It’s no secret if you know me how obsessed I am with the Game of Thrones show/Song of Ice and Fire series. And really, who isn’t? That world has a following unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and I can really only compare it to what I imagine Star Wars was like for people.
For those of you who don’t know about the show, allow me to summarize: There’s Seven Kingdoms on the western hemisphere (Westeros) of this world that has a number of noble and lowborn families. Noble families are referred to as “houses” and govern over lowborn families in specific areas of the world. They’re all governed by a royal family whose king got his throne by overthrowing the former royal family, whose last remaining members are hiding out on the eastern hemisphere (Essos), which is divided by water. Everyone in this world is out to get whatever’s best for them, and usually doing the right thing means you’re going to get screwed. Put simply: people die. A lot of people. And it’s usually the ones people like the most. But there’s also boobs. Sooooo there’s that. Oh and there’s two seasons: summer and winter. Winter is supposedly on it’s way but I just don’t believe it at this point.
So let’s have some fun with this and imagine what the world of Westeros would look like with Big East teams. I took every current Big East team and assigned them one of the houses and gave a little reason why. Biggest thing about this? There’s no spoilers in here from the books or season three. None. I promise. In fact there isn’t really anything from the show at all except one part where I reference one small detail from season two, but it’s very minor, doesn’t reveal any major plot points, and clearly marked. There is, however, backgrounds on the houses, both introduced and unintroduced in the show, so for those of you who are fans you may gain some casual/superficial insights on the history of your favorite houses.
Got it? Great. Hit the jump and let’s do this.
The Villanova Wildcats are…House Stark
The kings of winter and the wardens in the north, the Starks have a rich history. They were responsible for some of Westeros greatest architectural monuments, including an extremely recognizable location in Westeros – the Wall. Starks ruled in the north for thousands of years after battling fellow northern foes such as the Boltons for supremacy, but eventually fell into the fold of the Seven Kingdoms when the Targaryens came a’knockin with their dragons. Starks live in the castle of Winterfell where it snows even during the summer and are known for being honor-bound, honest and law-abiding, regardless of the outcome.
Villanova is the same way. They didn’t join into the Big East fold immediately, waiting a year after the formation of the Big East before coming along. They’ve battled their neighbors for bragging rights of the region – specifically the Big 5 – and more often than not come out the victors. They were kings once (won the national championship in 1985) and are still very influential throughout the conference thanks to some of their recent postseason appearances (2009 Final Four run) and their top 25 rankings. That said they do lock themselves into an ethical code that gets them into trouble, such as keeping Scottie Reynolds from starting in the first round of the 2010 NCAA tournament and then running into a near-upset against 15 seed Robert Morris. There always seems to be snow where they are (based on the one time I went to Villanova in the middle of winter) and you have to go through the woods to get there (again, based on the one time I drove there).
The DePaul Blue Demons are…House Greyjoy
Despite presiding over the Iron Islands – a group of islands on the west side of Westeros – the Greyjoys just always seem to get the short end of the mast. The islanders – called Ironborn – used to rule over the Iron Islands as well as some of the mainlands, but during the Targaryen conquest the mainlands was taken from the Ironborn and given to another noble family. The Greyjoys are distant from the rest of the great houses despite being seen as equals by titles and having some stronger advantages than other houses, such as their superior naval fleet. At one point the Greyjoys started rebellion against the throne, led by Lord Balon Greyjoy. His strongheaded (read: stupidity) attempt at becoming “King of the Iron Islands” resulted in his two oldest sons getting killed and his youngest son, Theon, being taken hostage/held as a ward by the Starks to keep Balon under control.
DePaul falls in line to the Greyjoys. Their territory is broken up just like the Iron Islands are (DePaul plays in the Allstate Arena, a good half hour from their campus, and their campus sites are scattered throughout Chicago) and despite being on equal field as the rest of the Big East teams, DePaul is just different. They’re the largest of any of the Big East schools and have some serious advantages in their territory with Chicago recruiting, but despite these advantages the thing that DePaul struggles most with is winning. Which is odd because, like the Greyjoys, DePaul does have a rich and respectable history that contributes quite a bit to the college basketball landscape. Part of the issue could be leadership, but if that’s the case then DePaul – like the Greyjoys – is one good leader away from being strong and respected again.
