Underneath all the nostalgia and wistfulness of this last ride through the Big East Tournament is the bitter feeling among these basketball teams that college football is driving the bus. So it is only fitting that Notre Dame has been one of the big players this week.
Nobody in the Big East takes a back seat to the Fighting Irish when it comes to taking a back seat to football. But Notre Dame is not complaining. The team that upset Marquette late Thursday and played Louisville in the semifinals Friday night came to New York with a bounce in its step, heading to the NCAA Tournament this coming week and to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
Notre Dame came to the Garden this week with a first-and-10 exuberance, and made that obvious with a resilient effort after being down 17-4 Thursday against Marquette. The Irish rallied to knock out one of the three teams that shared the league's regular- season title.
"Coach just challenged us. He even asked us if we were scared, and we took that personally," Jerian Grant said after scoring 17 points against the Golden Eagles.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey recognizes the special nature of this tournament, the last one before the conference's big breakup. "Look at the matchups today," he said Thursday. "They blow away any other league . . . I know it's the last time, and we're trying to get our money's worth out of this thing."
Money is a sore subject here, what with people at various schools pointedly saying that the pursuit of football riches has caused the dissolution of the Big East as we know it. Unsaid, however, is that money also is the driving force behind conference basketball tournaments, too.
In any case, Notre Dame made a splash while it was here this week, especially with its garish new green uniforms. "Love them," said Pat Connaughton, a pitcher for Notre Dame as well as a sharpshooting guard. "If we're going to keep winning, we've got to love them."