How About A Basketball-Driven Realignment

None of the recent changes in proposed or actual college conference realignments have had anything to do with basketball. Not even one. In fact, Kansas, one of the leading basketball programs, came perilously close to being relegated to the scrap heap.

Hard to fathom in parts of the country where the following for basketball closely resembles the most fanatical of cults, with an intensity among its frenetic followers that rivals that of some hardened fundamental and radical groups.

Brendan Prunty, of the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, envisions a realignment that would merge the Big East and Atlantic Coast conferences into what he convincingly argues would be the best basketball conference in the nation while also being a respectable football league, as follows:

Big Atlantic Conference

NORTH — Boston College, UConn, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Temple, Villanova, Notre Dame, Georgetown, St. John’s and Maryland.

SOUTH — Wake Forest, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, Louisville, Central Florida, South Florida, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Memphis.

Under this scenario, Villanova, Notre Dame, Georgetown and St. John’s would be basketball-only schools. Miami, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech would have joined the SEC, and Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh would have gone to the Big Ten.

The Triangle Hoops Journal, a North Carolina-based blog, has endorsed the concept, noting:

The “Big Atlantic Conference” would be a respectable football conference and would provide sufficient opportunities for the member schools to compete at the highest level.  More importantly, it would remain true to the history and tradition of the basketball-centric ACC and Big East by creating perhaps the best college basketball conference imaginable …

State, Duke, UNC and Wake would get to play each other twice each regular season.  Traditional rivalries in each league would be respected and promoted …

Imagine a conference tournament arranged as follows:  The South division plays two rounds in Greensboro, the North in Madison Square Garden.  The four semi-finalists from each division would then play out the tournament in Greensboro or the Garden, alternating each season.

Gotta love the name, The Big Atlantic Conference. However, the South division of the tournament would have to be played in the new 22,000-seat state-of-the-art arena in Louisville. And Notre Dame would not be pressured into playing conference football, enjoying a great new home for its other sports.

This lineup is one that makes a lot of sense and would generate a highly profitable television network, assuring that basketball remains a major power player on the college athletic landscape.

Louisville Deals Setback To U-Calhoun

Any time less than five points separate two Big East teams with four minutes to go, anything can happen, positive or negative, anything but passive.

Fans lose all sense of control, forced to accept whatever fate chooses to throw in their collective lap that day. The frantic finishes are so wild, so unpredictable and so commonplace no one is shocked or surprised by any outcome.

Edgar Sosa, with all his ups and downs, indicating the game will be in his hands. At 29 seconds, it is obvious: He will make the move, and he does with 11 seconds to go.

UConn playing its best basketball of the season since the return of Jim Calhoun, looking good winning its last three games, ready to exact revenge, senior night, pumped, having its way, drumming Louisville 39-26 late in the first half.

But wait. One knows what happens more often than not in Louisville games. The team with the lead eases up a bit, the team behind turns on the defensive pressure. A couple of unexpected three-pointers from a surprising source, a turnover or two, and a bank shot at the halftime buzzer and Rick Pitino’s team trails by only five points.

Game on again, despite having thrown in the proverbial tower at the big screen just a few minutes earlier, having perceived no chance, no prayer of surviving the UConn onslaught.

Fast forward to midway in the second half, Louisville leading by six points at some point, knowing all the while the game will be decided at the horn.

Edgar Sosa, with all his ups and downs, indicating the game will be in his hands. At 29 seconds, it is obvious: He will make the move, and he does with 11 seconds to go. Running the gauntlet with all the swiping hands beneath the basket. Throwing up a shot between all the bodies and outstretched hands. Swish.

Too early, eight seconds left. Kemba Walker, with 28 points from all kinds of shots, with the ball, making the mad dash. Hello, Kemba, I’m Samardo Samuels, get that thing out of here. Hey ball, I’m Preston Knowles, boom, get out of here.

Louisville wins 78-76. Back in the NCAA tournament chase for a couple of days.

The one thing certain is the Louisville-Marquette game Tuesday will be decided on a buzzer beater.

Box Score


Lady Cards Seek To Derail Freight Train

Can the Louisville Lady Cards stop the UConn freight train?

By Sonja Sykes

So, it’s down to two:  Undefeated UConn and the upstart University of Louisville women. David vs. Goliath. Dynasty vs. Darling. The ESPN faces are ready to roll out the red carpet for Geno, Maya and Renee. Kara, Doris, Mike, Rebecca and the rest…ready to bow, scrape and genuflect in front of the beasts of the Big East and national power.

And, although it very well may happen, let’s go ahead and play the game.

We all know that UConn destroyed the Lady Cards twice this season.  We’ve seen the precise, flawless and perfect Husky attack on offense and the lockdown defensive intensity. Maya can score, Renee can bomb, Tina can rebound and the rest of the team ain’t too shabby either.  We will hear this the entire game, be forewarned and no one in their right mind, save the Cardinal faithful, is going to suggest a Husky loss.

Play the game.

The Cards are overachievers. They got lucky because of a Sooner second half meltdown, a Maryland team that couldn’t score late and a Baylor team that couldn’t play defense. Forget the fact that UofL came in second in the Big East, and has Angel McCoughtry. The Cards simply don’t belong here.

Play the game.

Maybe Angel will start out hot in the final. Maybe the Cards pressure UConn into turnovers and the shots won’t drop for Maya and Renee. Maybe Keisha, Candyce and Monique go to the boards again Tuesday night and Dez continues to drive with determination and sink that sweet in the paint jumper. Maybe Becky Burke decides to knock down a few threes and Jeff Walz comes up with a good game plan and the team decides to pay attention to it for forty minutes.

Play the game.

It just might turn out like the previous three. The favorite, the ESPN pick, the beloved goes down and the Cardinals survive and advance.  The miracle happens. The unthinkable occurs. The impossible develops. Sometimes, you just have to have faith. Your team. Give ’em love and cheer loud. Swim upstream and dance like nobody is watching.

Sometimes you just have to believe.

Play the game.

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Another Epic Challenge

Still another game against a top 10 team, another game against a No. 1 team.

University of Louisville fans are still thawing out from the great ice storm of 2009, and the economic and emotional challenges accompanying all of the emergency situations. Many fans making it through some dire times, buoyed only by assistance from friends and strangers, and the heroics of their basketball team. Little, if any, time, however, to savor what has  been accomplished, too many challenges await.

The observer recalls a conversation over the water cooler with a UConn fan a dozen years ago, marveling that Connecticut was considered a national contender in anything sports-related. Those folks should stick to being a financial center, you know, taking care of the banks and the housing industry, ensuring that the economy is on a firm footing. Well, apparently they have become distracted by basketball, allowing the economy to go south.

Nevertheless, UConn arrives as a perennial power, the top team in the country.  Conference standings are more important to Louisville and Connecticut than the national implications of this game. But the rankings are important, don’t let anyone kid you.

The structural integrity of Freedom Hall will be put to the test in another game of epic proportions.