In just two games, UConn men’s basketball hit a season high and a season low. They played their best game of the season last Thursday against SMU, drawing key fouls and using free throws to edge them past the Mustangs 68-62. Then, in a game against Cincinnati that would have further solidified their chances at getting into the NCAA tournament, the offense failed to put together anything of substance and lost to Cincy for the second time this season. Both of these opponents are formidable threats to the Huskies, which prompts the question: who is UConn’s bigger conference rival, SMU or Cincinnati?
Stephanie Sheehan: I think that SMU is the bigger rival. They are not only the better team in terms of national and conference ranking, but they consistently give UConn the biggest challenge with their commanding defense. The matchups lend themselves better to UConn, especially because both teams play rough and competitive, but not necessarily dirty. Cincy-UConn games often get plain ugly and the refs tend to lean on the side of Cincy—something outside of the realm of control, but nonetheless a factor. Plus, the student body is WAY more hyped for games against SMU; the rivalry arose naturally ever since UConn joined the American. And, if that wasn’t convincing enough, UConn has a tendency to play up to their better opponent, and the fact that they played their best game of the year against SMU furthers the argument that the team itself views SMU as the bigger rival as well.
Matt Barresi: Cincinnati may not bring the same quality ability of SMU but the games are just as intense. If you look at the point differentials the last two years, the games have been excruciatingly close. When the two get together they bring an ugly form of basketball but sometimes the form of physical, defensive oriented game plans brings the intensity to another level. Did you watch Saturday? Their players and their fans were hype. Plus at least the Cincy games bring some back some Big East nostalgia. When you think of the good ole Big East the Bearcats may not come to mind but they were there and they were decent. They've consistently been a tournament team over the past 15 years and they have some history to them, with two national championships, albeit forever ago, to their name. SMU is a result of Larry Brown and Larry Brown alone. He has brought them into the top tier of college basketball, making them an exciting foe for UConn but as soon as he leaves I anticipate them falling off a cliff. He has a history of short tenures to his name and once he bounces, or is bounced, the SMU game won't be any more exciting than USF coming to town. Cincy has been consistently better and tougher, and I think they have better staying power. Mick Cronin is an excellent coach but if something were to happen I think Cincinnati has the ability to continue to keep a strong basketball program. Plus, they appear to be the strongest candidate to join us in the Big 12 should things fall that way.
SS: Sure, history may show one thing, but that doesn’t necessarily prove anything in the present. As long as SMU keeps up its dominance, they will be UConn’s top rival. But, if you’re going to talk about the future, imagine this: a relatively weak UConn team ultimately overpowered SMU at home. Despite what the result of their next matchup is, UConn is going into the conference championship where SMU has, time and time again, been their downfall. Next year, UConn is bringing in four freshmen who compiled the no. 3 recruiting class in the nation, along with a seasoned Jalen Adams (the next Shabazz, honestly), Purvis, Brimah and Hamilton. Needless to say, it’s almost guaranteed that next year’s squad is going to be significantly better in terms of performance (knock on wood). Point is, when the Mustangs regain their eligibility next year, they will be hunting to take a vastly improved UConn team down and spoil their bright future. It’s the drive and intensity to outduel one another to prove which team owns the American that drives this rivalry and, at least in the near future, I simply do not see that dying. 10 years from now may be a different story, but sometimes even the best rivalries fade over time.
MB: Cincinnati isn't exactly falling off a cliff next season. Gary Clark who hurt the Huskies is only a sophomore and standout guard Troy Caupain returns as well. SMU loses all conference players Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy to graduation, Cincy has a top 100 recruit of their own coming in next year. UConn should still improve substantially but Cincinnati looks like a good bet to give them their toughest in conference games yet again. Plus, if these games continue to be the physical, defense rock-fights that they are, there has to be some animosity being established among the players. We'll see how the next SMU game goes but UConn will certainly be heading into both games against the Bearcats with a vengeance after being swept this season. SMU will be very good again next year and have a strong recruiting class that supplements the losses from this year’s crew, but will it be enough for them to give UConn two great games? Someone will really have to step up and develop over the summer for them for that to happen. I just think when you look at the fact that we have history with Cincinnati, plus the bitterness between both teams is starting to build after close, almost undeserving losses, they should be considered the bigger rival.