Tradition matters to Louisville's Rick Pitino, and he'd love to win a share of the final Big East championship on Saturday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – You're looking forward to winning the office pool. Rick Pitino is looking forward to Saturday. You're fretting about NCAA Tournament seeding. Rick Pitino is looking forward to Saturday. You think the only thing that matters in college basketball is March Madness.
Rick Pitino is looking forward to playing Notre Dame on Saturday.
And I believe him.
"I guess this will probably go down, at least in modern times, since I've been here, as probably the most important game ever played at home," Pitino said.
There's some of the trademark Pitino hyperbole in that statement, but far less than usual. It is the final home game for Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. It's a chance to see if the University of Louisville can play six, seven or eight overtimes against Notre Dame. It is certainly an opportunity to send more good vibes to the NCAA Tournament Selection committee.
But first on Pitino's list is what should be first: The chance to win at least a share of the final Big East regular-season championship.
This is the final regular-season Big East game that Louisville will play. Pitino loves Big East Conference basketball more than he loves the designer department at Sak's. His program has won the Big East title once – 2009 – in eight seasons in the league.
"It's always been a tough conference," he said.
Georgetown lost at Villanova Wednesday. That means all the Cardinals have to do is defeat the Fighting Irish in the KFC Yum! Center to have their names engraved on the Big East regular-season trophy.
They'll likely have to share that Big East title with Georgetown and Marquette. All three teams are 13-4. But that's OK. In fact, it's probably fitting because the first Big East title was also shared three ways, by Georgetown, St. John's and Syracuse in 1980.
That was three Hall of Fame coaches -- John Thompson (Georgetown), Louie Carnesecca (St. John's) and Jim Boeheim (Syracuse). It was the first sign that being good in the Big East ensured that you mattered in the country.
That has never changed. Six Big East teams have won the national championship. That's what Dave Gavitt envisioned when he put the league together: make Eastern basketball matter as much as it mattered in the Atlantic Coast and Big Ten conferences.
Now the league is breaking up. A few more days of regular-season play. An epic farewell game between Syracuse and Georgetown Saturday in Washington D.C. The Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden next week. They'll start by playing, "New York, New York," and then finish with "Thanks For the Memories."
The break-up and reformulation of all these conferences screams that tradition does not matter. It matters to Rick Pitino. As he made his farewell tour around the league, Pitino discussed The End with Boeheim, Villanova's Jay Wright, John Thompson III of Georgetown and the league's other high-octane coaches.
He talked about it again Monday night when Gavitt's son, Dan, attended the U of L-Cincinnati game in his new role as the NCAA's vice president of the men's basketball championship.
"We all feel that it's a shame that we're breaking up," Pitino said. "It means so much. A piece of history leaves us all."
Pitino grew up in New York City. He started making his name as a Hall of Fame coach by winning games against those titans during his two seasons (1986-87) at Providence College, the same place where Dave Gavitt once worked.
The Big East is the league of Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Pearl Washington, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Ron Artest, Alonzo Mourning, Rip Hamilton, Carmelo Anthony, Kemba Walker and so many other greats. The list goes on, paragraph after paragraph.
It's also the league where Thompson, Carnesecca, Boeheim, Pitino, Jim Calhoun, Bob Huggins and so many other sharp coaches worked.
You want your name on that final trophy.
"We're playing for a championship," Pitino said.
It's more than a championship. It's the final Big East championship.