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The Big East: Inside the Most Entertaining and Influential Conference in College Basketball History

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The definitive, compulsively readable story of the greatest era of the most iconic league in college basketball history--the Big East The names need no introduction: Thompson and Patrick, Boeheim and the Pearl, and of course Gavitt. And the moments are part of college basketball lore: the Sweater Game, Villanova Beats Georgetown, and Six Overtimes. But this is the story of The definitive, compulsively readable story of the greatest era of the most iconic league in college basketball history--the Big East The names need no introduction: Thompson and Patrick, Boeheim and the Pearl, and of course Gavitt. And the moments are part of college basketball lore: the Sweater Game, Villanova Beats Georgetown, and Six Overtimes. But this is the story of the Big East Conference that you haven't heard before--of how the Northeast, once an afterthought, became the epicenter of college basketball. Before the league's founding, East Coast basketball had crowned just three national champions in forty years, and none since 1954. But in the Big East's first ten years, five of its teams played for a national championship. The league didn't merely inherit good teams; it created them. But how did this unlikely group of schools come to dominate college basketball so quickly and completely? Including interviews with more than sixty of the key figures in the conference's history, The Big East charts the league's daring beginnings and its incredible rise. It transports fans inside packed arenas to epic wars fought between transcendent players, and behind locker-room doors where combustible coaches battled even more fiercely for a leg up. Started on a handshake and a prayer, the Big East carved an improbable arc in sports history, an ensemble of Catholic schools banding together to not only improve their own stations but rewrite the geographic boundaries of basketball. As former UConn coach Jim Calhoun eloquently put it, "It was Camelot. Camelot with bad language."


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The definitive, compulsively readable story of the greatest era of the most iconic league in college basketball history--the Big East The names need no introduction: Thompson and Patrick, Boeheim and the Pearl, and of course Gavitt. And the moments are part of college basketball lore: the Sweater Game, Villanova Beats Georgetown, and Six Overtimes. But this is the story of The definitive, compulsively readable story of the greatest era of the most iconic league in college basketball history--the Big East The names need no introduction: Thompson and Patrick, Boeheim and the Pearl, and of course Gavitt. And the moments are part of college basketball lore: the Sweater Game, Villanova Beats Georgetown, and Six Overtimes. But this is the story of the Big East Conference that you haven't heard before--of how the Northeast, once an afterthought, became the epicenter of college basketball. Before the league's founding, East Coast basketball had crowned just three national champions in forty years, and none since 1954. But in the Big East's first ten years, five of its teams played for a national championship. The league didn't merely inherit good teams; it created them. But how did this unlikely group of schools come to dominate college basketball so quickly and completely? Including interviews with more than sixty of the key figures in the conference's history, The Big East charts the league's daring beginnings and its incredible rise. It transports fans inside packed arenas to epic wars fought between transcendent players, and behind locker-room doors where combustible coaches battled even more fiercely for a leg up. Started on a handshake and a prayer, the Big East carved an improbable arc in sports history, an ensemble of Catholic schools banding together to not only improve their own stations but rewrite the geographic boundaries of basketball. As former UConn coach Jim Calhoun eloquently put it, "It was Camelot. Camelot with bad language."

30 review for The Big East: Inside the Most Entertaining and Influential Conference in College Basketball History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lance

