One last dance for the Big East

Is the Big East primed for one last NCAA dance, a final run for old time’s sake?

The powerhouse Big East, which was founded in 1979, has produced six NCAA Championships — three by UConn and one apiece from Georgetown, Villanova and Syracuse. Big East teams have made 16 Final Four appearances since 1980, including a tour de force in 1985 when eventual champion Villanova, runner-up Georgetown and St. John’s all made it, the only time that’s occurred in the tournament.

Of the league’s current members, only South Florida has failed to make the Final Four, although Marquette, DePaul, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Pitt all made it before they became Big East members.

Only the ACC with 10 titles — Duke and North Carolina with four each, and NC State and Maryland with one apiece — has won more NCAA Championships since 1980. And no conference has sent more different teams to the Final Four during that span. That’s parity.

When the late Dave Gavitt, former Providence coach, founded the Big East in 1979, it consisted of seven charter members — Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown, Villanova, Syracuse, Boston College and Connecticut. The first four along with Seton Hall, DePaul and Marquette will form their own BCS basketball league, taking the Big East name with them. But it won’t be the Big East as we know it.

The Beast of the East. What memories. Great coaches like Jim Boheim, Jim Calhoun, Lou Carnesecca, John Thompson, Rick Pitino. P.J. Carlesimo and Rollie Massimino. Great players like Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Ray Allen, Mark Jackson, Kemba Walker, Walter Berry and Dwayne “Pearl” Washington. And so many great rivalries and games, arguably none better than “Six in the City” — the six overtime classic between Syracuse and UConn in the 2009 Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Maybe the Big East can do it again. Louisville is the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Georgetown, a #2 seed, is playing in the year of the Jesuit, as is third-seed Marquette. And perennials like Syracuse and Notre Dame are in the mix. Once more, for old time’s sake.

Case closed–Mariano Rivera best of all time

Baseball fans can debate who’s the best hitter, the best pitcher, the best shortstop, the greatest team….and on, and on. But on this there’s no debate — Mariano Rivera, who has announced that this will be his final season, is the greatest closer in the history of baseball.

Rivera is baseball’s all-time saves leader with 608, with 42 more in the post-season. Do the math, that’s four full seasons of getting the last out in a Yankees win.

Arguably the most indispensable Yankee over the past 17 years….heck perhaps the most valuable player in baseball during that time. Rivera is a Hall of Fame lock.

Ever so humble, Rivera told ESPN’s Andrew Marchand: “I don’t feel myself, the greatest of all time. I’m a team player. I would love to be remembered as a player who was always there for others.”

Only one player in baseball, wears #42 — Mariano Rivera. That number was retired in 1997 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s “color barrier.”

Speaking of River, Jackie’s 90-year old widow Rachel Robinson told Ian O’Connor of ESPN: “He carried himself with dignity and grace, that made carrying the number a tribute to Jack.”

A great player and a great man. The great Rivera. There will never be another like him.

Here are 10 cool facts about Mariano Rivera:

1. Since he became the Yankee closer in 1997 (taking over for the departed John Wetteland), Rivera has been remarkably consistent.  He had at least 28 saves for 15 straight seasons before injuring his knee and missing nearly all of 2012.

2. Rivera actually started 10 games in 1995, his rookie year. before the Yankees realized he was born to be a reliever. That year he had a 5-3 record to go with a 5.51 ERA.

3. Since then, Rivera’s ERA has been above 3.00 just once (3.15 in 2007). His career low came in 2005, when he recorded a 1.38 ERA. Overall, he’s 76-58 with a 2.21 ERA.

4. Mo has led the American League in saves three times — 45 (1999), 50 (2001) and a career-high and Yankee best 53 in 2004.

5. Mariano Rivera has never won a Cy Young Award. He did finish second once, third three times, and fifth once in Cy Young balloting. He finished as high as ninth in AL MVP voting in 2004 and 2005.

6. “I save games, they save lives. That’s what real heroes are all about.” — Mariano Rivera, who gave his 2001 Rolaids “Relief Man” award to FDNY.

7. When Jackie Robinson’s #42 was retired in 1997, players who were wearing #42 at that time were allowed to keep it until they retired. Fittingly, Rivera is the only one left. He’s worn it alone since 2003.

8. Mo once claimed his most memorable moment came in 2003, when he pitched three scoreless innings against the Red Sox before Aaron Boone homered to win Game 7 of the ALCS.

9. Rivera’s post-season numbers are off the charts. In addition to his 42 saves, Mariano has an 8-1 record and a microscopic 0.70 ERA in playoff competition, covering 141 innings.

10. Rivera has given up just two post-season home runs in 96 games, neither to a left-hand hitter. Sandy Alomar, Jr, of the Indians (1997) and Jay Payton of the Mets (2000) are the only two players to claim a post-season home run against Rivera.

Hanging 50 at the Garden

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, right, recently lit up Madison Square Garden for 54 points, making 11 of 13 three-pointers in a loss to the Knicks. Curry’s majestic performance raised the obvious questions about all-time scoring heroics at MSG.

