It's hard to say there's a Big East style or school of play. You can't call it the run-and-gun conference, or the big bang conference, or the halfcourt conference.
Just call it dominant. Three for three last night, with the potential of snapping up five of the Elite Eight spots. How did West Virginia and Marquette screw up?
The scary part is, the Big East won in different ways last night:
* UConn just came out and took care of Purdue early with an 8-0 run to open the game. The Huskies essentially toyed with the Boilermakers the whole game; they didn't blow Purdue out, but was this game ever in doubt, even when Purdue had a couple of chances to tie the game with a three early in the second half? Once they shut off Robbie Hummel (15 points before the final TV timeout of the first half; two after) and their offensive cold spell subsided, game over.
* Xavier didn't mind getting down with Pittsburgh in a rock fight until Levance Fields landed a couple of those jaggedy-edged ones in the final minute. First, he threw down as cold a three (casually, after having to retrieve a loose ball in his backcourt) as I've seen in ages. Then, with DeJuan Blair wandering out to the top of the key as a defensive distraction, he picked B.J. Raymond and turned it into a layup that effectively closed the show. If only the Panthers could cut out their dead spots, such as the one that allowed Xavier an eight-point halftime lead.
* I still haven't quite decided whether the Villanova defense was that good or the Duke shooting was that bad. Whatever...the Wildcats dominated the boards and left the Dookies completely discombobulated. However, I blame the NCAA's trucked-in court for part of Gerald Henderson's atrocious 1-for-14 night. It would've been nice if he had gotten to play on the same historic parquet his dad did as a Celtic.
And the boys from the Show-Me State showed me something. Given Mizzou's first-round crash in the Big 12 and struggles in the first two rounds, there was legitimate reason to question whether the Columbia Tigers were for real. They outran, outpressed and out-Memphised Memphis. The Calipari legions made a great comeback, slashing a 24-point deficit to six in the final minute-plus, but I hate to harp on that broken record...18-for-32 at the foul line doesn't cut it in the rare air of the Sweet 16, even if I'm giving Tyreke Evans my Player of the Night honors for his 33 points.
Looking ahead to tonight:
The Big East will make up 50 percent of the Elite Eight field.
Forget the 12th seed...Arizona's got plenty of talent, even though the Wildcats don't always play up to it. They will do everything in their power tonight to get the "interim" removed from coach Russ Pennell's title.
That said, Louisville's just got too much. They simply wear people out physically, whether's it's banging halfcourt or charging downcourt. Rick Pitino's figured out when to step on the gas and when to relax his foot, and the Cardinals pull away in the final minutes.
LOUISVILLE 85, ARIZONA 73.
Michigan State's as fundamentally sound as ever, but doesn't quite offer the solid inside-outside punch of Cole Aldrich (the clubhouse leader for the tournament's Most Outstanding Player) and Sherron Collins. Being the defending champ means something, and the Jayhawks always seem to play better when they're not the top seed. The power of the blue jerseys.
KANSAS 74, MICHIGAN STATE 71.
Hey, Big East haters! Finally got one for you!
Jim Boeheim's used to a short rotation, but I've always believed a seven-man unit is one short of what a Final Four team needs. Given the emotional run they've had and all that overtime they've played this month, tonight might be the night the Orange run out of gas.
Blake Griffin: the new, improved Tyler Hansbrough (with more bounce). And besides, the Big 12's having a danged fine year, too.
OKLAHOMA 78, SYRACUSE 63.
Gonzaga looked like an Elite Eight team in November. The Zags' December dip dropped them from the pedestal and provided enough R&R to crawl back into it again - they've been terrific since an embarassing February loss to Memphis.
But with Ty Lawson back at full speed, is there any beating North Carolina? The Heels are a little bigger, a little faster, a little more experienced. Make sure you've got a fan by your TV set - they'll be running from the get-go.
NORTH CAROLINA 94, GONZAGA 87.