    No matter what loyalties a college basketball fan may have to a school or conference, chances are that the fan will have at least a few great memories of watching Big East basketball. It might be the thrilling six-overtime game between Syracuse and Connecticut in 2009, the 1985 NCAA championship game in which Villanova shocked favored Georgetown or when Providence made an improbable run to the Final Four in 1987 under Rick Pitino. These are just a few of the highlights of the conference’s many a No matter what loyalties a college basketball fan may have to a school or conference, chances are that the fan will have at least a few great memories of watching Big East basketball. It might be the thrilling six-overtime game between Syracuse and Connecticut in 2009, the 1985 NCAA championship game in which Villanova shocked favored Georgetown or when Providence made an improbable run to the Final Four in 1987 under Rick Pitino. These are just a few of the highlights of the conference’s many accomplishments in this excellent book about the Big East by Dana O’Neil. The book isn’t all about the action on the court. No book on the Big East would be complete without the story of how the conference’s first commissioner, Dave Gavitt, took an idea to bring eastern schools together to form a conference to make east coast basketball improve on its dismal record of only producing three NCAA championships in 40 years. But thanks to some shrewd talking, handshake deals and a new all-sports network called ESPN that was looking for programming to fill its airwaves, Gavitt brought together seven schools to form the Big East conference and from there, it almost immediately became a basketball powerhouse. O’Neil brings some great storytelling to chronicle not only Gavitt’s wheeling and dealing to get the conference together, but she also describes his insistence that all schools not only share the wealth that would be generated but also should share in the glory and build up a program worthy of championship contention. While even the most casual fan will remember some of the greatest Big East teams of the 1980’s such as Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown teams, nearly every school who was a member of the conference between its inception in 1979 and its near collapse when Syracuse and Pittsburgh left in 2013. The influence of football schools joining, which started in 1993 with the addition of Miami among others, is when O’Neil argues the conference really started to lose its luster that Gavitt and company worked so hard to gain. It seemed almost painful to read about the conference succumbing to football interests after the story of Gavitt convincing everyone who would listen that the conference tourney should be held in Madison Square Garden. The Big East conference changed the college basketball landscape forever and this book is a very worthy telling of that story. O’Neil has written about the conference for ESPN and her knowledge and connections to the most important people in Big East lore shows. Any fan of college basketball from the 1980’s and 1990’s should read this book. I wish to thank Ballentine Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. https://sportsbookguy.blogspot.com/20...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brian Keeping

    Good reading for college hoops junkies ( though thin on the Rollie Massimino years at Lex High School, which as we all know, was the real early inspiration for The Big East!)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Matt Lieberman

    In April of 2008 I had a somewhat uncomfortable phone call with my Jewish grandmother explaining why I had ultimately decided to go to college at Pitt rather than Brandeis. I justified this choice to her by blathering on about the strength of their economics program for a few minutes while assiduously hiding that the true driver was the fact that I had become enamored with the Pitt Panthers’ basketball squad. And in my defense the team was coming off a riveting Big East Tournament championship a In April of 2008 I had a somewhat uncomfortable phone call with my Jewish grandmother explaining why I had ultimately decided to go to college at Pitt rather than Brandeis. I justified this choice to her by blathering on about the strength of their economics program for a few minutes while assiduously hiding that the true driver was the fact that I had become enamored with the Pitt Panthers’ basketball squad. And in my defense the team was coming off a riveting Big East Tournament championship and played a beguilingly tough and scrappy brand of basketball that embodied “the old Big East” of the 80’s. I was only a few weeks removed from seeing Pitt top Marquette in the Big East Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden and from that point on it was clear that Brandeis had no shot with me. Dana O’Neil’s new book The Big East is an engaging love letter to the glory days of the league and the colorful players and coaches who transformed it from a ragtag group of eastern colleges to a collegiate basketball powerhouse. The Big East is still operational and is not involved kind of “Ship of Theseus” situation: key members from the league’s heyday such as Georgetown, UConn, Villanova, and St. John’s still play in the conference and Madison Square Garden remains the site of their annual tournament. However, the Big East was still decimated by conference realignment musical chairs and lost behemoths such as Syracuse and Louisville and the league is now far less relevant than it was in its heyday. O’Neil’s book covers the beginnings of the league through the realignment in the early 2010’s, putting particular emphasis on the league in the late 80s and early 90s when the Big East boasted the biggest players and coaches and their teams were mainstays in the national championship game. The league was initially formed in response to a change in the NCAA basketball tournament seeding policy in 1979 which required schools to play in a round robin format with regional schools. This provided a big incentive for regional powerhouses like Georgetown and Syracuse to group together to have more impressive schedules for the selection committee. Guided by their visionary commissioner Dave Gavitt, bolstered by a fortuitous television contract with an upstart network called ESPN, legendary coaches including John Thompson at Georgetown and Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, and a once-in-a-lifetime talent in Patrick Ewing, the Big East became the center of the college basketball universe in the 80’s, with half of the national championship games of the decade featuring at least one Big East team. O’Neil profiles all of the key parties involved in the rise of the league, focusing mainly on coaches including Boeheim, Thompson, and UConn’s Jim Calhoun and officials such as commissioners Dave Gavitt and Mike Tranghese. O’Neil has covered college basketball for decades and is currently a Senior Writer for The Athletic and she was able to leverage her inevitably hefty rolodex for this project and conduct over 60 interviews with Big East luminaries, including John Thompson shortly before his death in 2020. There is more limited participation from former players, and while Patrick Ewing and a handful of others including Allen Iverson and Ray Allen get some attention it doesn’t seem like any of the three were interviewed for the book and O’Neil’s player interviews mainly come from role players. I didn’t have an issue with that, however, especially given that coaches were the only true constants over the years and legends such as Boeheim, Thompson, Calhoun, and Lou Carneseca at St. John’s played a tremendous role in catapulting their teams to national prominence and in general got there from stressing team basketball rather than riding a single transformative player. The book proceeds in a mostly chronological fashion but each chapter centers around a given team. O’Neil checks all of the major Big East boxes, with substantial sections on all of the most successful teams and coaches of the period. I’d estimate that about three-quarters of the book covers the league’s history through the UConn 1996 championship team. After O’Neil chronicles the 2003 Syracuse national championship she largely runs through the remainder of the league’s history through realignment, though she does touch on the marathon six-overtime 2009 Big East tournament game between Syracuse and UConn. While I grew up in the 2000s and would have appreciated more pages devoted to that period in the Big East’s history, the league was slightly less relevant during the period and I feel that books like The Big East that chronicle long time periods aren’t always great at recapping recent history. A lot of those memories are fresh in readers’ heads and there may not be much new material to mine there. Fans of some smaller schools may feel like they got short shrift due to O’Neil structuring chapters around teams rather than years (“Send it in Jerome!” only gets a passing mention and Pitt and the teams that joined the conference later such as Notre Dame barely get any attention) but I can’t fault that decision too much. The book flows well and didn’t feel too short or long. This was clearly a labor of love for O’Neil and it was an entertaining reflection on a remarkably tough (I found it amusing albeit not incredibly surprising that the Big East toyed with adding an extra foul before ejection) and special league and period in college basketball. Overall, The Big East is an enjoyable and nostalgic look at the Big East’s golden years and a worthwhile read for any college basketball fan wanting to remember or learn more about college basketball in the 80’s and 90’s. 8/10