New York Newsday has a slide show on MSG’s 50-point games at both the old Garden on Eighth Avenue and the current facility atop Penn Station, which opened in 1968. Here are 10 factoids about the top scoring games at Madison Square Garden, the so-called world’s most famous arena and the mecca of basketball.

1. No surprise here. Wilt Chamberlain has held the record for most points scored at MSG for more than 50 years. In November of 1962, the Big Dipper, playing for the San Francisco Warriors, dropped 73 points on the Knicks at the old Garden.

2. Chamberlain indeed has recorded five of the top eight scoring games at MSG. In addition to his 73-point outburst, Wilt scored 62 (3rd all-time), 59 (6th), and 58 twice (7th and 8th). All came at the old Garden in a four-year span between 1960 and 1964.

3. Lakers forward Elgin Baylor set the NBA single-game scoring record in November, 1960, when he scored 71 against the Knicks. Baylor also had 25 rebounds at MSG that night.

4. Another Laker, Kobe Bryant, scored 61 at the current MSG — aka MSG IV, the NBA’s oldest arena — in February of 2009. Bryant made all 20 of his free throws that night.

5. The Knick single-game scoring record is 60, set by Bernard King, left, on Christmas Day in 1984 in a loss to the New Jersey Nets. That new Garden record stood for nearly 25 years until Kobe broke it.

6. All told, five Knicks have eclipsed 50 points at the Garden. Richie Guerin had 57 and 51 at the old MSG, and King (55,52), Patrick Ewing (51,50), Jamaal Crawford (52) and Allan Houston (50) at the new place.

7. Guerin’s 57 in 1959 broke the Garden record held by Neil Johnston of the Philadelphia Warriors. Johnston was the first player to score 50 points in a game against the Syracuse Nationals in 1954 — part of an all-NBA doubleheader at MSG.

8. Michael Jordan twice scored 50 at MSG, including the famous double nickel 55 in 1995. Exactly 3,069 days earlier Jordan hit for 50 in 1986, the only player to shoot less than 50 percent in a 50-point effort at the Garden.

9. As a Cleveland Cavalier, LeBron James surpassed the half century mark twice in New York, with 52 in 2009 and 50 one year earlier. At the time, LeBron’s 50-point, 10-assist game was only the third since the ABA-NBA merger.

10. The only other players to score 50 or more in an NBA game at the Garden were Rick Barry, who scored 57 as a rookie with San Francisco in 1965 and Richard Hamilton of the Detroit Pistons, who scored 51 points in a triple overtime loss to the Knicks in 200

10 things you may not know about Pistol Pete

Tempus fugit. It’s been 25 years since Peter Press Maravich, aka Pistol Pete, left us tragically in the winter of 1988. Many of his amazing exploits have been obscured by the haze of time, but Pete Maravich —  floppy mop, droopy socks and skinny frame — was a basketball wizard. In Maravich, published in 2006, author Wayne Federman chronicles many of the Pistol’s exploits throughout his collegiate and NBA career. Here are 10 amazing Pistol Pete factoids you can use to impress your friends:

1. Pete Maravich, all-time scoring leader in college, averaged 44.2 ppg over three years at LSU. He holds numerous NCAA records, including as highest scoring average in a season (44.5 in 1969-70), most points in a career (3,667) and most points in a season (1,381 in 1969-70).

2. He scored 50 in more points 28 times in the NCAA, and scored 40 or more 56 times. He once scored 50 points three games in a row. He was a three-time All-American.

3. Maravich is one of only three players — along with Paul Arizin and Rick Barry — to lead both the NCAA and NBA in scoring.

4. He was selected third overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1970 NBA draft. behind Bob Lanier of St. Bonaventure and Rudy Tomjanovich of Michigan.

5. Pistol Pete led the NBA in scoring in 1976-77 with the New Orleans Jazz. He averaged a career-high 31.1 points per game that year.

6. That year he scored a career-high 68 points against the Knicks, setting a record by scoring the most points ever for a player who fouled out of an NBA game.

7. Imagine if Maravich, with unlimited range, had played during the three-point era. It wasn’t until his final season, split between Utah and Boston in 1979-80, that Pete played when the three-point rule was in effect.

8. Maravich, who averaged 24.2 ppg for his career, never got the championship ring he desired. He just missed in Boston, where the Celtics won in 1981, the year after he retired

9. Pistol Pete was only 40 when he died of heart failure while playing pickup basketball. It was later learned that he had been born with a dangerously malformed heart — his left coronary artery had never fully developed.

10. The plaudits rolled in when Pete died. Rick Barry called him, “the greatest ball handler I’ve ever seen in my life.”  Magic Johnson said, “The passes he made were unbelievable. He was so ahead of his time.” And from Larry Bird:  “When he stepped on the court, it was like wearing a sign. ‘Watch out. I know how to play this game.”‘