Rarely in life do we recognize "should have seen" or "should have been there" moments or periods while they are actually taking place.
Five, ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, we're all going to be talking about the Big East basketball conference that we've known from 2005-06 up until now. We'll say there was never a league like it and there never will be again. The listeners who aren't around and haven't been for the past seven years will try to understand, but it won't be possible.
This was the conference that was the first to send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament 2012, that had teams comprise three of the four No. 1 seeds and half of the Elite Eight in 2009, that saw its ninth-place team win a national championship and which could lay claim to 15 programs with Final Four credentials. It was also a conference that shouldn't have seen its reign cut so short.
After this week, the band breaks up. Or at least begins to.
The 2013 Big East Tournament will again be held inside Madison Square Garden, but a familiar setting paired with some of the old names on the fronts of jerseys won't be enough to make it the same.
Six overtimes. Thabeet v. Blair. Gerry McNamara. "Ten f---ing games." DaSean Butler. Foye, Ray, Lowry and Nardi. Higgins and Burr checking out early. Terrence Williams. Roy Hibbert. Kemba Walker's cross. Jonny Flynn's endurance. Allen ray's eyeball. Pitt's refusal to die before the title game. Boeheim, Calhoun, Pitino, Huggins,Thompson, Dixon and Wright.
Our future selves will mention these names and phrases, and fellow passengers on this ride will see the same images and be struck by the same feelings. The old rivalries, the new rivalries, the night in, night out grind, the joy and fear of knowing there was always another top 15 opponent right around the corner.
The Big East has been a basketball conference first and foremost since its inception. It's the reason moves made with a lack of concern for basketball leading to the league's partial break-up was such a tough-to-stomach sequence of events for so many with deep ties to the conference. The how and the why don't make much of a difference at this point, but that doesn't mean they won't be brought up multiple times over the next few days. Success is a hard thing to let go of, especially when the reasons don't seem to add up.
There are still too many negative emotions floating around to call what's about to take place in New York a "celebration," but that doesn't mean it's any less of an "end of an era" event. The next five days are going to be special regardless of what team hoists the trophy on Saturday night, and I'm glad that Louisville is going to be a part of it.
For the past seven seasons, no league in college basketball has been more discussed, more controversial, more powerful or more fun than the Big East. Now all that's going to be left are the stories, the last of which begins this afternoon.