The Georgetown Hoyas are…House Lannister
If you even have a passing interest in Game of Thrones this house may have inspired some…ill-will, but buckle up because House Lannister has a pretty amazing history. The Lannisters are known for being the richest house throughout all of Westeros, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that the Lannisters sit on gold mines. That’s a literal statement too – beneath Casterly Rock, where the Lannisters made their home after tricking Lord Casterly into giving it to them, are gold mines that produce most of Westeros currency. This means that, despite their official house words being “hear me roar!”, the Lannisters have no issue living up to another phrase associated with them – “A Lannister always pays his debts.” Of course, this motto has much more meaning than simply paying back monetary debts – from crushing House Reyne into extinction when the house rose up against the Lannisters, to taking vengeance on the Targaryen family for their insults by joining the Baratheons in the rebellion against the throne (albeit showing up late to the party), Lannisters are feared and respected throughout the seven kingdoms. This has usually resulted in the Lannisters gaining extremely high positions, notably Tywin Lannister being Hand of the King or second in command (first for the Targaryens, then for his grandson), Jaime Lannister joining the Kingsguard (the youngest knight ever to do so), Cersei Lannister becoming queen and Tyrion Lannister becoming everyone’s favorite character.
What the Lannisters have in wealth, Georgetown has in spades. According to Wikipedia Georgetown has the most endowment of any other Big East member with more than double the amount of the next richest team (Villanova, in case you’re wondering). But money alone doesn’t make Georgetown what they are. They have a rich tradition that is family focused (the Thompson legacy comes to mind) with many notable members (Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, you get the idea) that have had a strong influence in the Big East landscape. And it’s not just membership alone that does it – during the reconstruction of the Big East Georgetown was one of the schools that led the way, much like how Tywin helped lead Westeros. And let’s not forget that, somehow, someway, Georgetown finds a way to pay it’s debts to it’s rivals, making them a team you never want to sleep on or bet against.
The Marquette Golden Eagles are…House Baratheon
The Baratheon house, despite being the youngest of the great houses, was born out of the ability to fight and fight well. While many of the great houses fought against the Targaryens only to be brought into the fold, the Baratheons fought alongside them. In fact, Baratheons share some of the Targaryen bloodline due to the formation of the house coming from the bastard brother of the Targaryen conqueror, Aegon. The Baratheons stayed loyal to Targaryens and were often rewarded with marriages to Targaryens that weren’t knocking boots with one another (more on that later). This loyalty was broken by Robert Baratheon, who led a rebellion against the Targaryens after his betrothed wife Lyanna Stark was kidnapped by the Targaryen Prince, Rhaegar and the death of Brandon and Rickard Stark, whom Robert was close to. Robert Baratheon was a feared warrior who slayed some of the best in Westeros to get the throne and usurp the Targaryens, but afterwards he found himself discomforted with ruling and often wished he was still fighting on the battlefield.
Robert Baratheon had his warhammer, and current Marquette head coach Buzz Williams has his rough-and-rugged style of basketball that will beat the hell out of other teams and have it done with a smile on his players faces. Their strong basketball lineage eventually got them to the top conference in the Big East, where they proceeded to smash through the older teams in the Big East and become recognized as one of the elite teams season in and season out. Marquette has the ability to claim the throne of the Big East – just this season they were selected to win the conference – and despite hiccups they’re a talented team who made their mark with their ability to fight.
The St. John’s Red Storm are…House Targaryen
If each house makes up one part of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the Targaryens are the family that glued all those houses together. And by “glued” I mean “used dragons to crush their enemies or bend them into submission” (with one exception). There’s a long history in the Targaryens, from origins, to conquest, to fall, but the too long, didn’t read of it all is this: Targaryens do not mess around. During their conquest they made things simple: join us or we will obliterate you. Example: they “convinced” the Starks and the north to come into the fold after Torrhen Stark marched to meet the Targaryens in battle and saw their dragons, which was persuasive enough for him to bend the knee and yield. The Targaryens killed four thousand soldiers by burning them with three dragons in a battle that was called the Field of Fire. How badass is that? Of course when your power resides in something and that something goes away – in this case, dragons – you slowly start to become vulnerable. Targaryens would wed each other to keep bloodlines pure and caused something known as the Targaryen Madness, a good example being Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King, becoming so paranoid that he would light people on fire or burn them to death with a substance called wildfire, which was his obsession. Fun fact: this was the only time Aerys could get aroused. So yeah, you could say he was just slightly insane. This caused a lot of people to essentially throw up their hands and say “well, screw this” and led to the issues that resulted in Robert Baratheon leading a rebellion – this time with no dragons to bail out the Targaryens. The last remaining Targaryens are in exile in Essos where they plan to one day return to Westeros and reclaim the throne. Their former home, the Red Keep in Kings Landing, is the capital and center point of the Seven Kingdoms, and quite a nice home at that. Except for, well, the burning people alive and all.
