In the words of the late great Andy Williams, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Not Christmastime like Williams was talking about, but March, which is the equivalent of Christmas for NCAA hoops fans. The madness will be starting up this week with conference tournaments followed by the National Tournament which will continue into early April.
Here in Storrs, the Huskies are having a decent season, but unless the team makes a 2011-esque run in the conference tournament, they will be watching March Madness from their couches like the rest of us (a NIT bid is certainly possible though).
Speaking of conferences, in case you haven’t heard, UConn is in its final days of this basketball purgatory known as the American Athletic Conference, and will be returning to the Big East next season. That definitely should fill the UConn fanbase with a lot of joy and optimism, given how incredible the Big East has been in basketball this season, while the AAC has been well, let’s just say mediocre.
Now, I’m a part of the minority in that I actually don’t hate the AAC that much, and I think a lot of UConn’s problems in this conference have been self-inflicted. However, it is just no comparison to the Big East, especially in basketball this season.
According to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest projections, seven Big East teams will be dancing in March, while only three teams from the AAC will get a bid. However, the discrepancy is even larger when you look at the seedings.
In Lunardi’s bracket, Seton Hall is projected as a No. 2 seed, Villanova as a No. 3, Creighton as a No. 4, Marquette and Butler both as No. 7’s and Providence and Xavier both as No. 9’s. Meanwhile, from the AAC, Lunardi has Houston as a No. 7 seed and both Cincinnati and Wichita State playing in the First Four.
So while all seven of the Big East teams are virtual locks at this point, two out of the three AAC teams are hanging by a thread in the “Last Four In” category. There’s still a strong chance that if Houston wins the conference tournament, the AAC could be a one-bid conference, something I know UConn fans would love to see as they board a ship for much broader horizons in the Big East.
One. Bid. AAC. https://t.co/ChbbP6iRfi
— Storrs South (@UConn6thBorough) March 1, 2020
Is the Big East today the same Big East that UConn departed in 2013? No. The likes of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville among others are gone. But even without those teams, the conference has still consistently sent around five or six teams to the National Tournament every season since the realignment took place. And more importantly, it’s a much better fit for UConn than the Island of Misfit Toys AAC, both geographically and in terms of history.
I recently saw a promotion for the Big East Tournament, which takes place annually at Madison Square Garden, and it was showing a bunch of the best highlights from that tournament. So many of the highlights featured UConn, who isn’t even in the conference right now, and you just get the feeling that the Big East is where UConn belongs.
It’s finally March Madness Season 😎 Never forget when Kemba Walker gave us the greatest step back of all-time. pic.twitter.com/Tqdq6Nefo2
— TheCoolestGuyInSports™ (@AKISNBA) March 1, 2020
I think the reunion between UConn and the Big East will be mutually beneficial for both parties. The conference gets one of its blue bloods back and a really good up-and-coming team, while UConn returns to a more geographically-friendly and basketball-centric conference that fits the culture of the school a million times better.
Fans will now get to pack Gampel and XL to see UConn play teams like Seton Hall, Villanova and Providence instead of Tulsa, East Carolina and USF. There’s just no comparison. The games are going to be a lot more fun, and they’re going to mean so much more because of how competitive the conference is. Yesterday, St. John’s knocked off No. 10 Creighton and Georgetown pushed Xavier to the brink, and neither one is a tournament team this season. Even the bottom of the conference is scary in the Big East, something that very few conferences can say.
If UConn continues to make strides in Year Three of the Hurley era, the Huskies should be right in the thick of the Big East standings next year and could be tournament bound for the first time since 2016.
Until then, I’m just going to enjoy watching the Big East teams hopefully dominate in the tournament this month with optimistic thoughts for the future of UConn basketball.