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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Wednesday / January 16.
  • With 11 Teams Dancing, Pressure is on Big East

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    NEW YORK — Steve Lavin spent seven years at ESPN and he knows as well as anyone that the Big East will face some serious heat from the media if it doesn’t advance one or two teams deep into the NCAA Tournament.

    “Of course, that’s the one of the things they teach you in broadcasting, is to find the headlines,” Lavin said on Selection Sunday. “You guys know that better than anybody.”

    A record 11 Big East teams were chosen to compete in the 68-team tournament, including regular-season winner Pittsburgh as the No. 1 seed in the Southeast.

    UConn, which completed an unprecedented run through the Big East tournament Saturday by winning its fifth game in five days, gained the conference’s automatic bid.

    Ten teams were chosen among the 37 at-large selections: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Syracuse, St. John’s, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova.

    The previous record was eight, set by the Big East in 2006 and matched again 2008.

    The Big Ten put seven teams into the tournament and the Big 12 and SEC five apiece.

    “On the heels of a groundbreaking performance by Connecticut in the Big East Championship, I’m thrilled by the news of yet another record-setting accomplishment by our men’s basketball programs,” Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said.

    “Placing 11 teams into the NCAA Championship doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a concerted, consistent and focused effort on the part of our coaches, administrators and student-athletes and I’m thrilled to see them rewarded in this manner.”

    Still, the Big East hasn’t produced an NCAA Tournament champion since UConn in 2004.

    “I think there ‘s no guarantee that the Big East will represent well in the NCAA Tournament because that’s the beauty of postseason and the uncertainty of a single-elimination game format and why so many people worldwide enjoy watching this sport,” Lavin said.

    “No conference is deeper in terms of volume of quality teams, so we face the best night in and night out which, in theory, should enhance your chances of being successful in the postseason. But it doesn’t guarantee because it’s not a best-of-five or best-of-seven series like the NBA. It’s a one-and-done scenario, but I do think it’s credit to the coaching, to the players, to the storied programs in the conference to have 11 teams in the NCAA.”

    Of all the Big East teams, Jamie Dixon’s Pittsburgh club potentially faces the heaviest expectations.

    The Panthers went 15-3 during the Big East season, but have never advanced to a Final Four during his tenure.

    “As freshman [in 2009] we made it to the Elite Eight and we lost to Villanova to go to the Final Four,” Pitt guard Travon Woodall said, referencing Scottie Reynolds‘ game-winning coast-to-coast shot in the final seconds.

    “It’s a lot of guys who remember the devastation of not making it there and the last shot that knocked us out of the tournament.

    “A lot of us don’t want the feeling and we all knew what it took to get there. We knew how it feels to make it to the Elite Eight and we want to to know it feels to make it to the Final Four.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.