The lenses of history and nostalgia would have preferred a Villanova-Georgetown final in the Big East championship game. And it almost came to that as the Hoyas nearly made a classic comeback from a late 20-point deficit.
Ultimately, though, this new Big East semifinal was best seen through goggles, like the ones worn by Matt Stainbrook of Xavier.
The bespectacled big man, a transfer from Western Michigan who was called both the goofiest and most serious player by Xavier Nation magazine, scored 20 points and had nine rebounds to lead his team to a 65-63 victory in a conference tournament semifinal Friday night. The sixth-seeded Musketeers (21-12) will play top-seeded Villanova for the title Saturday night.
Xavier had appeared well in control before momentum turned on a reminder of the Big East's old days: a confrontation (recall Pearl Washington taking a punch at Patrick Ewing) Jabril Trawick of the Hoyas was fouled hard by Jalen Reynolds with 7:53 left and Xavier leading by 20. Trawick appeared to challenge Reynolds, who apparently replied vigorously enough to earn a technical foul. Georgetown scored five points on that trip. Within four minutes, it had cut the deficit to six. With 14.7 seconds left, it was only one.
It was all free throws after that and Xavier made just enough to hold on.
That ended the prospect of a Villanova-Georgetown championship, which would have been a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the 1985 NCAA championship game. Villanova won that in an epic upset, concluding a Final Four that featured three Big East teams -- St. John's also made it.
To be sure, there are similarities in John Thompson III's current Georgetown team (21-10) and his father's Hoyas of 1985.
"I see an excellent team. I see a team that's very athletic, really big around the basket," Xavier coach Chris Mack said of the 2015 version.
Yet this is a completely different era and the remade conference highlights the addition of Xavier and Butler, who met in a taut overtime game late Thursday night. Call it an X factor. Xavier closed the first half on an 18-4 run Friday night, completed by Stainbrook's tip at the buzzer that allowed his team to race off the court with a 35-26 lead. In the end, they found themselves racing into the final.