  4. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Owens

    Subtitled: Inside the Most Entertaining and Influential Conference in College Basketball History I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. The Big East conference was formed in 1979, just as I was graduating from high school and starting college. The conference quickly became the focus of the college basketball world, featuring the best talent and the most competitive teams, based in many of the biggest markets in the U.S Subtitled: Inside the Most Entertaining and Influential Conference in College Basketball History I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. The Big East conference was formed in 1979, just as I was graduating from high school and starting college. The conference quickly became the focus of the college basketball world, featuring the best talent and the most competitive teams, based in many of the biggest markets in the U.S. This book follows the conference from the time Dave Gavitt founded it to fill the void he perceived for a power conference based in the northeast until the point where several original members left due to the football-driven conference realignments of the previous decade. There are a couple of chapters devoted to the Georgetown Hoyas of Patrick Ewing and coach John Thompson. For many basketball fans of that time, that was the definitive team of the Big East. Playing their intense and aggressive brand of defense, the Hoyas played in three NCAA tournament championship games over a four year period. Syracuse and St. Johns were also very successful during the early years of the conference. However, the conference was incredibly deep, and nearly every one of the original conference members made tournament runs over the next 10-15 years. Reading this book reminded me of many of the players, games, and controversies that made college basketball so great in the 1980s. I gave The Big East five stars on Goodreads. It took me back to a time I remember fondly of watching basketball and drinking beer through most of the weekend with my friends.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. College sports conferences fascinate me, and while that doesn't make me unique, I'd like to think that my fascination stems from a more unique place. Rather than be interested in college conferences for the standings at the end of the season, I'm intrigued by the power dynamics, the history, and the geography of a conference. Those three factors, amongst others, give each conference it's own unique DNA, and that b Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. College sports conferences fascinate me, and while that doesn't make me unique, I'd like to think that my fascination stems from a more unique place. Rather than be interested in college conferences for the standings at the end of the season, I'm intrigued by the power dynamics, the history, and the geography of a conference. Those three factors, amongst others, give each conference it's own unique DNA, and that builds into the reputation that it holds. In "The Big East" by Dana O'Neil, we get into some of the juicy aspects of what it means to build a conference from scratch. The book focuses on the sport that led to the conceiving of the Big East - basketball. Football is mentioned, as are a few other sports, but O'Neil gives a (mostly) season by season recap of the Big East's basketball successes. The book itself was pretty brief, and I often found myself wanting more details and more story. That isn't to say there isn't meat here, but it all feels brief, particularly at the end of the Big East's life. I wish there was more of the behind the scenes information about the rise and fall of the conference, but ultimately, "The Big East" provides an entertaining and engaging read about the conference.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    College basketball is a sport like no other. The crowds, the venues, the players and traditions. It all comes together to become sports perfection. Amid this perfect storm, seemingly out of nowhere, a group of school formed together to put basketball first. In today's football-first collegiate platform, this seems backwards, and would ultimately be the undoing of the original Big East. But when the conference was in its prime, there was no match nor comparison. O'Neill has hit on a brilliant conc College basketball is a sport like no other. The crowds, the venues, the players and traditions. It all comes together to become sports perfection. Amid this perfect storm, seemingly out of nowhere, a group of school formed together to put basketball first. In today's football-first collegiate platform, this seems backwards, and would ultimately be the undoing of the original Big East. But when the conference was in its prime, there was no match nor comparison. O'Neill has hit on a brilliant concept here and writes it perfectly. From its humble beginnings to its multiple National Championships, O'Neill really showcases the highs, lows, struggles, and successes of the league. This is an absolute must-read for any college basketball fan.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Casey Wheeler

