The Old Big East
Growing up in Connecticut, we never really had a true professional sports team to route for (RIP Hartford Whalers 1979 - 1997) and were always considered a split state between the New York and Boston teams. And, while we may not have had many teams in the big leagues to call our own, what we do have in CT, however, is college basketball. Our UCONN Huskies (both men’s and women’s) have made this small state proud for decades and (the women especially) have established themselves as premier programs in the NCAA. Both programs were made famous under legendary coaches Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, as they battled through the Big East and established dominance on a national stage. Geno has led the Women’s team to a record breaking 10 National Championships, matched only by legendary UCLA men’s coach John Wooden in the 1970s. This got me thinking… with another year logged in the books, I noticed more than ever how the disintegration of the Big East has changed the face of UCONN basketball as we know it.
It should be no surprise as to the timing of this post, with March madness barely in the rear view mirror, the women continuing on their streak of domination and the men making a valiant effort in the AAC tournament in hopes of a last-minute tournament bid to defend their 2014 national title. As you may recall, UCONN was formerly a member of the Big East conference, which many believed was the most competitive (and successful) conference in college basketball for over three decades. So good, in fact, that after its reorganization in 2013, ESPN did a 30 for 30 short film on the conference entitled “Requiem for the Big East.” Some of the most memorable college games occurred during the conference tournaments on one of the biggest and most historic stages in sports, Madison Square Garden (we all remember the 6X overtime game where UCONN played Syracuse for the Big East title).
I express this nostalgia for the ‘old Big East’ after going to a couple of the AAC Championship games at the XL Center in Hartford this year and admitting to myself that it just didn’t feel the same. But in light of all this, we got to see some absolutely fantastic basketball games. Both came down to the last minute, with dozens of lead changes during each game. The first was UCONN v Cincinnati, where senior guard Ryan Boatright hit a strongly contested NBA length 3 point shot at the buzzer for the win. The next day the Huskies again pulled out another win as the clock wore down against Tulsa and UCONNs superior foul shooting got them a win with the game on the line. It may not have been Big East ball as I grew up to know it, but it sure didn’t lack any of the excitement.