10 Reasons Why We'll Miss the Syracuse vs. UConn Rivalry
The Syracuse Orange and Connecticut Huskies are responsible for much of the success Big East basketball has enjoyed during recent decades. Hall of Fame coaches, legendary players and national championships are at the foundation of this fascinating rivalry.
The teams tango for the 92nd time Wednesday evening at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. Syracuse enters the matchup ranked sixth in the nation, while UConn aims to continue improvement under first-year head coach and former player Kevin Ollie.
The Orange appear primed for another deep run through the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Meanwhile, the Huskies are excluded from postseason competition as a result of substandard academics.
But tournament titles hardly matter Wednesday. This is the end of a golden era in college basketball.
Syracuse is set to depart the Big East and join the ACC after this season, closing the chapter on one of the country's premier conference rivalries. As the squads prepare to meet one final time as Big East foes, let's take a look at what makes this matchup so special.
Jim Calhoun Versus Jim Boeheim Flashbacks
Jim Calhoun wrapped up his career prior to the start of this 2012-2013 season, but some of his best battles came against Big East contemporary Jim Boeheim. The two Hall of Famers remained close friends over the years, despite decades of hotly contested conference matchups.
Combined, the duo accumulated 15 Big East championships, seven Final Four appearances and four national titles (three to Calhoun's credit).
"I love Jim Boeheim like a brother," Calhoun told Connecticut Post reporter Chris Elsberry after their final meeting in 2012.
The prodigious coaches will continue to be paired together forever as members of the Basketball Hall of Fame and in Big East lore.
Big East Tournament Matchups
The Big East tournament shines bright at Madison Square Garden every year. It seems Syracuse or Connecticut is always a conference title contender, and more often than not they're both considered among the bracket's elite.
Under the guidance of Calhoun and Boeheim, these teams have gone toe-to-toe on the intense stage of the Big East tourney 14 times, with the Orange holding a slight 8-6 edge. Last season, Syracuse edged UConn 58-55 in the conference semifinals.
Unfortunately, that will be the final conference tourney meeting between these two teams. The Huskies must endure a postseason ban this season.
There are few national rivalries that have produced the prolific professional talent that has helped define Connecticut versus Syracuse. All-time greats have worn the uniforms of both programs and competed for conference supremacy prior to enjoying wealth and fame at the next level.
Syracuse standouts include Carmelo Anthony, Pearl Washington and Derrick Coleman. UConn boasts accomplished alums like Richard Hamilton, Ray Allen, Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor.
The 2012-2013 versions of these teams could also include future impact players in professional basketball.
National Championship Pedigree
Despite winning just one national championship, the Syracuse Orange are routinely in the mix for a title. The team has achieved five Elite Eight appearances since 1987 and reached the championship game three times.
Led by Carmelo Anthony, the Orange overcame Kansas to finally claim a national crown in 2003.
Connecticut's postseason resume is even more impressive. The Huskies have won three championships in the last 14 years (1999, 2004 and 2011).
For the majority of seasons these teams have met, at least one squad was talented enough to reach a national title game. Many times, they both were.
Legendary Overtime Showdowns
The March 2009 classic will always last in the lore of all-time great Big East games. Syracuse surged ahead in the sixth overtime to claim a 127-117 victory over Connecticut.
This is the most memorable matchup between the two that required an extra session, but it was hardly the first. These teams have pushed each other to overtime on several occasions.
After the physically and emotionally draining six-overtime showdown, Boeheim professed his feeling for that current group of players.
"I've never been prouder of any team I've coached," Boeheim told Lorenzo Arguello, which says a lot considering his 2003 squad took home the program's lone national championship.
Epic Environments at Gampel Pavilion and the Carrier Dome
These are two of the best venues to take in a college basketball game. Each unique in their own right, the arenas have served as center stage for memorable matchups between Syracuse and UConn.
The Orange home court is situated at one end of the cavernous Carrier Dome, which also hosts Syracuse football games. Meanwhile, Gampel Pavilion provides Huskies faithful with an intensely raucous and tightly packed place to attend wild games.
Crowds routinely came up with ingenious ways to get into the heads of visiting opponents over the years. It's another dimension of this traditional rivalry that evaporates with conference realignment.
How intensely close have these teams played each other over the years?
Well since Jim Calhoun took the helm at Connecticut in 1986, the Huskies are 27-29 versus Syracuse. Regular-season action has always seemed like a pre-emptive engagement that would eventually lead to yet another meeting in conference tournament play.
But with UConn exempt from postseason action in 2013, Wednesday's regular-season clash is sure to be the final time these two programs meet as members of the Big East.
The Huskies' Emergence Challenges Syracuse
It's strange to think today, but at one time the Connecticut Huskies served as a Big East Conference doormat. Calhoun created a foundation in his image that withstood adversity and ultimately became one of the country's premier basketball programs.
Syracuse always ranked among the nation's top squads and stood tall with teams like Georgetown for many of the early years of Big East action. Since the Huskies' rise to prominence, it has been hard for many conference teams to keep up (including Syracuse).
UConn has won three national titles since 1999, providing additional motivation to fierce competitors like the Orange.
We already touched on the legendary six-overtime matchup, but there are plenty of tremendous late-game moments to choose from in this rivalry. Routinely evenly matched, Syracuse and Connecticut always seem to lock into tight battles that last until the final buzzer.
A perfect example is the 2006 Big East tournament classic. Gerry McNamara drilled a game-tying three-point field goal in the contest's final moments, adding another chapter to this rivalry.
The Anticipation of Annual Matchups
It will be strange to look at next season's college basketball schedule devoid of a Syracuse-Connecticut matchup. Although the Orange are reportedly in discussions to maintain several Big East rivalries in the future, it is unknown whether UConn is among teams in consideration.
The annual clash(es) between Syracuse and the Huskies has always been worthy of marking on the calendar prior to each season's opening tipoff. Moving forward, that no longer appears to be an option.