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Farmer: Enjoy the last year of the glorious tournament (Feb. 13)

Douglas Farmer | Sunday, February 12, 2012

I’m a little early on this topic, but when the proper time comes, I will no longer be contributing to the Sports Authority series.

So if nothing else, rip this column out and set it aside until March 6. On that wonderful day, the final edition of the maddest portion of March Madness begins: the Big East Tournament. Unfortunately, due to the evil known as conference expansion, the Big East Tournament will never again stand as gloriously as it does now.

Thus, I implore you: Enjoy this year’s classic. Thoroughly enjoy it, every single one of its five days.

Enjoy the first day, Tuesday, when the bottom eight Big East teams fill Madison Square Garden with the smells of hope, despair and dwindling careers. If you doubt any of these eight teams, do so at your own risk. Connecticut started an 11-game winning streak on last year’s opening day. You may remember that winning streak ended with star guard Kemba Walker overpowering Butler for the National Championship.

Enjoy Wednesday, when the fans taking a long weekend start packing the greatest arena in sports. Of day two’s four games, I guarantee at least two come down to their last 30 seconds, if only because of the innate energy of the building.

Enjoy Thursday, when the top four teams in the conference get off their laurels and join the fray. Those four teams, possibly even including Notre Dame, represent the finest basketball in the country. Yet, one will lose on this third day. One will run into a buzz saw like Connecticut was last year. At least one Tuesday or Wednesday squad will have meshed with Madison Square Garden.

The ironically circular arena is known for giving shooters woes. As a newcomer to this appetizer to the Big Dance, the top-four team who loses will not have adjusted to the vast sightlines. Those sightlines were designed for Billy Joel and Elton John, not Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins.

The quarterfinals were the site of the legendary Connecticut vs. Syracuse game in 2009. That saga stretched six overtimes, even though Syracuse celebrated on the scorers’ table at the end of regulation. I repeat: six overtimes.

Enjoy Friday’s semifinals. The Big East Tournament’s final four is a sight to behold, both on and off the court. On the court, Friday is when the hot team is revealed for what it is: either it had a good week or, with a win, it can prepare to hear CBS announce its name Sunday.

Off the court, the stands fill with B-list celebrities, perhaps one or two A-listers for a bit. Dozens of rows behind them, fights will break out as beer hastens the arguments between Saint John’s fans and everyone else. The Garden will buzz for the last 10 minutes of the first semifinal, as fans of all four remaining teams fill Jeremy Lin’s play place.

Enjoy Saturday, a day no Notre Dame team has ever had the chance to relish. The fifth of five days straight out of Jimmy Chitwood’s utopia, the winner receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The loser holds its breath.

Enjoy this year’s Big East Tournament. Pittsburgh and Syracuse, last year’s regular season conference champion and this year’s safe bet for the same title, respectively, are both leaving the conference. Don’t be too surprised if Connecticut or Georgetown follows suit.

In their place come Southern Methodist, Houston, Central Florida and, belatedly, Memphis.

It won’t be the same. Will it even return to Madison Square Garden? We can only hope.

For now, leave behind hope and worry.

For now, rip this column out and set it aside.

On March 6, enjoy.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Douglas Farmer at dfarmer1@nd.edu