March 15, 2014
By Richard Finn
Special to BIGEAST.com
NEW YORK - The past blended with the future this week to deliver a memorable and significant BIG EAST Men's Basketball Tournament presented by NEW YORK LIFE.
"It has been a great week for the league," said BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman an hour before tip-off of the tournament final between second-seeded Creighton and fourth-seeded Providence at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
"To be able to connect the proud tradition of the tournament and long standing connection with the Garden to the new era, for me you can't ask for more," said Ackerman.
The symbolism of a charter BIG EAST school like Providence in the championship for the first time since 1994 taking on league newcomer Creighton was very significant, said Ackerman.
"Providence is the home of Dave Gavitt," Ackerman said of the founding father of the BIG EAST. "It was like the hand of Dave Gavitt pushing PC into the championship. And then we have the future with Creighton and (Doug) McDermott, a fourth-year senior, willing his school into the championship.
"This is like bridge week," said Ackerman.
Games were competitive and there were plenty of highlight reel moments to remember.
The BIG EAST Player of the Year and Sports Illustrated cover boy McDermott shined brightly under the Madison Square Garden big top. The senior showed off his full offensive arsenal from bottom of the net treys to powerful drives to the bucket.
Seton Hall grabbed headlines winning back-to-back one-point thrillers, the first against Butler with a strong defensive stop and then surprising top-seeded Villanova on a buzzer beating jumper from Sterling Gibbs.
The electric atmosphere in the Garden that afternoon softened the sting of defeat a bit for Villanova coach Jay Wright.
"That was a great basketball game, great to be part of it, great atmosphere," said Wright. "The Garden was rocking. We had a lot of fun."
So, too, did the fans. Crowds were enthusiastic and large. Nearly 15,000 attended the Thursday matinee quarterfinal games featuring local favorites St. John's and Seton Hall. More than 13,000 came for that evening's quarterfinal games and 15,580 came through the turnstiles for the semifinals on Friday.
Creighton fans were noticeable for size - around 3,000 - and for their noise as they have enjoyed the team's rousing ride to the championship.
With a strong line-up of conference sponsors such as New York Life, Gatorade, Samsung and Geico, and an engaged broadcast partner FOX Sports and a 30-plus year history with the Garden, Ackerman feels the league is in a good place to build on a successful tournament week.
"We have more work to finish out the year and in the future we will be looking at ways of taking advantage of the BIG EAST name," said Ackerman.
What's first on Ackerman's list of things to do next?
"We take a breath."