It wasn't decided
until the final three seconds of the third overtime period, when the best
player ever to come out of Canada tapped in a rebound. If you're scoring, that
would be Leo Rautins, not Bobby Orr. The tip-in gave Syracuse, a team that had
literally lost its Headd but still played over it, an 83-80 victory over
Villanova in the title game of the Big East tournament last weekend.
basket, the losing coach drew a technical foul for calling a timeout his team
didn't have, a mistake he'd never made in his 25-year career. Then, as the
Villanova players awaited the trophy presentation, they were pelted with tennis
balls, a Frisbee and other objects by a group of fans who for some reason
didn't appreciate a triple-OT finale to a tournament that had more plot changes
than an episode of Knots Landing. Had the fans known then what was revealed the
next day—that Syracuse would not be invited to the NCAA tournament, while two
teams it defeated in the tournament, Georgetown and Villanova, would be—they
might well have thrown bowling balls. In other words, it was an appropriate
conclusion to a clamorous year in the Big East, that hey-look-me-over,
eight-team conference that lies north of the ACC, east of the Big Ten and south
of the national polls.
million, 25,000-seat (for basketball) Carrier Dome was the site. "That's
not exactly Wabash," said Providence College Coach Gary Walters, but for
all the national attention the Big East received this season, it could've been.
Georgetown and St. John's were preseason Top 20 picks in the SI poll but faded
after early losses. Connecticut won its first 11 games, but then lost a couple
in the conference and joined Boston College, Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova
and St. John's in that circle of Big East teams just out of the Big
Indeed, on the
dance floor of the NCAA, this year's Big East tournament was a back-street
shuffle. But, oh, what a shuffle. And what better back street than Syracuse and
its cavernous, drafty insane asylum where the Dome Ranger, the Beast of the
East and beer sales to the crazies made the hometown Orangemen the team to
beat, despite a 15-11 record coming in.
Rollie Massimino was so happy about playing in the Dome that he said, "If
that [the postgame abuse] takes place, we shouldn't have the tournament in
Syracuse. Absolutely no way." Georgetown Coach John Thompson was so
overjoyed about the Dome that, after a 67-53 loss to Syracuse in the semis, he
related the tale of Hoody Bear, a character he grew up with in a Washington,
D.C. housing project. "Hoody Bear used to play real well and fight real
well in his own neighborhood," said Big John.
That short parable
followed an incident between Thompson and Orange Coach Jim Boeheim during the
semifinal game. The officials had to restrain them from going at each other
after Boeheim at 6'4", 175 pounds, had challenged the right of Thompson
(6'11", 300 pounds) to stroll near midcourt to counsel his players during
the action. Later, the two men clasped hands and patted shoulders—the coaching
counterpart of kissing and making up, said Thompson. Besides, it just wouldn't
have been a Big East game without a little of that sort of thing.
Take the two
finalists. In a game in Philadelphia on Feb. 17, Massimino, who has broken new
ground in bench theatrics, outdid himself and drew an official reprimand from
Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt. After the game, which Villanova won 88-78,
Dolph Schayes, the former NBA all-star and father of Syracuse Center Dan
Schayes, took center stage when he charged one of the referees, who had called
five fouls on his son. During the tournament final, an enthusiastic but much
calmer Dolph watched from high in the Carrier Dome as 6'11" Dan put
together a solid 15-point, 11-rebound effort.
nobody, had it easy this year in the Big East, where 17 of the 56 conference
games were decided by three points or fewer. Boston College, the regular-season
champion, with a 21-5 record—10-4 in the league—was the one shoo-in for an NCAA
bid, if it won the tournament. (As Syracuse found out, there was no automatic
bid for the tournament winner. For the champion of a conference tournament to
be considered for such a bid, that conference must have existed for at least
two full years. This is the Big East's second season.) In traditional shoo-in
fashion, BC went out and lost the opening game to last-place Providence, 67-65.
The Eagles got an NCAA bid anyway, a somewhat remarkable end to their season,
considering the shadow of the point-shaving scandal that has followed them
been one of three Big East teams to get an NCAA bid in the conference's rookie
season—Syracuse and St. John's were the others—and seemed to have the best
chance for national recognition at the beginning of this year. But as the
Hoyas, who are 20-11, endured Act I of Waiting for Ewing, they sometimes played
as if they were waiting for Godot. With practically the entire team back and
the addition of Patrick Ewing, a 7-foot center from Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge
and Latin High who's considered the nation's top high school player, the Hoyas
could be one of the top clubs in the nation next season.
Then there was St.
John's, the Team That Couldn't Shoot Straight. During the season, the Redmen
did such things as go more than 12 minutes without scoring in a nationally
televised loss to Oregon State. Still, they were a welcome tournament addition,
if only for the performance of Coach Lou Carnesecca, the master of the pained
expression. Carnesecca was so intense in his first-round, game against Syracuse
that he twice ran down the sidelines to retrieve loose balls and once even led
a fast break. Despite Carnesecca's efforts, St. John's lost 71-66, ending a
17-10 season that, according to senior Forward Frank Gilroy, was "110%
heart and 50% execution."