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Big East awarded eight bids in its final season


Peyton Siva

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They’re in

• Louisville (29-5): No. 1 in MIDWEST vs. No. 16 North Carolina A&T or Liberty, Thursday in Lexington.

• Georgetown (25-6): No. 2 in SOUTH vs. No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast University, Friday in Philadelphia.
• Marquette (23-8): No. 3 in EAST vs. No. 14 Davidson, Thursday in Lexington.

• Pittsburgh (24-8): No. 8 in WEST vs. No. 9 Wichita State, Thursday in Salt Lake City.

• Syracuse (26-9): No. 4 in EAST vs. No. 13 Montana, Thursday in San Jose.

• Notre Dame (25-9): No. 7 in WEST vs. No. 10 Iowa State, Friday in Dayton.
• Villanova (20-13): No. 9 in SOUTH vs. No. 8 North Carolina, Friday in Kansas City.

• Cincinnati (22-11): No. 10 in MIDWEST vs. No. 7 Creighton, Friday in Philadelphia.

The Big East was created more than 30 years ago to be an elite basketball conference. It is going out the same way.

With eight teams in the NCAA tournament, it remains the dominant conference before it splinters off to a new formation. More than that, it might have the national champion as its last chapter.

Louisville is the No. 1 overall seed, a team on a 10-game winning streak, and its victims have included teams given high seeds Sunday such as No. 3 Marquette, No. 4 Syracuse and No. 7 Notre Dame.

Each is heading to the tournament with favorable seeding, but none might be as versatile and tested as the Cardinals, who came back from a 16-point deficit to defeat Syracuse in the conference tournament championship.

The Cardinals essentially are the same team that reached the Final Four last season — but with more experience. In senior point guard Peyton Siva, named the Big East tournament most outstanding player, they have a star whom veteran coach Rick Pitino has said is one of his two best all-time players.

The other is Florida coach Billy Donovan.

“I thought they were the best team in the league from the beginning of the year, and they’ve proved it,’’ Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.

Yet the Cardinals finished the regular season in a three-way tie for first, the greatest testament to the strength of the league as it begins NCAA play.

Georgetown was thought to be a No. 1 seed before losing to Syracuse in the semifinals of the conference tournament. And the Hoyas were a two-point victor over Louisville in the regular season.

Pitino said Syracuse is going into the tournament with momentum, bouncing back from losing four of its last five to win three games in the conference tournament. The Orange beat Pittsburgh — a No. 8 seed — and upset Georgetown to drop its seed from a possible No. 1 to a No. 2.

Marquette will seek to improve on its Sweet 16 appearance last year, although their loss to Notre Dame in the conference tournament was a down note.

If the Golden Eagles get past No. 15 seed Davidson, they face a difficult second round matchup against No. 6 Butler — a program that becomes a conference partner next season — or Bucknell, a dangerous mid-majors team.

No. 4 Syracuse might find Montana to be a tougher team than a No. 13 seed would suggest. The Orange play a difficult defensive style for most teams, but the tournament has become all about the unexpected.

The Irish are playing with confidence and were given a better seed than Pitt, even though the Panthers finished the regular season with a better conference record.

Cincinnati and Villanova might struggle to get past their first-round opponents, but their inclusion in the field gives the conference its fourth consecutive season with at least eight tournament teams. The conference had a record 11 in the field in 2011. No other conference has ever had eight.

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