The finish is the thing. No matter how a team -- ranked or unranked nationally -- begins a Big East contest, its players and coaches can be relatively assured that the ending will be contested into the final minute. Here's a look at five meat-grinding conclusions that represent the larger lot of close calls throughout the season in the nation's toughest conference:
1. Pitt at UConn, Feb. 16
Best remembered for the well-rounded DeJuan Blair's bullying of UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, the matchup of two top-five teams lived up to its billing. The blue-collar Panthers ended the Huskies' 13-game winning streak while extending their own to six as Blair fought through Thabeet's elbows for 22 points and 23 rebounds.
2. Louisville at Villanova, Jan. 10
No doubt Jay Wright would have sold his whole wardrobe of Hugo Boss suits in order to buy a free throw at the Wachovia Center. His forward, Antonio Pena, was fouled with 4.9 seconds left and trailing by one, but he missed both free throws. The second miss went out of bounds, and Villanova was awarded possession, but a Dante Cunningham could not finish underneath. Unable to put two tap-backs in the basket, the Wildcats left with an empty feeling.
3. Notre Dame at Louisville, Jan. 12
Pick your poison. Rick Pitino's Cards can kill you with physicality in the post or they can suffocate you with a full-court pressure. While Pitino's guards may not be the best ballhandlers, they are up to speed with their mentor's defensive philosophy. Notre Dame learned the hard way as sharpshooter Kyle McAlarney could not shake free for an open look in an overtime contest that ended with an 87-73 win for the ‘Ville.
4. Georgetown at Syracuse, Feb. 14
Consistent with the ups and downs of a league that saw West Virginia beat Villanova by 22 points and Notre Dame manhandle Louisville by 33, the Hoyas rallied from an 18-point deficit with less than nine minutes to play. After forcing overtime, the Hoyas finally wilted, leaving the Orange to enjoy the sweets taste of a 98-94 victory.
5. Marquette at USF, Feb. 6
It's not just the big dogs that can hurt you. Lying in the grass and awaiting the arrival of Marquette, high on its 12-game win streak, the Bulls rushed the Eagles out of Tampa and gave the conference's last unbeaten team its first loss. With :15.9 seconds remaining, the Bulls took a 61-60 lead and watched Buzz Williams' squad squander two last-chance shots.
What was your favorite finish? What team will emerge from the conference and reach the Final Four? Will more than one make it to Detroit? How many teams will make the NCAA tournament?
Jack McCallum: The Big Brutal [SI.com]