To hail St. John’s hiring of Rick Pitino is beside the point. To extol what he can do with that program is stating the obvious.
Let’s think about the big picture here. Pitino makes the Big East more competitive just by taking the St. John’s job.
The Big East has done fine in recent years with three teams advancing to the Sweet 16 this tournament, making it the third straight season the Big East has sent multiple teams to the Sweet 16. Villanova has won a pair of national championships in the 2010's, joining Duke and UConn as the other teams to do so this decade.
Conference realignment has hurt the Big East as major rivalries that Syracuse, Connecticut, Georgetown and even St. John’s under Lou Carnesecca had have fallen away. Teams like Creighton, Marquette and Xavier have infused new life into the conference, but it has not provided the same spark that it had in the early 2010's.
Pitino changes everything by taking the St. John’s job. People will pay attention to the Red Storm just to see what he can do with a struggling program that has only five NCAA Tournament appearances since 2000. Long-time Big East boosters will watch with curiosity to see if he can change the perception of St. John's and help the conference gain more acclaim. His presence in the Big East gives the conference the cache and gravitas among its coaches that it lost last year when Jay retired.
With due respect to the current coaches of the Big East teams, they haven’t really changed the perception of it, whether it’s fair or not. It’s not their fault. It’s more of a location thing where there are few East Coast teams doing well in that conference.
This is why Pitino’s hiring at St. John’s is so important. If St. John’s can flourish with him, the conference can get more competitive as it could create potential rivalries in the conference. Imagine St. John’s and UConn being the biggest ticket in town as the conference showcase twice a year. How about St. John’s and Seton Hall finally creating a rivalry again? How about St. John’s and Villanova fighting for Big East supremacy, along with the best recruits? How about St. John’s finally standing up to Creighton once and for all? The possibilities are endless.
As always in sports, it’s about the money. Pitino’s presence increases revenue for the conference. The more attention the conference gets, the more revenue it gets. Pitino becomes a showcase attraction on the road and in the Big East Tournament.
Big East could eventually want to add more teams to increase its potential revenue stream. This is where Pitino plays a role. If he and St. John’s have success, the conference gets more popular and other teams from smaller conferences such as Florida Atlantic or Iona may be interested in joining the conference. Shoot, imagine a merger of the CAA and the Big East. With college sports forming a super conference, this merger idea may not be crazy talk anymore.
The Big East needs New York for it to succeed like it used to. This is why Pitino’s hiring at St. John’s is so important. If St. John’s wins, the conference takes off. St. John’s becomes the talk of the town, which benefits the conference. It could also be the talk of the country if the Red Storm are all able to win their first regular season title since 1992.
Think about the big crowds at the Garden again when St. John’s plays its home games. Think about St. John’s fans painting the Garden red during the Big East Tournament games. That home-court advantage that would have the city rallying around them would be such a boost.
Most importantly, St. John’s will finally play better competition during the nonconference season because Pitino knows the team will get better and sharper in conference play by playing tougher opponents. He understands that more than his predecessors did. This gives the Big East more viability when St. John’s goes on the road to play a team like Kentucky or UCLA.
The conference needs St. John’s to get its act together. The school did just that by doing whatever it took to get Pitino here. It’s about time the university made winning a priority in basketball again after neglecting it for a long time.
This is a great day not just for St. John’s and New York, but it’s also for a conference as it could help the Big East regain its footing it had in the early 2010's. Pitino is not going to change the conference’s perception overnight, but this hire by St. John’s is a step in the right direction.
You can read Leslie's Jersey Sporting News columns on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
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