NCAA Basketball: St. John's Rick Pitino Introductory Press Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On a whiteboard between the Georgetown practice court and weight room is a message -- a quote from the late speaker, writer and entrepreneur Jim Rohn.

"You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight."

Two floors below, in a building named for the coach who changed Georgetown men's basketball's direction from afterthought to national powerhouse, is Ed Cooley, trying to make that quote come to life as he's introduced as the Hoyas' next coach. Over the course of a roughly 15-minute introductory speech Wednesday, Cooley goes through a wide range of emotions. He's appreciative of the past, calling former players in the room -- including Nuggets forward Jeff Green, in town for a game against the Wizards -- up alongside him. He's joyful, talking about how meaningful it is that he can join his daughter, Olivia, a junior at the school and "the key" to him choosing Georgetown. He's self-deprecating, joking that he needs to get in the gym more, but confident that he still looks pretty good for 53.

More than anything, he speaks with conviction. With passion.

"We're gonna win games," he says early in his speech. "I promise you, we're gonna win games. We're not gonna win a little. We're gonna win a lot. You understand that?"

Winning, of course, is what Cooley's been brought to Washington, D.C. to do -- and the thing Georgetown didn't do enough of under Patrick Ewing. But Cooley isn't satisfied with winning. He's won at Fairfield and at Providence. He's interested in winning at the level of John Thompson Jr., whose statue is just outside the room.

Cooley met Thompson in 1982 when the Hoyas held a practice at Cooley's Central High School in Providence, Rhode Island. Thompson's language, his presence, his team -- it all shocked a wide-eyed, adolescent Cooley. More than four decades later, he's trying to achieve similar results, but in his own manner.

"First and foremost, I'm not him," Cooley says. "I don't want to be him. But I respect the platform he gave all of us young believers that had a bowl of hope -- a bowl of hope and a dream. And that's all I wanted. Opportunity knocks, and when opportunity knocks, don't ask who's at the door. Opportunity's there. Break it down and become special. That's what we're gonna be here."

Cooley reminds all in attendance -- students, staff, media, former players, alumni, administrators, cheerleaders, band members and more -- that it'll take patience. He emphasizes he needs people to stick with him and his team.

And in answering the final question he fields at the press conference, Cooley's conviction is back, stronger than ever before.

"If I'm the head coach of Georgetown, anything's possible," Cooley says, his voice rising, his finger tapping the lectern in front of him. "And I need you all to trust that."

Cooley's hiring comes at a significant time for Georgetown and for the Big East. Cooley is the first Hoyas coach who isn't Thompson Jr., his son or one of his former players in more than 50 years. And with St. John's hiring Rick Pitino and three Big East teams in the Sweet 16, perhaps this week is the most concrete indicator of what's to come.

Cooley can't believe it, but he has to wish luck to those three teams -- Creighton, Xavier and UConn -- because, "when they win, we win."

The Big East has done a lot of winning this season. This is the highest number of Sweet 16 teams the conference has had since 2013, when there were 15 teams in the conference, including Louisville (which, led by Pitino, won the national championship), Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame

That season, Creighton was in the Missouri Valley Conference, Xavier was in the Atlantic 10 and UConn was ineligible for the postseason.

"It's proven that we're one of the elite conferences in college basketball," Cooley told CBS Sports. "You have elite coaches, elite players, and it's playing out. ... It's just a great conference, and I hope that we can continue to build our conference, and hopefully the Hoyas are there sometime soon."

Cooley saw each of the three teams build and improve during his time at Providence. Some construction projects took longer than others.

Creighton didn't make a single Sweet 16 in Greg McDermott's first decade in charge but now has two in the past three seasons. This year's iteration is led by a terrific, veteran starting five, not unlike the North Carolina group that led the Tar Heels to the national championship game last year. The Bluejays hunt good shots and have the personnel to do so, with Ryan Nembhard, Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander all shooting above 35% on 3-pointers. That leaves 7-foot-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner plenty of room to roam the paint, and he's taking advantage: He's shooting 70.6% this season, on pace to set a single-season Big East record.

"It definitely makes things a lot easier," Kalkbrenner said ahead of the Bluejays' win over Baylor in the second round. "They've got to pick their poison, either send two people to guard me and give up an open three to one of these guys who are going to make the shot, or stay on them and play me one-on-one in the post. And it just forces them to make a decision. So it definitely makes my job a lot easier and I think opens up a lot for us on offense."

