Thursday, June 27, 2019

Green: Return of the mack as UConn returns home to the Big East

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

Like peanut butter and jelly, the Connecticut Huskies and Big East basketball were always meant to be together.

After what will amount to an eight-year divorce, the Huskies and the Big East will again tie the knot no earlier than July 1, 2020, as formally announced on Thursday afternoon by league commissioner Val Ackerman in a press conference at Madison Square Garden.

The Huskies’ move back to their roots comes as a steep price— a $10 million American Athletic Conference exit fee for not leaving on 27 months’ notice. 

For fans of the league old and new, the price is well worth the reward for bringing the Huskies back on board. As one of the founding members of the original Big East, the Huskies played a pivotal role in the rise of the league until the split at the end of the 2012-13 season.

The temptation of football money from schools such as, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia ended the original Big East, but were one of a handful of schools who stayed on in what would be rechristened as the American Athletic Conference in 2013. The remaining seven catholic schools (DePaul, Marquette, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence and Georgetown) decided to form their own league by keeping the Big East name alive.

While the Big East has found success on the big stage with a pair of national championships by the Villanova Wildcats in 2016 and 2018, a consistent rival has been a struggle to find as various teams have attempted to play the part, but have fallen short at the finish line.

The Huskies’ return could bring that opportunity to reality and signals a much-needed reunion with the Big East as the fit in the AAC did not feel right with the exception of the money made from TV deals with ESPN and CBS. 

Everything else seemed out of place as every road trip was a long flight to play teams, such as East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa. While travel will still be a factor in its return to the Big East, it will not be as daunting with shorter trips to old rivals like Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s and the longest trip being in Omaha, where Creighton’s arena is located and has one of the better fan atmospheres in the Division I basketball.

With power conferences slowly expanding to a 20-game schedule to help boost NCAA tournament resumes, the Huskies’ return helps fill the void of the 19thand 20thgames for opponents, but more importantly retains the round-robin schedule with the Big 12 as the only power conferences to operate in that format.

The Huskies’ return also garners Big East tournament moments of the past. Ray Allen’s game-clinching jumper in the 1996 final against Georgetown comes to mind for most fans as the shooting sensation went at it one-on-one against Allen Iverson.

For fans more associated with the current generation of UConn basketball, the 2009 six-overtime thriller against Syracuse and Kemba Walker’s insane stretch in the 2011 conference tournament come to mind for opposite reasons. The Huskies finished on the short end of the stick against the Orange in what is arguably the greatest game in the history of the Big East tournament, while Walker’s play in 2011 propelled them from a bubble team to a three-seed in the NCAA tournament and an improbable national championship over the Butler Bulldogs, who happen to be a part of the current incarnation of the league.

UConn’s return bolsters an already electric Big East tournament, which has thrived post-reconfiguration when most fans left the sustainability of the league on life support. 

While not the same as the vintage days, the Big East is thriving and better than ever with one of its own returning to its roots to strengthen one of the better conferences in Division I basketball.