In case you missed it — and if you did, I’m glad to hear that you’re recovering well from your coma — Connecticut is returning to the Big East, starting with the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. We’ve already talked about the big picture items related to the Huskies returning to the conference that they co-founded, but we haven’t talked about the finer points of what their impending arrival means for Marquette athletics specifically.
So, that’s what we’re going to do here. We’ll wander our way through the garden of sports that Marquette sponsors and muddle through what the potential high points and low points are of adding the Huskies to their schedules every year. There is one exception: Men’s lacrosse. For whatever reason, UConn has elected to cede the entirety of men’s lacrosse attention in their state to the collection of Fairfield, Hartford, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, and Yale. It defies all logic, so we will merely enter a plea for the Huskies to get with the program (especially at the expense of dropping the football program) and move on with things.
A brief heads-up for you: Go get a beverage now, because we are going long here.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 6-3
The addition of the Huskies to the conference presumably means that the Big East is moving to a 20 game conference schedule. A couple of things explain this. First, one of the things that the Big East administration and the coaches love to talk about is how tough the league is because you have to play every team at home and every team on the road. At this point, it’s basically impossible to explain why you would give that up voluntarily. 11 teams in the league = 10 opponents for everyone = 20 games. Simple!
In addition to that, the Big Ten and ACC are already moving to a 20 game slate. That’s two leagues that are going to get a little bit harder to schedule non-conference games in the future. If they’re adding an extra home game and an extra road game to their league slates, they’re going to be less available to sign up for two-year home-and-home matches in the non-conference section. Going to a 20 game slate with Connecticut taking up two games lessens the need for Big East teams to schedule high major home-and-homes. Even as the Huskies struggled through three straight losing seasons in the past three campaigns, they were still a top 100 KenPom team in two of them. That’s more than enough to make up for a home-and-home with North Carolina State or someone like that.
This does raise a question or two about what Marquette will do in terms of scheduling. For two of UConn’s first three seasons in the Big East, the Gavitt Games and the Big East/Big 12 challenge will take up two spots on MU’s schedule. We’re halfway through the Gavitt Games’ eight year cycle, and Marquette is only supposed to appear in six of the eight events, so they still have one year to sit out at some point between 2020-21 and 2022-23. Toss in whatever multi-team event (like this coming fall’s Orlando Invitational for example) that the Golden Eagles will play in, and that’s a pretty full schedule in terms of good games. Space for the Huskies has to come from somewhere else on the slate. If we use the 2019-20 schedule as an example, I think the two most likely games to yank out are North Dakota State...... and Wisconsin. Would it be a shame to lose the in-state rivalry to the vagaries of conference scheduling? Yeah, probably. But if Marquette needs to fill home games for budgetary reasons, then scheduling the Badgers just because “we always have” isn’t a smart business decision.
Besides, Marquette is already going to be getting a Big Ten opponent through the Gavitt Games. Wouldn’t it make more sense to get some NET influence from another conference if MU needs to keep a high major foe on the slate? Maybe.... a yearly series with Notre Dame is more favorable to the Golden Eagles?
We can’t ignore the television impact of Connecticut’s inclusion in the league. Part of UConn’s interest in getting out of the American Athletic Conference was how they were going to be impacted by the AAC’s new television deal, particularly their extra deal with SNY. I would presume that whatever games on UConn’s schedule that would be the equivalent of MU games on Fox Sports Wisconsin will end up on SNY going forward, particularly in light of the fact that Fox sold off the YES Network (along with all of the regional Fox Sports networks) recently. I’m not sure what the exact subscriber numbers are for SNY, but I figure it can’t be bad for Marquette to be generally related to the eyeballs attached to the cable station that broadcasts New York Mets games. FS Wisconsin will occasionally pick up non-Marquette Big East games that have regional-only broadcasts, so I figure the same would go for whatever station ends up with the Connecticut broadcasts. Maybe it won’t be much of a change — again, YES was part of the Fox Sports family until recently — but it’s good for the brand, and it can’t be bad for recruiting, either.
All-Time Series: Connecticut leads, 9-0
There’s a lot to unpack here!
First, we have to wonder if the women’s league will retain the round robin schedule and move to 20 games as we expect the men’s basketball league will. Men’s basketball doesn’t have a scheduling system in place: games are on any day of the week and in no particular order relative to each other. Women’s basketball, on the other hand, uses a travel partner system. Marquette and DePaul are partnered up, and they’ll either host two partners over a weekend — Georgetown and Villanova, for example — or go visit two partners.