Let’s get this out of the way: there’s absolutely no connection with St. John’s and, um, “keeping bloodlines pure.” None. I put that in because it enriches the history of the Targaryens and that’s it (and maybe so I could make a joke about a former Big East team later). There’s also no connection with exile either. That said, just about everything else fits. Out of all the Big East teams St. John’s does in fact own the most history, being the 7th winningest college basketball program of all time, a claim no other Big East team outranks. They’ve had legions upon legions of greats come through their history, and while they aren’t the glue that brought the Big East together, they are instrumental in holding things in place given their location (New York City) and their prestige. Oh, and let’s not forget that their home is also the capital of basketball – Madison Square Garden. Just like how the Red Keep is home to the kings and where court is held, Madison Square Garden plays host to the Big East Tournament every March, and has done so for almost the entirety of the Big East. Like the Targaryens, the Red Storm fell on some hard times recently but strong leadership and the gathering of a few quintessential pieces to the program have put them right back in the mix in the race for the premiere Big East program.
The Seton Hall Pirates are…House Arryn
House Arryn is prideful and strong, but used to falling on hard times in spite of their successes. During the conquest of the Targaryens the Arryns were brought into the fold when their 10 year old ruler decided he wanted to ride of the Targaryen’s dragons, which admittedly is a pretty sweet consolation prize for giving up your independence. Arryns serve as “Wardens of the East” and have their house built on mountains, which are considerably difficult to climb. The Arryns are plagued by misfortune in death, but still make very strong alliances – most notably Jon Arryn marrying Lysa Tully during Robert’s Rebellion to bring the Tullys to side with Arryns, Baratheons and Starks. Jon Arryn served as Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon after the rebellion was over, up until his death which caused just…just a whole mess of problems for everyone in Westeros.
Seton Hall is tough to fit in any house, but I think all things considered they’re most naturally House Arryn. Their program has had it’s ups and downs (more downs recently, much like how after the death of Jon Arryn the house started to fall apart somewhat) but they’ve had several influential times in the past and are still critical to the importance of the Big East. Not least of which comes from their 1989 national title run, where the Pirates – led by P.J. Carlesimo – fell just short of defeating Michigan in OT. The Hall takes pride in their program much like the Arryns do in their house, and setbacks aside they know how to align themselves to keep in the running and stay strong.
The Creighton Bluejays are…House Tully
House Tully makes their alliances strong ones while being able to stand on their own two as one of the great houses of Westeros. Their earliest alliance came with the Targaryens during their conquest, which earned them to rule over Riverrun after it was striped from the Ironborn. Due to the vulnerable nature of Riverrun the Tullys put a great deal of focus on their alliances. Some have failed (such as attempts to wed family members to Lannisters, Redwyne, and Brax) while others have proven great success, notably the marriages between Lysa Tully and Jon Arryn, and everyone’s favorite couple – Caitlyn Tully and Ned Stark. Although alliances are important to Tullys they never lose their identity or forget their house words, which are arranged in a very specific order: “Family, duty, honor.” Family comes first for Tullys, followed by duty, and honor being the least important.
Creighton and family? Not really much of a stretch considering the father-son team in Greg and Doug McDermott, but the fanbase too seems very family oriented. As one of the new Big East members I’m not familiar with them, but considering how well the fans travel, how supportive they are of their program, and how respectful they seem to be it’s no stretch of the imagination that “family” presides over the fanbase, while they live up to their “duty” of supporting the team. Alliances are something of importance to Creighton as well, as even though they could stand on their own two before joining the Big East, being a member of a conference such as the Big East ensures strength and competitiveness for the Bluejays.
The Xavier Musketeers are…House Tyrell
House Tyrell came to rise after the former great house, House Gardener, was wiped out during the Targaryen conquest. They were appointed Wardens of the South after swearing their loyalty to the Targaryens which created a reasonable amount of friction with their neighbors, specifically the Dornish. During Robert’s Rebellion the Tyrells stayed loyal to the Targaryens and fought against the Baratheons, Starks, Tullys and Arryns, and dealt the only defeat Robert Baratheon suffered in his rebellion. However, after the war was over and the Targaryens were wiped out the Tyrells bent the knee to Robert and the newly appointed Baratheon king brought them back into the seven kingdoms with forgiveness for supporting the Targaryens. Since the inception of the house the Tyrells have been an ambitious house that swelters with pride, taking the opportunities to rise within the ranks from being stewards of House Gardener, to Wardens of the South, to eventually setting their eyes on the iron throne.
Much like the Tyrells, Xavier is a powerhouse of a school that uses every opportunity it has to rise through the ranks of college basketball, becoming a name brand program that fans recognize and respect. Much like Marquette Xavier has a rugged style of play and anyone who’s underestimated them in past March’s come to recognize just what that means on the court. Much like the Tyrells, Xavier waited until one neighboring program was thrown out of the Big East before taking their place, all the while building a case for why they’re the best candidate to do so. They’re a loyal program that brings a lot of pride to the conference they play in, and they keep their sights aimed constantly at the next plateau.
