With the big news coming down the pike that UCONN is rejoining the Big East, we took the chance to sit down with our cohort Daniel from The UCONN Blog to find out about this move from the Connecticut side of things, and just how much they hate Mick Cronin (note: I didn’t actually sit down with Daniel, nor have I ever met him. I might have been catfished on this whole thing… who knows.)
1) What has, in your opinion, been behind UCONN’s fall from National Champs to missing the tournament altogether 4 of the last 5 years? Is conference realignment the solution or is there something deeper at the core of this?
1. The blame for the decline of UConn men’s basketball falls pretty squarely at the feet of former head coach Kevin Ollie. After winning the national championship, the program stalled. Ollie and his staff just didn’t seem to know how to develop the players on the roster, which meant when great players like Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, etc. graduated, there were no players behind them to take their place.
Personally, I thought Ollie was far more to blame for the decline than the conference, though I’m sure plenty of UConn fans would disagree with me on that. I think long-term the conference would’ve affected the program’s ceiling under Dan Hurley and moving to the Big East changes that. I don’t think UConn will ever be a perennial top-10 team like they were from the mid-1990’s to mid-2000’s but I think they can return to being national championship contenders in the Big East.
2) What is the perception of Dan Hurley after a year in the job?
2. When Dan Hurley was hired, there were few (if any) UConn fans that weren’t through the roof about the hire. He was the top target before the previous season even ended and the fact that he chose the Huskies over Pitt made it that much sweeter. I think the only change after Year One is we know that while Hurley is a great program builder, he’s not a miracle worker. The team showed its personnel flaws at times last season and while the level of play was a huge step up from Ollie, the record didn’t reflect that.
But the program is definitely headed back in the right direction. A handful of players showed major development last season – more than they would’ve had in their entire careers under Ollie. Hurley has a good recruiting class coming in and according to the few reports we’ve gotten out of summer workouts, the players on the roster have completely bought into him. At this point, I think it’s safe to say the question for Hurley isn’t if he can get UConn back to winning ways, it’s more a matter if he can win enough big games to satisfy a fanbase with (justifiably) high standards.
3) What is the perception among the UCONN fanbase of the state of the Big East as it currently exists?
3. From what I saw on Twitter, most fans are really excited about joining the Big East. The ones that are upset because they believe this kills the chance at getting a Power Five invitation but I don’t agree with that assessment and the odds of that invite coming were low to begin with.
Some fans have certainly been more vocal over the past few months and years about wanting to leave the AAC but I think most people understand its a net positive move for nearly every athletic program.
At the same time, it is kind of weird, right? This isn’t the same Big East that UConn fans long for. Syracuse and Pittsburgh aren’t there anymore. Georgetown isn’t really what we remember it to be. Villanova wasn’t the national power it is now during UConn’s reign in the conference. There’s a bunch of new schools we have no history with.
Ultimately, it appears to me that most UConn fans get and accept this isn’t the original Big East – the greatest basketball conference to ever exist – but it’s still a very good conference that is a far better fit than the AAC. And while the Butler’s, Creighton’s and Xavier’s of the world might be new, I’d rather play them than ECU, Tulsa and UCF.
4) How big of a factor do you think having the conference tournament at MSG will be in recruiting the northeast for UCONN moving forward?
4. There’s no question UConn once again playing at MSG in March will be huge for recruiting. There’s no single event outside the NCAA Tournament more connected with great basketball than the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
A list of the 10 Greatest Moments in UConn Men’s Basketball History would be dominated by MSG moments. Ray Allen at the buzzer against Georgetown in ‘95, Taliek Brown’s heave in 2004, Kemba’s stepback (If Xavier fans don’t know these plays now, they will after the 2021 Big East Tournament when the broadcast shows them each 500 times when talking about UConn being back).
MSG is a de-facto home court for UConn. That’s going to be a massive tool for Dan Hurley and his staff going forward.
5) With 2020 looking like the date for this move, what players or recruits should Xavier fans be familiarizing themselves with in preparation for meeting up with UCONN on the court?
5. UConn is in a bit of a transition period right now, so its a bit hard to project out two years in terms of impact players. Akok Akok is a four-star forward that joined the team for the second semester and will begin playing this fall. Jalen Gaffney and James Bouknight are both guards coming in as freshman this season that are already best friends and have been drawing good reviews so far this summer. Center Josh Carlton became a monster this past season but 2020-21 will be his senior season and the way things are going, he won’t be at UConn for that.
One name that should have a big impact in two years is RJ Cole. He’s a transfer from Howard who will sit out this upcoming season but will probably step into the starting point guard spot in 2020. He won MEAC Player of the Year last season and was a two-time All-MEAC First Team player.
6) What are your feelings on the University of Cincinnati basketball program and how hilarious was Mick Cronin sitting around watching the coaches UCLA actually wanted reject them before settling on him?
6. Oh man, how much time you got? I once let my feelings known about a certain Cincinnati player whose named rhymes with Croy Taupain and UC fans spent a week in my mentions and wrote a hit piece about me (the article has since disappeared from the internet otherwise I’d link to it).
The closest thing UConn had to a rival in the AAC was Cincinnati and that was entirely fueled by Mick Cronin. Here’s a quick little history between Mick Cronin and UConn:
- In 2011 when Kemba Walker was having one of the single best seasons in college basketball history, Mick Cronin left Walker off his First Team All-Big East ballot, the only coach to do so, because Walker picked UConn over Cincinnati in the recruiting process.
- Later that year when Kemba and UConn beat Cincy in the second round of the NCAA Tournament en route to the national title, Cronin said his team would’ve won it all....if they didn’t play the team that actually won it all.
- After Jalen Adams hit a full-court buzzer beater with .8 seconds left in the 2015 AAC Tournament that sent the game into a fourth OT where the Huskies later won, Cronin accused the clock operator of not starting the clock on time, stating it’s impossible to get a shot off in that amount of time. His players, at the time the shot went up, were on the other side of the court celebrating instead of defending.
”The clock didn’t start on time. You can’t catch the ball turn take two steps. Dip the ball and heave the ball. You can quote me on that. On the record.”
I’ve yet to see convincing evidence of this, by the way.
- In the 2017 AAC Tournament semifinal, UConn and Cincinnati played one of the worst basketball games in the history of mankind. The Bearcats took 46 free throws. UConn took 25. After the game, a UConn beat writer asked Cronin if he ever played a game with so many whistles.
”Are you trying to insinuate that UConn got cheated?” was Cronin’s response.
So yes, UConn fans and Xavier fans can certainly unite over disdain for Cincinnati and especially against Mick Cronin.