach it."

Villanova's Harry Perretta, the dean of Big East women's basketball coaches and the only one to coach in every Big East tournament, admitted to having mixed feelings now that the anticipated split has become official.

"It's bittersweet," Perretta said. "I am looking forward to anything I guess is new. I have been a part of the whole thing since the beginning. You hate to see something end but you also understand that it can't go on so you have to try to move forward and see where it takes you from here. I am at the end of my career  so the impact for me is a lot different than it would be for a younger coach so you try to move on from here.

"I try not to think about it. I try to teach myself as a coach when you are in this type of atmosphere you just try to prepare yourself for the next game but you can't help think about because you look around and say 'this team might not be here next year' it is different because you have a lot of friends that you have established over the years, it is a (surreal) for me but I can't realy think about it because I am worrying about my next opponent."

Perretta admits that playing against powerhouses like Connecticut and Notre Dame has helped him in the recruiting process and obviously there will be some adjustments now that Villanova will no longer be in the same conference with the Huskies and Fighting Irish.

"Not having them and Notre Dame in the league, when you are out recruiting you may not be recruiting the same players as Notre Dame or Connecticut but you can say 'hey, you get a chance to play against them.' I think it will hurt us a little bit," Perretta said.

Bruno, who was an assistant coach on Auriemma's Olympic coaching staff, said he has not had any discussions with his close friend about setting up a potential non-conference series..The same is true for Perretta who said the Wildcats' non-conference schedule is set for the next two seasons.

While Bruno and the fellow Catholic 7 coaches are just dealing with the survive and advance part of the equation, Big East officials are just hoping that the focus can be more on the talent level and potential of this year's event and not solely on the breakup of the conference.

"My take is that this tournament this year has to be a celebration of one of the most talented and dominant  women's basketball conferences in our nation," Big East Associate Commissioner Danielle Donehew said. "We have tremendous student-athletes who are going to participate tonight through Tuesday night that we are so proud of. Some of them are some of the best players in the nation and many of our teams are on the national stage night in and night out and they will compete in the NCAA tournament representing us as they always have. This weekend it is definitely it is a heightened emotional feeling and I think everyone is certainly pulling together to make sure we are putting the student-athletes first and that is the right thing to do at this point.

"As conference realignment has continued to evolve over the last two years in the conference officer we can certainly come up with numerous contingency plans and now that there is a bit of finality and time frame that has been put into place and time expectation that has been put into place, we really can move forward now with executing a plan to promote this new league and also try to set up the exiting members for success as well. We are all committed to the student-athlete and making sure both leagues are successful so it is difficult but this this weekend has to be about the student athletes that are on the court."


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