Big East Tournament Superlatives

For years, I’ve said that the Big East Tournament makes up my five favorite days of the basketball year. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the NCAA tournament or the NBA Playoffs, but to me, it doesn’t get better than many of the best teams in the college playing in the biggest city in the country in the World’s Most Famous Arena. Thursday’s games were just more testimony to my already strong beliefs. Here are my awards from Day 3…

My surprise player: Ashton Gibbs
I’ve made the mistake more than once of calling Gibbs just a stand-still shooter, but on Thursday, the junior guard showed me a lot more. Gibbs certainly does the majority of his damage from beyond the arc, but he’s got a very good handle and runs the offense well. He is also one of the best players in the country at using screens, and he has a very high basketball IQ, reading defenses extremely well. My one knock on him is he doesn’t elevate much on his jumper, which he can get away with for now, but I could see that really hindering him at the next level. Still, his 10-of-13 shooting day that included 6-of-7 from deep was extremely impressive.

Best coach: Mike Brey
Brey won the Big East Coach of the Year award for the third time earlier this week, so there’s little to write about him that hasn’t already been printed. But his Notre Dame team was virtually flawless in its rout over Cincinnati, and Brey looks to have the Irish in prime position for a No. 1 seed come Sunday.

Best player: Kemba Walker
Walker’s stat line was not the most impressive of all of Thursday’s performers, but the Rice H.S. alum produced a highlight with his buzzer-beating jumper to upset No. 1 seed Pitt that will forever live in Big East Tournament lore. With his mom donning his jersey and standing behind the basket on which he was shooting, Walker drilled it from about 19-feet to lift UConn to a semifinal matchup with Syracuse.

Most impressive team: UConn Huskies
It’s pretty difficult to argue against Notre Dame and Louisville, but they were expected to win those games. UConn fought back from 12 down in the first half to defeat No. 3 Pitt, who was widely considered a likely No. 1 seed. To make it all the more impressive, four players scored in double figures for the Huskies, and the team out-rebounded the Panthers, who are considered among the top teams on the glass, 27-24.

Most disappointing team: Pitt Panthers
I’ve had questions about Pitt this entire season. I think they’re a talented team that is extremely well coached and runs plays to near perfection. And as much as I like Gibbs’ shooting ability and as great as I thought he was Thursday, I’m still not sold on a team where he’s your best player.

Best Dance Team: Louisville Cardinals
While an exhausted crowd watching a fairly boring game late at night, the Ladybirds came out at the half and brought nearly everyone to their feet. As they walked off the court, fans screamed, “One more.”

Best Mascot: Louisville Card
The Card was into it throughout the game and took photos with several fans during halftime. The all-red suit, yellow beak and black eyes are pretty intimidating and made him a fan favorite, even with middle-aged men.

Best Accent: Jim Calhoun
I was dying to hear it in person, and for the first time Thursday, I got to. “Paticulaly I thawt the bawdy language,” “I know Jagetawn (Georgetown) was down a playa,” “In the first hof (half), I thawt we toughened up.” I could go on for days…

Best Fans: Syracuse Orange
They packed the Garden early and were practically deafening after every bucket, doing everything from screaming at the refs to cheering on Brandon Triche‘s threes. There’s a reason NYC is the Cuse’s “home away from home.”

Coolest Dude: Kyle Kuric/Darius Johnson-Odom
Kuric was real cool in front of the camera and seemed to put some thought into his answers. Just a down-to-earth guy who enjoys playing ball for U of L. Oh, and he’s got a nasty jumper with some hops to go along with it.

It’s never easy talking to players after they’ve just lost—particularly after they’ve been eliminated from a tournament—but Marquette’s Johnson-Odom couldn’t have been nicer. Granted it helped I’d interviewed him before for a Dime story, but this was my first face-to-face with DJO and we talked for a good five minutes about ball and knowing people in North Carolina. Might not seem like much, but considering his team had just lost by 25, it was infinitely more than I was expecting.

Are you surprised by any of these?

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