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Greg McDermott talks with Creighton Bluejays guard Ryan Nembhard. Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer

On the opposite end, Kalkbrenner repeated as Big East Defensive Player of the Year, a testament to his growth in a variety of aspects. As a freshman, Kalkbrenner averaged 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes, a number that dropped to 1.9 last season and remained a solid 2.4 this season. It's part of a team-wide emphasis to defend at a high level without fouling.

"Out of a teammate, you want to know what you're going to get, and you know what's coming from Ryan Kalkbrenner, not just every game day but every single practice," McDermott said. "You know he's going to be ready to practice, you know he's going to communicate and be kind of the traffic cop back there of our defense and bark out instructions."

Add in Arthur Kaluma, an über-athletic, versatile wing, and the Bluejays have all the bases covered to play a well-rounded, modern game. They defend the rim and the paint at an elite level while also shooting well from both areas, and they take care of the glass. That's been a winning combination so far.

If Creighton's starting five and steadiness are shine, UConn's depth and explosiveness are its top attributes. Nine different players see regular minutes, each with defined role.

A popular metric in college basketball this season has been the "kill shot," a term coined by Evan Miyakawa to describe a double-digit (10-0 or better) run. This season, UConn has 27, most of any Big East team. It has allowed five, fewest of any Big East team. The Huskies used one of those kill shots -- a 10-0 run midway through the second half -- to gain separation and eventually pull away from Saint Mary's in the second round.

"It's our depth honestly," said Huskies guard Andre Jackson Jr. "We have so many guys we can go to. No matter if somebody is having an off-day or an off-game, somebody is going to step up in those shoes and be ready for the big moment."

While depth helps, you still need stars. UConn has two bonafides in center Adama Sanogo and wing Jordan Hawkins, plus a potential one in center Donovan Clingan. Unlike Creighton, where Kalkbrenner is the beneficiary of great perimeter spacing, UConn does the opposite by using its standout center duo as a fulcrum of its offense. Sanogo and Clingan have the two highest usage percentages on the team at 26.% and 25.1%, respectively. They get involved in a variety of ways: Post-ups, pick-and-rolls, transition and especially offensive rebounds, where UConn has the second-highest rate in Division I.

Xavier leans more toward Creighton when it comes to minutes distribution, with the starting five shouldering more than 75% of the minutes this season. That group has been even more set in stone since Zach Freemantle's season-ending foot injury in late January. Unlike both Creighton and UConn, though, the Musketeers have a new (old) coach, Sean Miller, who is in the debut year of his second stint. 

"It's remarkable, and as much as it's about me being the coach, it's way more about these guys and the way they play," Miller said after the second-round win over Pittsburgh. "They've grown by leaps and bounds from November."

Perhaps it was simply an adjustment to a new system. The Musketeers are fourth nationally in 3-point percentage (38.9%) and sixth in assist percentage (64.1%). They have scorers at all three levels, and the result has been a top-10 offense, according to KenPom's efficiency metrics.

"I would say that might be our greatest strength, just our ability to share the ball and play together," Miller said. "Like I said, when you get to this level, you want to -- whether you win or lose -- be who you are. The way we played offense today was very much the team that we've been throughout the season."

The one thing that binds these three teams together is experience. Four of Creighton's five starters are in at least their second year in the program, and the one who isn't -- Scheierman -- is a senior who led South Dakota State to the NCAA Tournament last year. Six of UConn's nine rotation players are upperclassmen. All five of Xavier's starters are upperclassmen. It helps to get old and stay old, especially in an era when the transfer portal often saps teams of continuity. It's no surprise the three Big East teams still standing have plenty of experience on the court and on the sideline.

New Georgetown coach Ed Cooley. Getty Images

The future of Big East men's basketball certainly looks strong. The three teams above don't even include regular-season and conference tournament champion Marquette, nor Providence, which hired fast-rising Kim English to replace Cooley. At Villanova, Kyle Neptune finished his first year strong, winning six of his final eight regular-season games, a stretch that included back-to-back wins over Xavier and Creighton. Shaheen Holloway, who led the magical 2022 St. Peter's run, took Seton Hall to a 10-10 conference record and an NIT berth in his first year coaching the Pirates, no small feat in a conference that sent nearly half of its teams to the NCAA Tournament.

There's staying power here, too. All three of the Big East teams still playing could hypothetically return most of their top contributors. UConn (fourth), Xavier (13th) and Marquette (23rd) all have top-25 recruiting classes incoming. With legitimate star power at the top and reason for hope further down the standings, there's significant momentum moving forward for a conference steeped in history.

"Obviously you love the hires," Hurley said Wednesday, before the English-to-Providence news. "You know what Rick's going to do at St. John's. You know what Ed is going to do at Georgetown. ... As exciting as the league is, a great St. John's and a great Georgetown is great for all of us."