It’s still the Big East Tournament. It’s still Madison Square Garden. Is it the same?

A lot has changed in the year since the members of the Big East last congregated for March Madness in Midtown. But what the conference has lost in star power with Connecticut (American Athletic), Syracuse (ACC) and Pittsburgh (ACC) now elsewhere, it has made up in drama, says FOX Sports and CBS Sports college basketball analyst Bill Raftery.

“It was a given in the past, there were just so many teams that were definitely going [into the NCAA Tournament],” said Raftery, who coached Seton Hall in the first Big East tournament in 1980.

“This year there’s just so much unknown. The anticipation for me at least is a lot higher with the realm of the unknown. … There’s an ample opportunity for teams to win this. It’s going to be a knock-out, drag-out couple of days with the opportunity for those teams in the middle rung to get a bump by beating Villanova or Creighton.’’

The Wildcats and Bluejays are locks to get into the tournament, but after that come a slew of bubble teams in Providence, Xavier, St. John’s, Marquette and Georgetown looking to play their way into the field of 68. The conference tournament can be an opportunity to restore some buzz around the Big East, which some feel left with the departed heavyweights.

“One thing that’s been a little disappointing is, I think Villanova and Creighton are perhaps the most under-publicized. … Villanova might be the most under-publicized 26-3 team in history,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said before the Wildcats traveled to face Xavier Thursday night. “The Big East is different. It’s the Big East in name only. It’s not the same and it’s just surprising that it’s been this quiet.”

Raftery and Bilas were the prime-time analysts for ESPN on the Big East tournament in recent years, but now FOX Sports will have the tournament from start to finish. That means no Bilas, but Raftery followed the Big East from ESPN to FOX.

Just because the conference’s stature has dropped, doesn’t mean Bilas won’t be slightly envious of Raftery’s seat.

“Yes, very much,” Bilas said when asked if he missed calling Big East games. “The Big East was a special league. It had substance, it had fiber to it and in a relatively short period of time it created a history that was hard to match in the game.