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Big East Tournament: Different sorts of drama

Xavier Musketeers forward James Farr and Villanova Wildcats

Xavier Musketeers forward James Farr and Villanova Wildcats forward JayVaughn Pinkston take the opening tipoff in the final game of the Big East basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, March 14, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There is no debating how important it is to every team in the Big East to win the conference tournament. What is open to debate is why.

Conference tournaments have come a long, long way since the era when the Atlantic Coast Conference popularized the idea by holding a tension-filled event that determined who would get the league's only bid to the NCAA Tournament. In stark contrast, six Big East teams were pretty much assured of getting into the Big Dance this year.

So what's the big deal about the four nights in New York?

"The beauty of these tournaments is that it's different for everybody,'' said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team easily defeated Xavier, 69-52, in the final Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

His Wildcats came into this week as a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and thus seemingly had more to lose than to win. He admitted there was at least a shade of relief after the win over Marquette on Thursday, saying, "When you're the favored team, each round is less pressure because that's where you're supposed to be.''

Still, after the anxious, final-seconds win over Providence on Friday, he said: "I'm thrilled. I love this tournament. I like this tournament better than any other tournament. I just love being in New York, love being in the Garden. I know our alumni do.''

For his team, it was an opportunity to do something unique. Villanova had not been to the Big East final since 1997, and never in Wright's tenure. That advanced his point that there is something for everyone.

"Sometimes you have a young team like [Marquette]. They won that game and it's a great step for them. If you have a team that's favored and you don't win it all, it's a negative. Sometimes it can tire you out for the NCAA Tournament,'' he said. "Sometimes it can take a team like UConn, who can win it and go on and win the national championship.

"It's really what you want to make of it.''

Xavier wanted to establish an identity in the conference it joined only last year, as well as to make an impression on the NCAA committee. Consider it an emphasis on the former.

"I think our team is ecstatic,'' Matt Stainbrook said after leading Xavier with 20 points in a 63-61 win over Georgetown late Friday. He was asked if there was more a sense of exhaustion or relief after having barely hung on to the last remnant of a 20-point lead. He said it was neither.

"Oh yeah; I'll tell you we've got a lot of guys with short memories, whether it's in the classroom or on the court. Either one. These guys can put that in the past. We've got another 40 minutes,'' he said. "The atmosphere in our locker room is just very, very excited.''

Both finalists realize that a quirky bounce or a disputed call can change your whole experience in the conference event. An emphasis on the latter this time.

Villanova got past Providence in large part because it received the benefit of the doubt on a foul call on Ryan Arcidiacono's drive with three seconds left in a tie game. He made both free throws for a two-point win.

Xavier nearly lost after a questionable technical foul call gave Georgetown a five-point play and momentum in the second half. "It certainly changed the game,'' coach Chris Mack said.

"I didn't have the luxury of being able to see the monitor. So I'll leave it in those guys' hands. I do know there have been some double technicals called throughout the season. At least from what I saw live, I felt like that could have been the appropriate call, but I'm not the referee. I'm just a guy who yells at them.''

And a guy happy to get what he can out of this tournament.

New York Sports