by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad

NEW YORK — Grand opening, grand closing. Welcome to the Big East Tournament Final—er, the final Big East Tournament Final. You won’t see either of these teams in the Big East (or whatever it’s called) beyond this season. With that as the backdrop and world-famous Madison Square Garden as the setting, we’re in for an exciting night of college hoops.

It’s Pitino vs. Boeheim. Orange vs. Cards. No. 4 vs. No. 19. Adidas vs. Nike. The last-ever Big East Tournament title on the line, not to mention the NCAA Tournament seeding implications.

The key matchup I’ll be watching tonight: Louisville’s dynamic but sometimes maddening backcourt tandem of senior Peyton Siva and junior (and Brooklyn native) Russ Smith against the patented Syracuse 2-3 zone. What else are you watching for? And more importantly, who wins tonight? Keep up with me in the comments section below. We’ve got about 10 minutes to tip, so let’s get it!

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— This crowd is clearly pro-Syracuse. Lots and lots of orange in the crowd—and even some former Orange. More on that later… Tip-off is in less than 10 minutes and still no sign of the Cardinals. Last-minute pump-em-up Pitino speech?

— Syracuse comes out to Biggie’s “Hypnotize.” Starters: Brandon Triche, Michael Carter-Williams, CJ Fair, James Southerland, Rakeem Christmas

— Louisville comes out to Jim Jones’ “We Fly High.” Starters: Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear, Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan

— Fair drills a corner 3-ball for the first basket of the game. To call MSG “loud” right now would be a bit of an understatement.

— By the way, Syracuse is attempting to win its 6th Conference Tournament title. Meanwhile Louisville is attempting to become the first team to win their Conference Tournament while wearing jerseys with sleeves.

— Sneaker check: Triche in the Kobe 8 Python, Christmas in a crazy KD V custom colorway, Siva in the adidas Crazy Quick, Russ Smith rocking the Rose 3.5s.

— Syracuse has the early edge, 8-3. Russ Smith just crossed the pants off Triche, only to have the ball knocked away by a help defender. It was so very, very Russ Smith-ish.

— James Southerland asked this last night on Twitter, after he tied the record for most threes made in a single Big East Tournament (16). Well, he already has 2 tonight, so that record is his. It was previously held by current Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara.

— Ooooh, Montrezl Harrell finishes with a huge dunk in traffic, over multiple defenders. Cards cut the ‘Cuse lead to 17-13 with 10 minutes to play in the first half.

— Girl fan beats guy fan at free throw contest during under-8 timeout. Girl fan wins year’s supply of Reese’s cups. I want a year’s supply of Reese’s cups.

— Interesting nugget from ESPN’s Andy Katz. Too bad Louisville is down 22-18 with 5 minutes and change remaning in the first half.

— Look out. Quick run by Syracuse and the Orange are on top 31-20 with just over 2 minutes left in the half. I have no doubt Coach Pitino will rip into his team at half for their lack of effort on the defensive end.

— There’s no denying: this backcourt matchup is fun. So far, though, it’s been Triche and MCW winning the battle. Triche just put the entire L’Ville squad on strings on one possession.

— CJ Fair corner-pocket 3-ball. And the top blows off this place. Syracuse up 35-20 with 22 ticks to go in the first half. Plus a “Siva sucks” chant from the Orange student section, just for good measure.

— Halftime score: 35-22, ‘Cuse. I’m going to get a hot dog or whatever. I don’t even eat hot dogs like that. But yeah, I’ll be back.

— My halftime haul: pretzels, Peanut M&Ms and the always-underrated Milky Way fun size joints. Second half is about to start—what did you like from the first half? Can the Cards mount a comeback?

— For whatever reason, I’ve never been a big fan of Brandon Triche. But I can’t front, he’s strong and very skilled. Syracuse wins when he plays well. Just hit a tough driving shot with his off-hand to put ‘Cuse up 37-24.

— Balanced scoring for the Orange so far: MCW has 9, Triche and Fair have 8, and 6 for Southerland. No player—for either team—has hit double digits yet.

— 5 straight points for Fair, then another Southerland 3. ‘Cuse fans erupting in here! Orange 45, Cardinals 29 with 15:48 left.

— All of a sudden, we’ve got ourselves a ballgame. A 10-0 run for the Cardinals and they’ve cut the deficit to 45-39 with 13:49 remaining. The run has come with James Southerland off the floor after he picked up his 4th foul. Costly.

— Per ESPN’s Andy Katz, Peyton Siva is 3-28 in his career on three-pointers vs. Syracuse. Yikes.

— Don’t look now but we’ve got a 1-point game. 48-47 Syracuse leading. Buckle up.

— Make that a LOUISVILLE lead. WOW. Cards outscoring the Orange 27-13 in the second half, now have a 49-48 lead after another monstrous dunk from Harrell.

— Kevin Ware drills a three-pointer and Louisville has opened up a 56-48 lead. Syracuse completely breaking down defensively. And can’t score, either.

— Prior to a MCW free throw just now, the Cardinals were on a 27-3 run. Amazing. Now 58-51, Louisville on top, with 7 minutes to go.

— Welcome to Crunch Time. Six minutes left. Syracuse down 59-51 and needing a spark.

— Siva beats the shot clock to put the Cards up 62-51. Louisville is outscoring Syracuse 40-16 in the second half.

— Telling statistic: Syracuse 7-16 from the free throw line, Louisville 21-29. The Ville in control here up double-digits with 4:16 left.

— Montrezl Harrell has really impressed tonight. He just threw down another jam to make it 68-54 Cardinals. He’s got 16 points and 7 boards. He’s a 6-8 freshman and will be a monster if he continues to develop. File that name away.

— More Harrell: another sweet finish plus the foul. He’s got 18 and the Cards are up 70-55 with two minutes and change left to go here at MSG.

— This game was 35-22 ‘Cuse at halftime. Now it’s 75-58 Louisville. I’m no math major but damn, Cardinals winning the second half 53-23? Jeez.

— And that’s a wrap. Congratulations to the Louisville Cardinals, 2013 Big East Tournament Champions! Final score: 78-61. Harrell finishes with 20 points, while Syracuse’s Fair led all scorers with 21 points.

— Louisville is almost assuredly going to be a No. 1 seed in the Tournament, maybe even No. 1 overall. And you know what, they looked the part out here tonight. Thanks for rocking with me, SLAM fam! Good night from the Garden.