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Pitt prepares to say goodbye to Big East, make one last tournament title run

| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Brandin Knight holds up the 2003 Big East championship trophy. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Playing the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, in the heart of the media capital of the world, captured college basketball's characters.

From the signature sweaters of Lou Carnesecca and John Thompson to the Beast of the East nickname placed on Patrick Ewing, the Big East provided a colorful cast from the beginning.

“I don't think it can ever be replicated,” said former Pitt star Charles Smith, the 1988 conference Player of the Year. “The Big East will go down as the most exciting conference in college basketball. We had coaches who were personalities. You had players who were characters. They weren't just names.”

Eventually, Pitt became the toast of the Big Apple. The Panthers played in the Big East championship game seven times in eight seasons from 2001-08.

Julius Page played in four consecutive Big East finals, winning MVP in 2003, and always will remember the ride.

“To go there and have success made it more fun,” Page said. “That feeling — getting on the bus every single game and seeing all the fans in their school colors — that never gets old.”

The Panthers are hoping to make one last title run before joining the ACC this summer.

“It's sad to see it coming to an end like this,” said Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight, the 2003 Big East co-Player of the Year, “but because of what we've been able to accomplish the last 10 years or so in the league and the Big East Tournament, the expectation there is that we're going to be there for the entire week, we're going to win.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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