NEW YORK -- Welcome to a special Championship Week edition of the Report Card -- live from the Big East Tournament. We're all eagerly awaiting Selection Sunday, and the start of the Big Dance next Thursday, but this Thursday was pretty exciting, as well -- especially for those of us inside Madison Square Garden.
With the expansion of the Big East, you can make the argument that this year's Big East Tournament is the best conference tourney ever. And Quarterfinal Thursday should be the best day of the tourney. It didn't disappoint. All four games were exciting. And the first one -- Syracuse beating UConn in overtime -- was the best game I've seen all season.
So, I decided to dish out some grades from a great day of college hoops in New York City.
When the final buzzer sounded, while most of his teammates mobbed each other at midcourt, all he could do was shake his head in exhaustion and disbelief. Less than a week ago, Gerry McNamara sounded somewhat resigned to the fact that his stellar Syracuse career very well could end in the NIT.
Thanks to two 3-point daggers, not anymore.
"I've been around great players and great teams, and there's no doubt we've struggled at times this year. [But] I'm more proud of this team with the way we came in here these last two games and won than any team I've played on," said McNamara after 'Cuse's 86-84 OT win over No. 1 Connecticut. "What we did today was pretty special."
By now, you must have seen McNamara's miraculous game-winning 3-ball against Cincinnati on Wednesday. And you probably heard Jim Boeheim's profanity-laced comments after that game, comments made in response to an article that called McNamara overrated. No one would dare make that argument now. On Thursday McNamara was magnificent, scoring 17 points and dishing out 13 assists, all with a sore groin -- and nailing another clutch trey that sent the game into OT.
Boeheim began his postgame remarks Thursday with an apology for his language Wednesday. But he offered even stronger praise for his star senior. "He's got more guts than anybody I've ever coached," Boeheim said.
Want to contribute to the College Hoops Report Card? Send your questions, and nominations for the subject categories, here.
• Jones: Never a dull moment
• Glockner: Bubble Watch
• Chat with Andy Katz
• Complete CBB coverage
McNamara has had a remarkable college career. Lost in all the attention heaped on Carmelo Anthony is the fact that his classmate, McNamara, was a huge part of Syracuse's national championship team -- including hitting six 3-pointers in the national title game. As a sophomore, McNamara connected on nine 3-pointers and tallied 43 points against BYU in an NCAA Tournament first-round game. He has been the heart and soul of the Orange for four years. There's a reason 33,633 people showed up for his final game at the Carrier Dome -- an NCAA on-campus record.
His junior season ended prematurely with a disappointing NCAA first-round loss to Vermont. And this year's team has underachieved, struggling to a 7-9 regular-season record in the Big East. Before this tournament, most people believed Syracuse would have its bubble burst on Selection Sunday. McNamara deserved a better finish. So he did something about it himself.
Now he gets to play at least one more game in New York. And at least one more game in the Big Dance.
And college hoops fans should be ecstatic about that.
Syracuse jumped out to a 10-0 lead against the Huskies. It held the lead for almost the entire 40 minutes of regulation, thanks in part to a savvy move by Jim Boeheim. Boeheim knows his team can't run up and down with UConn for 40 minutes -- no team can. So he went to a spread offense. His guards spent the early portion of the shot clock exchanging the ball on the perimeter, thereby taking time off the clock. But they still were able to create good shots when they attacked late in the shot clock -- whether off a pick and roll, a penetrate and kick, etc. Jim Calhoun lauded Boeheim for the move after the game. Boeheim said it was as well as his team has run its offense all season.
• Denham Brown (about his off-balance 3-pointer near the end of regulation): "You know, down a couple baskets. You know, shot it. Went in, you know."
|Check out ESPN.com's College Hoops index for everything you'd want to know about the game.|
• Marcus Williams (about his missed shot to tie the score in OT): "The last shot, split the double-team. Had an open look. Just didn't fall."
• Hilton Armstrong (on what the difference was this time compared with UConn's two wins over Syracuse earlier this season): "I think they were a little tougher today than the other two games ... yeah, I guess."
Not exactly a reporter's dream. The UConn players looked very dejected after the game, even a little stunned. That's a good sign -- shows they care, even though the loss shouldn't cost them a No.1 seed. Both of UConn's national champion teams also won the Big East Tournament, but this loss will give the Huskies even more motivation to get to Indianapolis. And that's a scary thought.
That quote's from Villanova coach Jay Wright after his Wildcats ran over Rutgers in the second half Thursday night to win 87-55. The Wildcats watched UConn's loss to Syracuse at their hotel, and Wright talked to the team about it briefly during the pregame meal. But I don't think he has much to worry about -- this is a very experienced Villanova team, a team that has played as though it's on a mission all season.
The Cats played that way against Rutgers, particularly in the second half. Yes, they let Quincy Douby torch them for 24 points in the first half. But they bottled him up in the second half -- even when the game was out of reach. For instance, with under three minutes play and Villanova leading 79-52, Rutgers was trying desperately to get the ball in Douby's hands. But Allan Ray played such good denial defense that he wouldn't allow Douby even a touch. That kind of effort should carry Nova a long way this March.
Other thoughts from Thursday at MSG:
• Big East tourney week is really the only week of the year when New York City is really juiced about college basketball -- and it's great to see. The subways and streets are packed with fans wearing their team colors. The bars around Madison Square Garden are overflowing. Just a great atmosphere.
• There was a really nice moment between McNamara and UConn's Rashad Anderson with just over three minutes left in regulation, and the Huskies tying the score at the foul line. Amid all that pressure and drama, the two seniors -- who've both had outstanding careers -- were grinning and chatting with one another. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but I'd imagine it was along the lines of: "It's going to be a fun three minutes. And it's been a heckuva four years."
• I know West Virginia played the late game, but the West Virginia Mountaineer looked stoned as he clapped his musket to the beat of "Louie Louie." Not saying he really was -- just thought he looked funny. Then again, I'm a New Yorker -- we don't see many mountaineers 'round these parts.
"It's Georgetown-Syracuse in the Garden. That says it all," said Georgetown coach John Thompson III after the Hoyas' 62-59 win over Marquette. Seems only fitting to have a Thompson on the bench for this one, too.
• Georgetown: "Damn it feels good to be Ashanti" -- This one made me chuckle, but I'm not sure why. I didn't get a chance to verify this statement with Ashanti Cook after the game, but I'm sure he felt pretty good about the win.
• Villanova: "Put Me on ESPN" -- The brutally honest approach. I like it.
• West Virginia: "You've Just Been Pittsnogled" -- C'mon, can't you come up with something new?
This week's poll question is a simple one: After the loss to Syracuse, are you worried about UConn? Please vote at the top right of this page.
Instead of answering questions in the Report Card this week, I answered them Friday morning in a chat in ESPN.com's SportsNation.
The rest of Championship Week (check local listings): I'm biased, but I would pay attention to the Big East in particular; should be a fabulous final three games.
NCAA Tournament Selection Show (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, CBS): For all us bracketologists, it's the most exciting hour of the year. Period.
"The Sopranos" (Sunday, 9 p.m. ET, HBO): The only show that could get me to put my bracket away for an hour on Selection Sunday.
Kieran Darcy is an editor at ESPN.com and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.