After mere fledglings of rumors circulating around UConn message boards for approximately the 400th consecutive year it appears as though the University of Connecticut has whined their way into being welcomed back into the Big East. Stadium’s Brett McMurphy is reporting that this is for all sports that the Big East sponsors. This will assuredly do wonders for the conference from the perspective of women’s basketball, since the UConn women’s program makes John Wooden’s UCLA teams look like the New Orleans Baby Cakes. While that factor and others should not be taken out of consideration, I will now shift my focus to the affect on the conference from the men’s basketball side.
Allow me to elaborate. The UConn men’s basketball program program is ass at this point. Their only glimmer of hope since Jim Calhoun retired was the championship they won under Kevin Ollie. In that 2014 year, Ollie contributed 2 of his own guys that even made a decent impact from the bench. One was Amida Brimah, who should’ve become way better than he actually was. The other was Omar Calhoun, who somehow is not related to Jim but never played over 35% of available minutes after his freshman season.
Point is, even Bruce Weber stumbled his way into a national title game when he was gifted with Bill Self’s former recruits. I’m going to present to you two teams’ final season KenPom rankings from 2015 on, one will be UConn and the other will be a mystery team.
Team A: 66, 86, 118, 86, 69 (nice)
Team B: 73, 26, 96, 179, 98
Team B is UConn. Team A is Temple. This is an addition drenched in nostalgia that will wear off the minute Kemba’s stepback against Pitt is shown for the 87th time. I’d imagine that UConn’s sales pitch for joining the conference was a combination of the athletic department and children in the Make-A-Wish program repeating, “Remember Jim Calhoun?” over and over again until Val Ackerman was so desperate for a reason to stop looking at next year’s basketball roster that she actually listened.
One trope that proponents of the addition would make is the poor financial deal that the Huskies got while in the AAC and the influx of money that the Big East could provide would give them the boost they needed. I’m no economist, but I can absolutely believe that the AAC was not making nearly as much money for Connecticut as the conference which houses 2 of the last 4 national champions. The problem is that they weren’t the only school in that conference with a similar situation. Cincinnati was able to maintain their success since the move and even got an up-and-coming mid major coach once Mick Cronin left for UCLA. Wichita State has survived two offseasons worth of teams trying to lure Gregg Marshall away since the move. Houston was able to completely rebuild their program from ash and just opened up a brand new arena. That’s not even to mention the momentum that SMU was able to keep up after Larry Brown left and the hire of Johnny Dawkins by UCF. All of those schools entered with worse financial situations than UConn, and they all pummeled the Huskies on the court and in the ledger books. If we’re looking to add a school, I’d happily take any of those options.
One of the main culprits for their inability to keep up with the other schools in the AAC was their inexplicable death grip on the school’s football team. It consistently loses money and cost the athletic department $8.7 million this year. It cripples their ability to make progress in the other sports, and basketball is the main victim. The only way I would’ve considered this a good move is if DePaul was punted all the way out of the Big East as a result (I still want that anyway) and/or if UConn’s football program was shot in the metaphorical head and thrown directly into the nearest ditch. Guess what sport UConn is still clinging to even after this move? Football. Maybe down the road they see the error of their ways and let the team fly away to the big football field in the sky, but there’s no reason that the Big East should’ve even begun negotiations until that happened.
If you want to believe that Dan Hurley can bring UConn back to a national powerhouse after leading Rhode Island to the promised land of *checks notes* a 7 seed and an 11 seed over 6 years as the coach, go ahead. I just think it’s unlikely that his teams make any sort of a splash, and I certainly don’t trust that athletic department in Storrs to make any sort of intelligent moves with the influx of money that they’re about to get. The conference could’ve at least waited until Hurley got them to even an NIT appearance. The 15 team ACC isn’t tripping over themselves to get in a bidding war with a mid major team with an ego problem and an awful football team any time soon, so the move is made even more baffling adding the context that no one else is trying to get them.
The Big East didn’t discover the next great thing. It found an inept school that will take a big chunk of the available funds and continue to ask for more. Maybe it’s because I grew up a Big 12 fan, but trying to bring back the glory days of the Old Big East just doesn’t move the needle for me when we have to shove away a mountain of trash just to get there. I guess it’ll be fun to have another punching bag for a few years at least.