11 teams in the league means someone is left without a travel partner one way or another. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, by the way. One of the current sets of partners because they don’t have a particularly close nearby team to partner with is Providence and Creighton. It’s a horrendous travel trip for any team. You play in either Rhode Island or Nebraska on Friday night, and then about 36 hours later, you’re halfway across the country in one direction or the other, playing another game. Providence and Connecticut are perfect obvious travel partners going forward, but that leaves Creighton out in the cold. I don’t know how this is going to be solved, but I know my preference is to play a 20 game round robin, no matter what it ends up costing in travel expenses.
That brings us to the fact that (hopefully) starting in 2020-21, the Big East will be the home of the team that has won literally half of the national championships in the last 20 seasons. This can not be a bad thing for the Golden Eagles. Yes, they’ve never beaten the Huskies in nine tries. Yes, after winning back-to-back Big East regular season titles, Marquette is currently undergoing a coaching change and we have no idea how that will end up in terms of results. What we do know is that Marquette was on the verge of being able to host NCAA tournament games at the McGuire Center last year until a late season injury related skid ripped that away from them. That was without the RPI bump of getting to play Connecticut twice in a season. It’s possible to get there from where Marquette was, and it’s just going to be one step easier to do it with the Huskies boosting the league up a bit.
As is the case with men’s basketball, there’s the television aspect of Connecticut to consider. Fox Sports is going to be gifted the opportunity to put Geno Auriemma’s Huskies on television as much as possible, and you’d have to figure that they’re going to take advantage of it. Even if that doesn’t lead specifically to Marquette getting more TV time, it leads to more TV time being spent talking about the Big East. If Megan Duffy can keep the Golden Eagles as an NCAA tournament team during her tenure as head coach, discussion of the Big East means talking about Marquette’s positioning relative to the Huskies on those plentiful Connecticut broadcasts. That’s the kind of exposure, both for tournament seeding and for recruiting, that pays off big dividends.
There is a question to be asked about what will happen to Connecticut when Geno Auriemma steps down from his spot as head coach. He’s already 65 years old and he’s been the head coach at UConn for all but 11 seasons of the program’s history. We’re very clearly much closer to the end of his coaching career than the beginning, but I don’t think we have to worry about the Huskies dropping out of national title contention for a while, even after a coaching change takes place.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 6-3
What we’ve seen from Big East volleyball since The Reformation is the clear creation of two strata in the conference. There’s Creighton and Marquette, who are trying to contend for NCAA tournament appearances and beyond, and then there’s everyone else. Last year, the two powers in the Big East both earned national top 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament, which led to Marquette reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.
Even with Creighton and Marquette being nationally relevant, the conference was still ranked #11 in the RPI at the time of Selection Sunday. That’s, uh, not good. That’s the kind of thing that happens when four of the other eight teams in the league are ranked lower than #200.
UConn was #147 last year in the RPI.
With a record of 15-16.
They have had a winning record in just two of the last six seasons, and in three of the last 10.
Marquette and Creighton are already loading up their non-conference schedules to what can only be described as an insane level in order to put themselves in contention for those national seeds and those home games in the first two rounds. Adding Connecticut to the league just makes things harder for the Golden Eagles.
Volleyball has been playing the same 18 game round robin schedule as both of the basketball leagues, and they’ve been doing it with the same travel partner system as women’s basketball. While I’d be in favor of a 20 game round robin for women’s basketball, I would not have the same preference for volleyball. Adding two conference games to the schedule means two matches that Marquette can’t schedule in the non-conference section. That’s two games of badly needed RPI boost that would go by the wayside, making it even harder for Ryan Theis’ team to rise up the national rankings.
All-Time Series: Connecticut leads, 7-1-1
Here’s a fun fact for you: Marquette’s lone win against Connecticut — coming in the most recent meeting between the two — is almost assuredly the biggest regular season win in Golden Eagles history, and you could make a pretty strong argument that it’s the biggest overall win in MU history, too. I’d be willing to listen to the argument, but it is pretty hard to beat out the lone NCAA tournament win in program history in that regard. The Huskies were ranked #2 in the country at the time, and Marquette found themselves ranked #2 in the country afterwards.
MU would reach the NCAA tournament that year and beat Akron for their first ever NCAA tournament win the following season. Since then, though, Louis Bennett’s program has been.... well, let’s call it erratic at best with last year’s penalty kick thrillers pushing MU to the Big East tournament title game in a bit of a surprise.
2018 snapped a two year stint for the Huskies without making the NCAA tournament, giving them two appearances in the last five seasons. Before that, though, Connecticut was an NCAA tournament regular, qualifying for every tournament between 1998 and 2013. That includes quarterfinal appearances in seven of those seasons and a national championship in 2000. It’s hard to say for certain what they’ll be in the future, of course, but it’s safe to say they’ve been a quality program in the past. Can they keep that up, or even return to being a regular NCAA tournament team alongside Big East programs like Georgetown and Creighton?
