Sunday, December 10, 2006

NBA's Atlantic Division To Merge With Big East Conference

In the early stages of the NBA season, the Atlantic Division has been notable for the abysmal performance of all its members. As a result, league officials have decided that it would be inappropriate for Atlantic teams to continue playing against NBA competition. Instead, these teams will test themselves against other opponents in the northeast. Commissioner David Stern announced that the Atlantic Division has merged with the Big East Conference.

The announcement gives hope to these franchises that they can once again be competitive on the basketball court. The collegiate ranks, even with the presence of the second-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers, should provide more opportunities for victories. The rest of the NBA has not been kind to the Atlantic Division, with the New Jersey Nets holding first place at 7-12. Only three teams outside the division have a worse record, and Atlantic teams have gone 7-29 against the Western Conference. Since the start of the NBA season, only Michael Richards and the Republican Party have fared worse.

Despite the teams’ struggles, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese is delighted to welcome five new members to the league. Recent conference realignment caused the Big East to lose three schools to the ACC while picking up five from Conference USA. When the dust settled, the Big East was left with a mere 16 members. Tranghese found that shortage unacceptable, lamenting, “That’s small enough that most of our schools actually play each other. I mean, how can we honestly have ‘Big’ in our name if everyone is in the same country?”

Now with 21 members, including the Toronto Raptors from Canada, Tranghese’s concerns have been addressed. Immediately, some classic backyard rivalries will be ignited. The Nets will battle for Garden State supremacy with Seton Hall and Rutgers. The 76ers will square off with Villanova for bragging rights in Philadelphia. And St. John’s and the New York Knicks will get it on in Madison Square Garden. Red Storm sophomore Anthony Mason, Jr. will provide Knicks fans with a reminder of better days, when his father’s teams were a fixture in the postseason. Things could be even better this time, as neither Michael Jordan nor Reggie Miller is expected to be in the building.

Storylines will be particularly abundant for the Boston Celtics. A showdown versus Louisville will bring a grudge match with former Celtics coach Rick Pitino, and current Boston coach Doc Rivers will get to take on his old school, Marquette. Games with Notre Dame will determine who has the toughest leprechaun in all of sports. However, the presence of Sebastian Telfair, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, and Kendrick Perkins on the Celtics’ roster does provide reason for concern. The team might not have enough college experience to compete in the Big East.

Other subplots are sure to provide intrigue. When New York’s Quentin Richardson and Philadelphia’s Steven Hunter competed for DePaul, the Blue Demons were still in Conference USA. They won’t have to miss out on the Big East experience any longer. A New Jersey – Connecticut matchup will enable former Huskies Marcus Williams, Clifford Robinson, and Josh Boone to take on their old school. And at least for the time being, Allen Iverson is in the same conference as the Georgetown Hoyas. His old school could even be a plausible trade destination, as The Answer only seems to be able to coexist with coaches named John Thompson.

The recent expansion could make the Big East Conference tournament particularly interesting. Nine teams will be excluded from the 12-team field. If the Knicks make it that far, they’ll be very unlikely to win the title. The Big East champion must be able to win repeatedly in Madison Square Garden.