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Louisville Cardinals Begin Last Big East Tournament As We Know It

The Louisville Cardinals men's basketball team begin play tonight in what will be the last Big East Conference Tournament as we know it.After this season, the Big East's seven Catholic schools—Villanova, Georgetown, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence and DePaul—are splitting to form a new conference.More teams are coming, reports say. If to further confuse matters, they're taking the Big East name with them and play their end-of-season tournament in the Big East's longtime venue, Madison Square Garden.The Louisville Cardinals are splitting, too, but not until 2014. For a single season beforejoining the Atlantic Coast Conference,the Cards will play in a conference that—bear with me—is officially the old Big East but with a different name. The America 12 is apparently the frontrunner for a new name, ESPN reports. Louisville plays Villanova at 7 p.m. tonight. The Cardinals, the defending conference tournament champions, are the Big East Tournament's No. 2 seed and Villanova is the No. 7 seed.  The winner plays either Notre Dame or Marquette, which also play tonight.The Big East championship game is Saturday and the NCAA Tournament bracket is announced Sunday; analysts say they're a likely No. 1 seed.The demise of the Big East As We Knew It has been a running topic for sports news media, much of it based in the northeastern states which the conference claimed as home turf. Some are angry to see a great basketball conference's demise. Some don't see what the big deal is. Many point out that college basketball is suffering because the football-driven conference realignment.And there's plenty of nostalgia.Here's a survey of what's being said:ESPN sets the tone with this oral history of how the Big East formed in the first place—as a conference that focused on hoops above all. It grew because of the people, the larger-than-life characters who prowled the sidelines and the generation-defining players who dominated on the court. They were high theater, every bit as entertaining as the top draw on Broadway. Where better, then, for these reality show actors to star than New York City? What better stage than Madison Square Garden, the biggest and brightest sporting stage in the world?As the ESPN story notes, there's no shortage of coaches already waxing nostalgic for the old Big East. Before the Cardinals' final regular season game against Notre Dame, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino told WDRB'sRick Bozich: "We all feel that it's a shame that we're breaking up. It means so much. A piece of history leaves us all."Pitino is a two-time Big East coach—once with Providence in the '80s and now with UofL.Capital New York's Howard Megdal calls the Big East a great basketball conference, and noting that "that has nothing to do with the decision" for the conference' break up.Here's more nostalgia from the Syracuse Post-Standard's Bud Poliquin, pointing to his favorite memory from the Big East Tournament.Not one of your favorites? USA Today has five suggestions.But before Big East fans get teary-eyed, Deadspin argues that fans are treating the Big East too delicately. Dom Cosentino writes: Let's remember that Dave Gavitt founded the Big East as a money-grab. The league began in 1979 with seven schools—Boston College, UConn, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Syracuse—located in or near Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Within a year, the Big East left its footprint in Philadelphia by raiding the Eastern Eight—the precursor to today's Atlantic 10—to add Villanova. And two years after that, it expanded again by plucking Pittsburgh from the Eastern Eight, too. The difference, of course, is that when the Big East was doing the plundering, its admirers were careful to tell us those schools were "personally recruited."And The New York Times Quad blog essentially gives the current Big East's demise a big shrug.  Jack Styczynski argues that the "new" Big East will benefit from not having football drive the decision-making. It will be better. Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville — good riddance. Rutgers, Notre Dame — don’t let the door hit you on the way out.The Times is also sharing writers' favorite Big East memories. Check here, here,here, hereand here.Finally, Gothamist offers a (tortured) analysis of the final Big East (As We Know It) Tournament through the lens of "Game of Thrones."

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

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