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March 27, 2009

Beasts of the East

Big East continues to flex its muscles as Pitt, 'Nova move onto Elite 8

¬ BOSTON — The old Garden would be a more appropriate venue for tomorrow's match-up. Pittsburgh and Villanova, two snarling Big East monsters would tear the roof off the place.

Last night, both clubs sunk their teeth into the opposition at the new, homogenized building on Causeway Street. The Panthers stalked Xavier before pouncing late and prevailing, 60-55. The Wildcats, on the other hand, didn't even bother to chew, devouring Duke, 77-54.

"The ACC is soft!" Villanova fans screamed as the Blue Devils streamed off the court afterward.

Harsh? Maybe. But they have a point. Third-seeded Villanova made a lot of people at TD Banknorth Garden — and beyond — happy, pounding the second-seeded Blue Devils, 77-54, in front of a near full house.

This was far from a classic. After intermission, it wasn't even close. Villanova outscored the Blue Devils 51-31 in the second half. Duke shot 26.7 percent (16 of 60!) for the game, a season low. It was ugly for Coach K's club.

The two East Regional semifinals, especially 'Nova-Duke, further proved what just about every rational basketball aficionado has said this year: The Big East is by far the best conference in the country.

Like 1985, when three of its teams made the Final Four, 2009 belongs to the rough-and-tumble league. Just look at who's left from the Big East. Pitt, Villanova, UConn, Syracuse and Louisville. They're all national title contenders.

"The Big East is just unbelievable," said Villanova swingman Dwayne Anderson, who scored eight points. "(Villanova-Pitt), it's another Big East game this far in the tournament. It just says a lot about the conference."

The Wildcats, led by guard Scottie Reynolds (16 points) and center Dante Cunningham (15 points), ran roughshod on the Dukies. Gerald Henderson (1 for 14, 7 points) and Jon Scheyer (3 for 18, 13 points) were off. The Wildcats clearly had something to do with that.

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