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Big East talking a great game in advance of NCAA warm-up

| Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The Big East Tournament is set to begin Wednesday amid all the bravado one conference can possibly muster.

The setting, appropriately enough, is New York's Madison Square Garden -- Mecca, according to Villanova coach Jay Wright.

In the city where hype makes right more than any other, Wright tossed the Big East baton even higher than his more decorated counterparts normally do during a teleconference Monday previewing what Connecticut's Jim Calhoun assessed as a "once-in-a-lifetime event."

Once in a lifetime?

Well, it was for Carmelo Anthony.

For others -- Calhoun, in particular -- it's something much less.

That doesn't make the Big East Tournament any less compelling.

Still, it must be written somewhere in the Big East Manifesto that all coaches must at all times sing the conference's praises above all others.

"I think our league is the best in terms of how difficult the teams are to play, regardless of the talent of the individuals," Wright continued.

And then, "I think we have the best players, also."

Whatever.

The RPI released by The Associated Press on Monday begs to differ.

According to The AP's RPI, the Big East is No. 4 among conferences, behind the ACC, the Pac-10 and the Big XII.

Again, whatever.

The upcoming NCAA Tournament ought to settle the best-conference issue once and for all while also determining the best team.

Calhoun maintained that at least four and, after a little further review to include conference short-timer Boston College, as many as five Big East teams are capable of Marching to the Arch for the Final Four in St. Louis.

Calhoun included Pitt among his Big East teams with Final Four potential.

But like the conference they represent, the proof of the Panthers' pedigree will be in the playing.

Pitt enters the Big East tourney playing as well as it has all season, but for a team that hasn't won more than three in a row since Penn State, Coppin State, Richmond and South Carolina constituted the opposition, questions linger.

Is Chris Taft the guy who showed up against Boston College and Notre Dame or the guy who was in and out most of the season?

Will Levon Kendall, Aaron Gray and John DeGroat make an impact or simply take up space?

Can Pitt protect the ball and push it up the floor as effectively as it did on Saturday against the Irish?

Can the Panthers defend the three?

They've re-established down the stretch that they're a team with serious potential, which they were considered to be all along. But in the Big East and NCAA tournaments, the only thing potential and a bad 40 minutes is going to get a team is beaten.

Pitt might run the table at MSG, or it might lose Thursday to Villanova.

These Panthers might reach the Final Four, and they might fail to reach the Sweet 16.

A more declarative assessment would make for a better headline, but even the boldest of those can take a team and a conference only so far.

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