As far as scheduling goes, adding a team to the men’s soccer league is a relatively simple affair, and actually, it’s beneficial. Right now, it’s a 10 team league with a nine game conference schedule. Everyone plays everyone else once, with some teams playing five home games and four road games, and the rest playing four at home and five on the road. Putting the Huskies in gives us a 10 game league slate, five home and five away. It’s a more balanced schedule, if nothing else. Losing a non-conference game from the schedule is relatively meaningless when you get to even out the home/road split in the conference games.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 6-2-1
Generally speaking, Connecticut women’s soccer is a quality program. Their 2018 media guide loudly proclaims that they’ve had 31 NCAA tournament appearances in 39 years of program history. That’s the second most in women’s soccer history, again according to the media guide before last season.
There’s a catch there, though. From 1981 through 2017, Len Tsantiris was running the show for the Huskies. In 2018, Margaret Rodriguez ascended to the top job in Storrs after 10 years as Tsantiris’ assistant.
The Huskies went 4-14-0 in her first season. This, after they were 7-9-3 in Tsantiris’ final season where Rodriguez was his associate head coach and to a certain extent, coach-in-waiting. This isn’t a slow decline, either. UConn was in the NCAA tournament in 2014, 2015, and 2016. They had only missed the national championship tournament four times this century before the two straight losing seasons.
Tsantiris had been the UConn head coach for all but two seasons of program history before retiring. There are legitimate questions to be asked as to where things go from here for the Huskies, especially with Rodriguez carrying the continuity of the program but struggling in year one.
Of course, since we’re pitching all of this through Marquette lenses, the same things can be asked about the Golden Eagles and Markus Roeders. Right now, in the summer of 2019, MU is preparing to enter their first campaign following a losing season under Roeders’ direction. We’ve seen five straight seasons with at least seven losses after Roeders recorded just five of those total between 1996 and 2013, and just one NCAA tournament appearance in the last five years after the Golden Eagles qualified for six straight before that and eight in nine years.
Roeders is going to get a chance to right the ship, and he deserves to get that chance. Again, it was his first losing season in more that two decades in charge. But for the immediate future and wondering how Connecticut impacts Marquette, well, in this case, it’s clear that MU needs to get their own house in order before worrying about what kind of challenge the Huskies bring to the table.
All-Time Series: Connecticut leads, 5-1
I’m actually most fascinated by the impact of Connecticut’s transition in women’s lacrosse than by any other sport. 2019 was the first year of the American Athletic Conference sponsoring women’s lacrosse. Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Temple were members of the Big East through The Reformation up until last school year. With East Carolina starting up a team, that gave the AAC four full members playing the sport, and by taking Florida and Vanderbilt with them out of the Big East as associate members, they had six teams for a full conference and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
And now they won’t. Connecticut will come back to the Big East, leaving the AAC with five members..... but it might not last very long. The Big East will have five full-time members playing women’s lacrosse: Marquette, Georgetown, Villanova, Butler, and Connecticut, with Denver and Old Dominion standing around as associate members. The simple solution seems to be for Old Dominion to move over to the AAC. After all, the Big East only brought them in to round out to six once the AAC teams left.
Marquette’s lone win over Connecticut in program history came in the last meeting between the two back in the 2018 season. It was the regular season finale and the Golden Eagles needed the win to lock up their first ever Big East tournament appearance. MU closed out the game on a 6-0 run in order to secure their first ever win over the Huskies as well as that postseason berth.
Meredith Black’s team is looking very much like a seventh year Division 1 program, namely continuing to show signs of improvement and development. They’ve been to back-to-back Big East tournaments now and in 2019, they snagged their first ever win over a ranked foe. The history with the Huskies shows that Connecticut is a solid measuring stick at worst for where Marquette wants to be. Three of the last four meetings have been decided by either one or two goals. Adding Connecticut to the Big East or swapping the Huskies for Old Dominion will make the conference more competitive either way. With regular non-conference games against Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Johns Hopkins, strong competition is something that Black has never shied away from, so seeing UConn on the slate for Marquette can only be a net positive.
With three Big East titles in five years, Steve Bailey has grown and developed the Marquette program to previously unseen heights. Nothing lasts forever, of course, but the mentality to continue to strive for conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances will remain in place for the Golden Eagles.
The recent history of the Connecticut golf team in the AAC does nothing to indicate that they’ll pose a major and recurring threat to Marquette atop the Big East leaderboard. In six years of competition at the American Athletic Conference championships, the Huskies have never finished better than sixth. They snagged that spot this past season with 10 teams competing, and hit that spot again in 2017 when there were only nine teams competing. I’ll let you decide which performance is better.