The Butler Bulldogs are…House Baelish
The origins of House Baelish are not as vast as the other houses mentioned up until now, but the focus of this isn’t so much on the family name as it is on one specific person: Petyr Baelish, AKA Littlefinger. Sworn to House Arryn, House Baelish came to possess land on an area of Westeros called the Fingers – and of that area they were given the smallest finger. Although it’s not much, considering that Petyr is only a second generation of low nobility (his grandfather was a Hedge Knight, or wandering, masterless knight), he had to make some serious moves to get to where he was. Starting off as a ward for Hoster Tully, the father of Catelyn and Lysa, Petyr maintained a strong relationship with Lysa, which allowed him to gain control of customs at Gulltown, where he did so well financially that Robert Baratheon named him Master of Coin, moving Petyr Baelish up to Kings Landing where he served on the small council for Robert Baratheon and increased his own wealth by buying up brothels. Petyr also used his resources to buy informers and become aware of all the happenings throughout Westeros, making him a great resource to the king and an equally dangerous adversary to his enemies. [VERY minor spoilers ahead] Eventually Petyr was awarded lordship over Harrenhal.
If you don’t see the way Butler rose to power very quickly and very recently God help you. Prior to 2003 Butler had not made it past the field of 32 more than once, and only did it twice more in 2003 and 2007. After 2007 though Butler got it’s “one man” needed to get them to rise up – Brad Stevens. Stevens skyrocketed the program through careful planning and execution on and off the court, bringing Butler to back-to-back national title games. This raised not only Stevens’ profile but Butler’s as well, pulling them from the Horizon League, to the A10, finally to the Big East, much like how Petyr rose to prominence as a self made man. Now Butler is a brand name that you can never count out and never sleep on because, like Lord Baelish, the Bulldogs always have something up their sleeve. “Knowledge is power” rings true for the former head coaches style, as he would often break down his opponents well enough to be able to defeat any team, no matter how blue their blood ran. How his successor will fare only time will tell, but it’s hard not to be nervous with Butler now higher up than ever before.
The Providence Friars are…House Martell
For those of you who only watch the show you’ll be unfamiliar with the name Martell. The show will be introducing the Martells really for the first time this season after only passing mentions in season one and two, so this will serve as a great background for just how significant the Martells are in Westeros. For starters, House Martell rose up to prominence when the houses in Dorne – the most southern part of Westeros who’s inhabitants are called Dornishmen and Dornishwomen – were all fueding amongst each other and the warrior queen Nymeria took the strongest Dornishman as her husband, King Mors Martell. These two united Dorne, and the name Martell became rulers ever since. During that Targaryen conquest the Martells and Dornish were the only ones who were able to successfully resist the Targaryens – they elected to use guerrilla warfare tactics rather than meet the Targaryens in open battle, essentially bleeding out the armies, and due to the dry desert landscape of Dorne the Targaryen dragons were useless. Eventually Aegon the Conqueror gave up and let Dorne govern themselves under the Martells, and even after 200 years of repeated failed invasions the Dornish stood strong and independent. The Targaryens wised up and decided to marry the houses to one another with Princess Myriah Martell marrying King Daeron II Targaryen, and Prince Maron Martell marrying Daenerys Targaryen (not the one from the show in case that’s not clear). Through the marriages Dorne and the Martells were brought into the seven kingdoms, while being allowed to keep the titles of Prince and Princess and retaining sovereignty over Dorne. The house words “unbowed, unbent, unbroken” refer to the fact that the Martells never had to bend the knee to the Targaryens nor break up their lands and titles.
When I started this article I was having a hard time figuring out what Providence would be. Not only do I have a clear bias for this school but I also have a bias for the Martells as they’re my favorite house – everything about them is so badass. I tried to avoid having Providence be the Martells but the more I thought about it the more it works on both a Providence level and a Big East one. Going back to the inception of the Big East, a Providence College concept, the idea was that they wouldn’t yield to things like football money or college basketball supremacy in other territories of the country. They were going to make their own ways and align themselves powerfully, building a college basketball power conference unlike anything else. Early on they aligned with talented schools and an emerging sports network called ESPN to build the conference, while billing the games as something filled with tenacity, brute, and styles of play unlike anything else out there. The philosophy was always “basketball first” and even in the face of adversity Providence College stood strong in this philosophy, refusing to bend to the idea of being broken up by football schools. They held on to what they could and decided that, rather than try to compete the same way as football conferences do, they’d do things their own way. Taking their own tactics has proven successful for Providence at times, despite hardships, and recently strong leaders at the helm with Ed Cooley and Bob Driscoll has ensured that Providence College will soon be competing again for the throne of the Big East.
So there you have it – if the Big East was in Game of Thrones, that’s how I see the houses breaking down. Do you agree? Think your team should have a different house? Leave a comment and let me know!