Early on in Michael Lewis’ latest bestseller “The Undoing Project,” the story of Nobel-prize winning psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, he posits their research on human decision-making. The duo’s research demonstrated people made choices on features of similarity. The key was that these features’ noticeability are manipulated by context.
“And as the noticeability of features can be manipulated by the way they are highlighted, the sense of how similar two things are might also be manipulated,” Lewis says in the story. “For instance, if you wanted two people to think of themselves as more similar to each other than they otherwise might, you might put them in a context that stressed the features they shared. Two American college students in the United States might look at each other and see a total stranger; the same two college students on their junior year abroad in Togo might find that they are surprisingly similar: They’re both Americans!”
When you look at the current constituency of the American Athletic Conference, we (UConn) might as well be in Togo. Cincinnati by default, has become our fellow traveling peer.
In the old Big East, which the Bearcats only joined in 2005, Cincinnati was an afterthought to UConn. They might have been good, but UConn was elite. They’re a midwestern school who we have no history with. We have animosity for Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova and other schools up the eastern corridor, not some newbie in the Midwest.
Yet with the dissolution of the Big East and creation of the American we are in the aforementioned African nation. We’re looking around at Tulane and Houston like, “Who are you guys?” Cincinnati was a familiar face. They’ve provided the comfort and admittedly competition we needed. You’re good at basketball, we’re good at basketball. You’re (relatively) northern, we’re northern. You have a history of success, we have a history of success. We’ve even played you a couple times. We took on Cincinnati as our rival because we had to. But its not true!
It’s a trap. The rivalry feels even more palpable because of the nature of the games. The pair have met 12 times since the conference’s conception and the victor has an average margin of victory of 7.5 points. Throw out last year’s 20-point blowout and it drops a point. It has games like the four-overtime classic with Jalen Adams’ infamous shot and Ryan Boatright’s buzzer-beater. The games have been physical rock fights drumming up intensity and animosity. Mick Cronin’s whining gets underneath everyone’s skin.
But don’t be confused. Cincinnati is beneath you, the UConn fan. It’s a 793-mile drive to their campus. Their ties to the glory days of the old Big East, like their ability to get past the Sweet Sixteen, are farcical.
UConn has played Georgetown, ‘Nova and ‘Cuse (twice) over the past two years. Yet the game we’re starting to circle on the calendar is the one among us Saturday. We have decided to make these UConn games matter. But step back and look around, think back to 2004 or 2009 or even the early nineties. In a basketball world where Cincinnati is becoming our chief rival, we’re not in Togo; we’re in hell.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.