UConn golf might end up on a bit of a backslide in the immediate future, as senior Jimmy Hervol recorded three straight eighth place finishes in the AAC championship meet. That includes setting a new AAC championships low score for a Huskies player just this spring. It’s hard to say for certain where the Huskies will go with his departure, but it also seems like they might not have a major impact on what the Golden Eagles are doing out on the links.
CROSS COUNTRY/TRACK & FIELD
Okay, this one is going to be complicated, because we’re essentially pouring three sports — cross country, indoor track & field, and outdoor track & field — for both men and women into one category. It all blurs together, though, so hopefully this all makes sense by the end.
Let’s start out with cross country. I don’t think it’s a secret that neither of Marquette’s cross country teams — and thus the long distance aspects of the track teams — are the crown jewel of the athletic department. Since joining the Big East, the Marquette men have never finished better than fourth in the conference championship meet. That was in the 2018 season. The women’s team had a third place finish in 2005, their first year in the league, and they haven’t reached that peak since. Since The Reformation, it’s been a pack of fifth and sixth place finishes for both sides, with each team getting one fourth place spot.
As you can see from that, it doesn’t particularly matter to Marquette if the Huskies are competing or not. Connecticut’s men’s teams are about on par with Marquette’s when we look at their history in the Big East together, and UConn has posted a pair of second place finishes in the AAC. The UConn women won a conference title in 2017 and added a second place finish in 2014 after The Reformation. Before that, they were about even with Marquette’s teams in the Big East.
Things get a lot more interesting when we switch to track & field. Since The Reformation, Marquette’s women have won two indoor and two outdoor Big East titles. The men have a pair of outdoor titles to add to the pile. In fact, after finishing fourth in both meets in 2014, the Marquette men have finished as runner up at both the indoor and outdoor meets every year except for when they won the two outdoor titles. The women have been a little bit more up and down, but they’ve been in contention for the conference title every year.
Connecticut’s teams have had somewhat similar results over in the AAC.. The men have won an indoor and an outdoor title since The Reformation, while the women have won two indoor titles in the same time frame. None of them have ever finished lower than fourth in either the indoor or outdoor championship meets. It is worth noting that they both finished fourth in the outdoor AAC championships in 2019, and the men finished fourth at the indoor version earlier in the year.
It seems that UConn will be able to compete for Big East titles once they make the move in both men’s and women’s track and field, and I think it might be safe to say that they’re coming out ahead of Marquette on the deal. For example: Connecticut sent 15 total athletes to the NCAA outdoor national preliminary meets. Seven men and eight women went to the University of North Florida for the East Preliminary meet, and two of the women, admittedly both seniors, advanced to the national meet. In comparison, Marquette had four total athletes qualify for the west prelims, and none of them advanced. Maybe this is a one time only type of deal for the Huskies, but if that’s the kind of team that they usually have, they’re going to give Marquette and Villanova fits when it comes time to hand out those trophies.
All-Time Head-To-Head Series: Marquette leads, 1-0
Marquette men’s tennis has been something of a power in the Big East since The Reformation. The Golden Eagles have appeared in five consecutive Big East tournament title matches, although they only have one title — in 2018 — to show for it. That tournament title also gave MU their first ever NCAA tournament appearance.
While Marquette isn’t operating at an absurdly great level from a national perspective, I think we can safely say that the Huskies aren’t going to be threatening them any time soon. If I’m reading their 2011-12 media guide correctly and then clicking through to year by year schedules properly, then UConn men’s tennis hasn’t had a winning season in dual meets since 2008-09, when they finished 8-7. From there, you have to go back to 2001-02 to get their next winning record. It appears that they have yet to win a match at the AAC championships as well.
Adding UConn to the Big East doesn’t mean anything in terms of scheduling, as the teams aren’t required to play head-to-head meets against the rest of the conference in the regular season. All that matters for Big East action is the conference tournament, and it seems that the Golden Eagles hold the advantage going forward, at least for now.
All-Time Head-To-Head Series: Marquette leads, 7-1
Over the past few seasons, Marquette women’s tennis hasn’t been outstanding. They’ve been entertaining as our man Broadway Brown has been happy to tell you about, but as far as challenging for a Big East title? Mmmmm, not so much. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with being competitive but not great.
Connecticut, on the other hand, has not been particularly competitive. They’ve had just one winning season in dual matches dating back to the 2009-10 school year, and that’s not what you want, even though it’s actually better than the men’s team. The UConn women have won an AAC tournament match since the formation of the league, but it’s just the one.
If you had to power rank the teams, I’d imagine that you’d put the Marquette team ahead of the Connecticut team in the Big East at this point. Ultimately that’s good news for the Golden Eagles, but it really doesn’t change much for them either.