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Big East gets ready for farewell tourney

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NEW YORK (AP) -- The Big East tournament will have a touch of a wake to it this week.

Most of the matchups will be the last meetings of the schools as members of the conference. When games end, there will be plenty of reminiscing about rivalries and talk of what is to come.

How will the "Catholic Seven" handle their breaking away to form a conference that will keep the name Big East and its tournament site, Madison Square Garden? How will the lame duck seasons go for Louisville and Notre Dame (both heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference after 2013-14) and Rutgers (Big Ten in 2014-15)?

Since answers to questions like those aren't possible, it's a good thing there will be a scoreboard at the Garden this week when some of the best teams in the country vie for the right to claim the last true Big East championship.

Georgetown, which has won a record seven Big East tournaments, and Syracuse, third with five titles, will be there. So will Louisville, the defending champion, and Marquette, one of the three regular season champions with Georgetown and Louisville. There also will be Pittsburgh, a two-time champion, and Notre Dame, the sixth of this season's Big East ranked teams.

All six of those teams are ranked heading into the Big East tournament -- No. 4 Louisville, No. 5 Georgetown, No. 12 Marquette, No. 17 Pittsburgh, No. 19 Syracuse and No. 24 Notre Dame. That's one more team in the Top 25 than the Big Ten.

Connecticut, which has six titles, won't be competing in the Big East tournament as part of sanctions levied against the school for NCAA violations.

That means 14 teams playing 13 games over five days to decide who gets the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Since it's expected the conference will have seven or eight teams in the field of 68, there won't be much drama, just a lot of games that will close down what is considered the best basketball conference ever.

"It's special because the Big East, as we have known it, is ending," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. The Hoyas were part of a three-way tie that first regular season and are in the same situation this year. "Georgetown won the first one, and now Georgetown's won the last. So that means a lot."

The tournament starts Tuesday night with South Florida meeting Seton Hall and DePaul facing Rutgers in a Garden State Invitational of sorts.

Four second-round games will be played Wednesday with six teams joining after a bye. On Thursday, the four top seeds -- Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette and Pittsburgh -- join the quarterfinals after a double-bye.

The last two champions have been teams forced to play at least one extra game. In 2011, Kemba Walker led Connecticut to five wins as many days to win the Big East as a No. 9 seed and went on to win the NCAA tournament.

Louisville was the No. 7 seed last year and the Cardinals beat fourth-seeded Cincinnati in the championship game.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was trying to use Louisville as a positive example for his sixth-seeded Fighting Irish after the final game of the regular season.

"Who was the six seed last year, and how did they do?" Brey asked, thinking he had the right answer.

The sixth seed last year was South Florida, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Notre Dame.

This could be quite a farewell week for the current Big East teams.

"Football just is going to run the ship, no matter what happens, and that's happened," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I understand that. It's the way it is. It's the way it has to be, I think."

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