By JIM O’CONNELL, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ There was no way not to talk about who wasn’t at Big East media day.
It wasn’t that any schools didn’t show up– 10 were supposed to be there and they all were. But looking around the big dining room at Chelsea Piers brought up the same thought over and over.
There was no Connecticut, no Syracuse, no Notre Dame, no Pittsburgh, no Louisville. Those schools are all gone to other conferences. They left as part of the split in the 15-team league when the schools whose main sport is basketball decided to form a league whose main sport is basketball.
“Every school in this conference has the same way of looking at college athletics,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said Wednesday. “The most important athletic event at each institution is a basketball game. These people are all passionate basketball people.”
The seven schools that left all the football schools are Villanova, Marquette, Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Providence and DePaul. Joining them for this first season of the new Big East are Creighton, Xavier and Butler.
Those are basketball schools, no doubt.
Xavier coach Chris Mack said his staff took a few days in the spring to prepare scouting reports on their new conference brethren.
“We wanted to get a feel for the teams, the styles,” he said. “There wasn’t anything shocking, basketball is basketball. But these players are better. These players are more athletic.”
Xavier and Butler both made the move from the Atlantic 10. Creighton was in the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Bluejays arrive with the Big East’s preseason player of the year, Doug McDermott. He is looking to become just the 11th player to be a first-team All-America three straight seasons. The last two were Patrick Ewing of Georgetown and Wayman Tisdale of Oklahoma from 1983-85.
“I haven’t really looked at the list but I heard the name Patrick Ewing today and that’s just unreal,” said McDermott, a 6-foot-8 senior forward who averaged 23.2 points and 7.7 rebounds last season. “I’m looking at this season as an opportunity to embrace a new challenge. We know it’s much more physical and there are a lot more athletes than we’re used to. We’ve prepared ourselves pretty well. Last year we played against Duke and Cincinnati. We know it’s going to be a grind and we’re looking forward to that.”
The conference has a 12-year deal with Fox Sports worth about $500 million. The conference tournament will be played at Madison Square Garden, its home since 1983, and it’s going to be tough to make that ticket a scalper’s dream the way it has been with sellout after sellout, year after year.
“Obviously the Garden,” McDermott said when asked what excited him about this season’s schedule. “You grow up dreaming of playing on the biggest stage and that’s the Garden.”
Since the 2000-01 season only one of the current schools _ Georgetown in 2007 _ left the Garden with the championship trophy. Louisville, which is playing one season in the American Athletic Conference before heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference, won the last two tournaments and three of the last five.
Marquette, one of three co-champions last season, was picked by the coaches in their preseason poll followed by Georgetown, which also finished in that tie with national champion Louisville, Creighton, Villanova, St. John’s, Providence, Xavier, Seton Hall, Butler and DePaul.
One of the biggest advantages to being a 10-member conference is the opportunity for a true round-robin schedule. Everybody plays everybody twice, once at home, once on the road.
“From a coaching perspective, playing nine at home and nine on the road, I think there will be a lot more strategic things going on,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “No more playing a team just once like we did my first five years in the conference. Play somebody in January and you’re not done with them. They are on the schedule again. That’s what makes for rivalries for the fans.”
Val Ackerman, the former commissioner of the WNBA and past president of USA Basketball, takes over as commissioner and as much as she looks forward to tackling the problems of a new conference, she can’t help but look back.
“I will do everything Dave Gavitt set out to do when he led this conference as it started in 1979,” she said referring to the league’s founder and architect. “We are going to make the Big East a force in college basketball.”
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