    This books covers the forming and history of the Big East. It covers the rivalries that developed (i.e. – Syracuse vs. Georgetown), the teams that either won the national championship or played in the final game and concludes with its reformation after most of the major colleges left for other conferences. This is a must read for anybody interested in the history of the Big East or college basketball. I received a free Kindle copy of this book courtesy of Net Galley and the publisher with the und This books covers the forming and history of the Big East. It covers the rivalries that developed (i.e. – Syracuse vs. Georgetown), the teams that either won the national championship or played in the final game and concludes with its reformation after most of the major colleges left for other conferences. This is a must read for anybody interested in the history of the Big East or college basketball. I received a free Kindle copy of this book courtesy of Net Galley and the publisher with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook and my nonfiction book review blog.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Jennings

    "...The definitive, compulsively readable story of the greatest era of the most iconic league in college basketball history--the Big East..." And that's the best description there is...taken from the book itself! This is your book if you love college basketball...and or any basketball... And this covers so much about this subject...the players, coaches...not to mention everything that deals with this era and subject. You will NOT be disappointed... Highly Recommended! "...The definitive, compulsively readable story of the greatest era of the most iconic league in college basketball history--the Big East..." And that's the best description there is...taken from the book itself! This is your book if you love college basketball...and or any basketball... And this covers so much about this subject...the players, coaches...not to mention everything that deals with this era and subject. You will NOT be disappointed... Highly Recommended!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anish Shroff

