NEW YORK (WDRB) -- The big excitement for some in the University of Louisville basketball traveling party on Day 1 of their Big East Tournament visit was that an episode of "Law & Order" is being shot just a block or two away.
Meanwhile, over at Madison Square Garden, the U of L basketball team is trying to establish a new Big East sheriff in town -- right before everybody gets out of Dodge.
Only three times in the soon-to-be defunct history of the league in its present alignment has a school won back-to-back Big East tournaments. Two of those three achieved a national title along with it.
Georgetown won the tourney in 1984 and '85. Connecticut won it in 1998 and '99. And Syracuse won it in 2005 and '06.
But there are other questions facing the Cardinals as they open defense of their tournament title tonight at 7 against Villanova. When U of L went to the No. 1 ranking earlier this season, coach Rick Pitino challenged his players to hang onto the ranking for a while, to realize they'd earned it, and to play like the No. 1 team.
The Cardinals lost three straight.
Heading into this Big East Tournament, U of L is the No. 2 seed. But it is viewed as the favorite in the field by most analysts, and even is expected to have the inside track on Georgetown for a No. 1 seed, despite the Hoyas having beaten the Cardinals during the regular season.
U of L is the more highly ranked team in the national polls -- at No. 4 to Georgetown's No. 5 -- and is ranked No. 1 in the Sagarin ratings and No. 3 in the Ratings Percentage Index and the Ken Pomeroy ratings.
There's a good deal on the line for U of L. A No. 1 seed in the South Regional looks more attractive at this point than a No. 2 seed in Indianapolis and a potential road game against Indiana.
Pitino says his team is confident, but not listening to any hype.
"I just think we have a confident ball club that's not going to embrace it, not going to be overconfident," Pitino said. "We realize we can go to New York and lose to anybody, but we really want to win the tournament, because the more preparation chances you get to play against different styles mentally the better it is. The physical part doesn't bother me. We can play six games in a row. We are not going to get out of shape, because of TV timeouts, but the mental preparation is so great for a team to see all these different things. And that's why I always put so much emphasis on conference tournaments at the end of the year."
In Villanova, the Cardinals face the team that handed them their largest margin of defeat all season -- nine points. U of L twice led by eight at around the eight-minute mark, but made only 12 of 24 free throws and were outscored by 15 points in the final 10 minutes.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright, however, said he doesn't expect to see the same U of L team.
"We were playing well but had lost some games, but we knew we were getting a lot better," Wright said of the first meeting, a 73-64 Villanova win on Jan. 22. "Now, I think they were coming off a loss to Syracuse, and at home, and came into our place and they weren't playing that well at that time. I don't care, I'll take it. But they're playing a lot better now. They're hot, and they've been in this position before, so I expect a great game from them."
Gorgui Dieng says this team is ready to play with the expectations.
"We don't think about it," he said. "We're just coming into the next game. Right now, I just want to win. It's all I think about."
Nobody has beaten the Cards twice this season. A revenge road worked well for them during the postseason a year ago. Now they get a chance to continue that in their first postseason game this year. In some ways, it's a welcome direction of mindset when faced with such lofty expectations.
"We are going in with a high, going in with everybody feeling good about themselves, and we have a lot of character," Pitino said. "It's not easy to win a Big East Championship, and I congratulate Georgetown for a job well done and the way they played all year. And Marquette did a phenomenal job as well. . . . It's going to be special. The Big East Tournament, the last one is going to be so special."
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