Tim Benz: Big East woes in ACC may affect a Pitt coaching search
A lot of sports films get me choked up.
“Miracle” is one. “Hoosiers” too.
I may have even gotten emotional the first time Average Joe's eliminated the Purple Cobras at the end of “Dodgeball.”
But one that really hits home for me is actually an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary: “Requiem for the Big East.” It chronicles the rise, and eventual dismantling, of the Big East Basketball Conference.
If you're a lifelong Big East fan, it was a tearjerker when you first watched it. I saw it again last week.
Now it's just a depressing reality check.
Full disclosure here. I've been an unapologetic honk for Big East basketball my whole life. Born in Boston, raised a Pitt fan living in Connecticut and Syracuse educated. Fourteen family members that were schooled at five different Big East institutions.
It's in my blood.
Or, at least it was. Which is why when blood was spilled all over the court at Madison Square Garden every March for the Big East Tournament, it meant a little more to watch.
Now the Big Ten plays there. A week early.
That's a little too weird for me to wrap my head around.
Meanwhile Pitt is playing in a conference tournament out in Brooklyn. West Virginia is with the Big XII in Kansas City. And UConn is in Orlando?! Really?!
The Big East as we used to know it is now five years dead. Memories of the way it used to be are gathering dust.
So are the memories of success for some of its former institutions.
Have you looked at the state of some of those former Big East schools in their new conferences?
Pitt isn't alone, folks. It ain't pretty.
Of the six basement-dwelling Atlantic Coast Conference schools that were relegated to Day 1 tournament play for finishing near the bottom of the conference standings, four of them were former Big East teams: Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pitt and Boston College.
Pitt just finished a winless ACC campaign. The future of its program is very much up in the air. BC had one of those under its belt in 2016. The Eagles, who joined the ACC in 2005-06, haven't had a winning season in conference play for the last seven years.
Entering Tuesday, Syracuse had yet to win an ACC tournament game. SU did make a Final Four in 2016. Yet the Orange may miss the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. Jim Boeheim's teams won at least one tournament game each their last six years in the Big East.
Look elsewhere. Louisville is falling apart off the court. UConn is a shell of its former self with one tournament win in four years. South Florida and Rutgers were 3-15 in respective conference play.
Even some of the holdover programs that stayed in the conference have fallen on hard times. Not Villanova. The Wildcats are fabulous. But Georgetown, St. John's and DePaul were the three worst teams in the league this year.
There are some exceptions. This may be a one-year injury-related blip for Notre Dame. Cincinnati has been great since going to the American.
Virginia Tech and Miami appear to be in better spots. But they've been gone from the Big East longer.
For the foreseeable future, West Virginia will likely be a top 15-25 program regardless of where it plays. Check back with me whenever Bob Huggins retires, though.
CBS basketball analyst Steve Lappas was on 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday. He said the transitional issues from the Big East to the ACC are so significant they may hamper Pitt from getting a top quality replacement for Kevin Stallings if he's fired.
“If they were still in the Big East, I'd say it's a good job. In the ACC, I'm not sure,” said the former Villanova coach.
When asked specifically about Rhode Island's Dan Hurley as a target, Lappas replied: “Dan Hurley is going to have the same questions I have right now. Can you win the ACC?”
Lappas followed up with some thoughts as to why it has been such a struggle for the Big East defectors to the ACC. Pitt in particular.
“They have to revamp recruiting. Who is going to be interested? Is New York still a viable place?” he questioned, “There are a lot of unknowns.”
For his part over the years, Boeheim has waxed melancholy over the forced exit of his program. But he's also voiced a “don't cry over spilled milk attitude.”
“If you've got football you gotta play football. That's the bottom line,” said Boeheim after a nostalgia-inducing nonconference battle against Georgetown this year. “It was a great run. It went from no league to best league in the country in five years.”
Now it's been five years since the ACC expanded. Most of the adopted teams are still waiting for that same magical ride in their new home.
And I'm still waiting for “Requiem for the Big East” to re-run on ESPN 8 the Ocho.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.