    “The Big East” is a thundering trip down memory (or Jerome?) lane that celebrates a league with grand ambitions and outsized personalities. Dana O’Neil details the story arc of a conference that took college basketball by storm and layers the league’s signature moments with colorful behind-the-scenes anecdotes. As someone who grew up on the Big East with PJ’s Seton Hall teams and later attended to Syracuse, this was a page turner that stoked the fires of nostalgia. Recommend!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    2 1/2 stars for me. For those not familiar with the history of the Big East, this is a solid book. I've read enough college basketball books and documentaries - so nothing was particularly an "insider" view even though Dana O'Neil has covered the league most of her life. It's a good idea for a book, but probably one meant for John Feinstein who has much deeper connections to the coaches - past and present. There was nothing revelatory. It's a quick read regardless. 2 1/2 stars for me. For those not familiar with the history of the Big East, this is a solid book. I've read enough college basketball books and documentaries - so nothing was particularly an "insider" view even though Dana O'Neil has covered the league most of her life. It's a good idea for a book, but probably one meant for John Feinstein who has much deeper connections to the coaches - past and present. There was nothing revelatory. It's a quick read regardless.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    A nostalgic treat since I grew up watching Big East basketball. What a wild ride the league has had, from rogue upstart to national powerhouse, and then overreaching and eventually falling back on its roots. But its 80s peak is something we won't see again and I'm glad there's now a detailed chronicle of it. A nostalgic treat since I grew up watching Big East basketball. What a wild ride the league has had, from rogue upstart to national powerhouse, and then overreaching and eventually falling back on its roots. But its 80s peak is something we won't see again and I'm glad there's now a detailed chronicle of it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    The Big East was my favorite conference (because it was hoops-based) and this book relates its formative tales: Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and the amazing Villanova upset. The rise is also paralleled by ESPN, which isn't a focus here. Dana O'Neill wasn't my favorite basketball writer at ESPN because her features were generally soft focused, but her style of writing works very well in book form. The Big East was my favorite conference (because it was hoops-based) and this book relates its formative tales: Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and the amazing Villanova upset. The rise is also paralleled by ESPN, which isn't a focus here. Dana O'Neill wasn't my favorite basketball writer at ESPN because her features were generally soft focused, but her style of writing works very well in book form.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dave Cottenie

    A fantastic look at a massively influential conference in the NCAA. So much of what happened in the future was set in motion by the Big East. The cast of characters that ran the conference were legendary and larger than life. Dana O’Neil does a masterful job of weaving all of the tall tales and short fuses together in a way that seems just perfect. A must for any college basketball fan!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sheila McCarthy

    Well written and engaging but not much new here for followers of the old Big East although the author brings into focus the incredible achievements of the conference. A pleasant stroll down memory lane.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ron Carlini

    If you are a fan of The Big East, you need to read this entertaining book!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    Not a lot that's new to the die-hard college hoops fan, but a good read nevertheless. Not a lot that's new to the die-hard college hoops fan, but a good read nevertheless.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lee

    Great book for us east coast sports nuts. Thanks Dana

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott Passner

    Excellent read about the best conference in America! Great stories.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Leonard

    Good history of the league and its changes.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jackchristopherhill

    Incredible What an incredible book. I think we all miss the big East and the way it was, but this book brought it all back to life.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Phil Prehn

    A good overall summary, some interesting stories of the early days—as a Syracuse fan I wish there was more on the Orange.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Price

    this book says a lot but there is more to talk about

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brian Corley

    Great book. Does a good job of focusing on the highlights of most of the original members, going from the league's inception up until its new formation. Great book. Does a good job of focusing on the highlights of most of the original members, going from the league's inception up until its new formation.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    A well-written book. And although basketball isn't my favorite (anymore) reading this brought back those glory years and reminded me how much fun it used to be A well-written book. And although basketball isn't my favorite (anymore) reading this brought back those glory years and reminded me how much fun it used to be

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sam Leroy

    Not bad. Was an enjoyable and light read. Would've appreciated more detail/more reporting Not bad. Was an enjoyable and light read. Would've appreciated more detail/more reporting

  26. 5 out of 5

    Edwin Sam Jr.

    Such an entertaining read for lovers of college basketball. I bought the book after hearing Dana O’Neil on the Titus and Tate podcast. Couldn’t recommend it this book enough!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jim Blessing

    I didn't care for this book mainly because it covered the earlier years of the Big East and not the last 10 years. I didn't care for this book mainly because it covered the earlier years of the Big East and not the last 10 years.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    If you grew up watching Big Monday on ESPN or you remember the wars on the court by the teams of the Big East, you will enjoy this nostalgic journey through the Big East's history. Superstar players, 6 OT games, Madison Square Garden, the aurora of basketball by the schools of the Big East will always be a significant portion of my memory of what college basketball is. This was a fun read about those teams and league. I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my open and honest If you grew up watching Big Monday on ESPN or you remember the wars on the court by the teams of the Big East, you will enjoy this nostalgic journey through the Big East's history. Superstar players, 6 OT games, Madison Square Garden, the aurora of basketball by the schools of the Big East will always be a significant portion of my memory of what college basketball is. This was a fun read about those teams and league. I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my open and honest review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dwight Sutton

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Beagle

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