Big East dreams ended early for SJU and Georgetown, but the legendary programs are on the rebound.
The Big East isn’t what it used to be, but there’s something about seeing Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin coaching on the Madison Square Garden floor during the Big East Tournament that sends chills down the back of a guy who spent his childhood repping the Big East, the concrete courts of New York and the legendary players and coaches that contributed to the conference’s mythical rise in the 80s and 90s.
St. John’s and Georgetown will both probably miss the March Madness cut when the NCAA Tournament field is announced, but their Hall of Fame, Olympic coaches are laying solid foundations for the future.
Call it luck, destiny or desperation but St. John’s and Georgetown — two schools embedded in the rich, dynamic, groundbreaking history of the original Big East Conference — were able to coral the GOATS of their respective programs to takeover. Either one of these guys could be coaching in the NBA, but destiny led them back home to rebuild the foundation and reinfuse a passion of excellence in two lagging basketball programs.
In 2015-16 Mullin returned to a St. John’s program that was coming off two 20-win seasons with Steve Lavin, but the once-legendary program has been to just two NCAA tourneys in the last 17 years. Mullin has brought some hope back to the Queens school, improving from 8 to 14 to 16 to 21 wins this season.
St. John’s and NBA hopeful Shamorie Ponds ran into a buzz saw in No. 2 Marquette, losing 86-54 in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
The Red Storm’s slim NCAA Tournament hopes are now in the hands of the committee. St. John’s finds out its fate on Sunday. Mullin’s first 21-win season has not come without criticism from the sidelines, but the overall team improvement is right there in the numbers.
The Red Storm just has to get used to get a few more elite ballers and more resilience.
“I think consistency comes with discipline, good daily work habits, work ethic, and a lot of those things take time,” Mullin said. From where we came from, we’re actually much better than we were, believe it or not. If you look at our conference, from top to bottom really, I think in some ways probably very underrated. Yeah, I guess it depends how you look at it…”
Mullin also has to keep scouring the talented but politically-suppressing New York circuit for more diamonds in the rough. More players with that city grit, creativeness and killer instinct. Whatever he’s doing so far is working.
Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas ran into a rabid dog looking for food in Seton Hall bucket stuffer Myles Powell in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, ending the season for a Hoyas program that improved to 19-13 after going 15-15 in Ewing’s first season as coach.
Powell torched Georgetown for 29 first-half points, turned in a record-setting first half, eclipsing the record of 27 for a half set by Creighton’s Doug McDermott against DePaul in 2014. He outscored Georgetown (28) by himself, before taking his foot off the gas in a 73-57 Big East quarterfinal victory before a sellout crowd of 19,812 at the Garden on Thursday night.
Powell’s the kind of player Ewing and Mullin need to bring into the fold. He has that old school Big East dawg in him. He wants all the smoke.
“I’m here to kill everything that’s my motive for the whole tournament,” Powell said at halftime.
Ewing gave Powell his props after the game:
“He’s a very good player,” Ewing told reporters. This is the second time he’s had a great game …against us…He got hot in the first half, and everything he shot, he made.”
When Ewing and Mullin took over most fans were ecstatic because they had a direct connection between the golden era and a new beginning. Some sports analysts, however, saw the hirings as PR moves. An attempt to use legendary Hall of Fame alumni to rekindle national interest in a dying program and improve a depleted recruiting pool.
Mullin’s experience as a high ranking NBA team executive and Ewing’s experience as an NBA assistant coach were discounted by a lot of haters. They have both proven to be potentially elite coaches, building programs basically from scratch. The incremental improvement is obvious.
There will be Big East Tournaments in the future when St. John’s and Georgetown are conjuring memories of those classic 80s clashes. Only fans need is a little patience.