By Kieran Darcy
Page 2

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.

PHYS. ED.

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.

Gerry McNamara
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Gerry McNamara's performance in this tournament won't soon be forgotten. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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.

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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.

SCIENCE

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.

MATH

Forty-three. That's the number of words spoken by the UConn players in the postgame news conference. To be specific, they were:

• 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."

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• 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.

LANGUAGE

Kyle Lowry
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Kyle Lowry and the rest of the Wildcats are focused on one game at a time. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

"I felt this afternoon was a good dose of reality. … We talked about the fact that I thought UConn came ready to play, too, but in tournament time, it only takes one game, one guy getting it going, and we definitely used that as something to learn from."

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.

RECESS
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.

HISTORY

Brandon Bowman
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Brandon Bowman the Hoyas are Big East contenders once more. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Syracuse vs. Georgetown. Once one of the biggest games on the college hoops calendar every season, this matchup has lost its luster in recent years with the Hoyas' struggles. But G'town is back in the Big East tourney semifinals for the first time since 2000, and I can't wait to see the old-school Big East rivalry renewed on such a big stage, in such a big game.

"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.

ART

It's always fun to check out what kind of signage the fans bring to conference tournaments. But I have to say, the quality of the signs I saw at MSG on Thursday was mediocre at best. A couple that stood out:

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?

ENGLISH

Curious to read the article that made Boeheim throw a fit Wednesday? Well, here's a link to it. And for another perspective on McNamara's outstanding career, click here and here.

CLASS PARTICIPATION

Craig Austrie, Jeff Adrien & Denham Brown
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
The UConn players took the loss to Syracuse hard. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

In last week's poll, 56.5 percent of you agreed with me that a conference's regular-season champ should receive the automatic bid, not the conference tournament champion. I was pleasantly surprised. Don't think we're ever going to go back to that system, though. I just hope the Ivy League holds out and doesn't start a conference tournament.

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.

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
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 kieran.d.darcy@espn3.com.




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