St. John’s coach Steve Lavin found it difficult to reflect on the end of the traditional Big East conference in the immediate aftermath of the Red Storm’s 66-53 second-round loss to Villanova in the league tournament Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. And really, Lavin has just three years coaching in the league and sat out most of last season recovering from prostate cancer surgery.
But it was clear from his first comments on the new Big East that he’s looking forward to the future. As a result of the football-basketball breakup. St. John’s will be joining current Big East members Seton Hall, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence and Villanova in what is expected to be a 10-team league that begins play next fall. The only other certainty at the moment is that the league announced it retains the Big East name.
According to multiple sources, the conference tournament will remain in Madison Square Garden, and the leading candidates to join are Butler, Xavier and Creighton the first year and possibly Dayton and St. Louis the following year. An ESPN report on Wednesday said the addition of three more schools for next season is expected within 10 days.
But for now, Lavin said, “I’m really encouraged about the group of schools we have. I think the future of the league is very strong. I’m glad we got the name because the brand is very important in anything – Coca-Cola, Hershey’s. Can’t go wrong with a Hershey bar logo.
“We’ve got the right branding. We’ve got good leadership. There’s still some things in play that we need to take care of, but that’s expected when you go through a transition.
“So, I’m bold on the future of the Big East, and yet, I know we lost some titans. We lost some great rivalries and great coaches and great institutions. Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in, and the beat goes on. You reinvent yourself and do the best with the group we have. I still think we’re going to be one of the preeminent [conferences] in the country.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright, who is completing his 12th season as a head coach in the league after previously serving as an assistant under Rollie Massimino before taking the Hofstra job, has a much longer perspective on the Big East. He shared that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team defeated Seton Hall in the afternoon session, stopped by the Villanova locker room before its game.
“Jim Boeheim is a nicer guy than you think,” Wright kidded with the media about the cantankerous Orange coach, who is the only one who coached all 34 years of the Big East ahead of his move to the ACC next season. “He’s a little sentimental. He stopped in before our game with his wife, Julie. I know this league means the world to him. He went and hugged [former Georgetown coach John Thompson II after SU's game Saturday in Washington]. He don’t hug. He’s not a hugger.
“So, to all of us who have been a part of this, this means a lot. This is really big to us. If not for Rollie Massimino, I’m not even a part of this. If not for the Big East, Rollie Massimino is not Rollie Massimino. I know it, he knows it. And if not for the Big East, no one knows about Villanova. It’s sad.”
But Wright found common ground with St. John’s Lavin on their future together in the new Big East. “The greatest part about this is we get to come back here [to the Garden] and keep a lot of the original schools together,” Wright said. “So, I would lie to you if I said I wasn’t very sentimental about this.”