College Basketball: Why the Big East Tourney Will Not Be the Same Without UConn
The Big East has become the biggest victim of conference realignment this season, and the conference as we know it will dissipate after the tournament winner is crowned at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
While plenty of attention will be on the 14 teams that are participating in the tournament, the one Big East team absent from the tournament will also get a good amount of attention.
The Connecticut Huskies, a team that is instantly identified with the Big East, will not be present at Madison Square Garden this week because of a one-year postseason ban that was inflicted on the program before the season began.
The postseason ban was handed down by the NCAA in June after UConn's Academic Progress Rate (APR) score sunk below the lowest possible four-year average score of 900 (via ESPN.com)
With the postseason ban, players on the Huskies roster were able to leave the Storrs campus and pursue their careers elsewhere without having to sit out a season.
Before the ban was announced, Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb were long gone and off to start careers in the NBA, After the ban came down, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith both left the team for Missouri and UNLV respectively.
The biggest departure of all did not come in the personnel department, it came within the department as longtime Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun left the program last Sept. 13.
While many people around the UConn program will praise the efforts of new head coach Kevin Ollie and the players who chose to remain, the one thing that Huskies fans wish they would have had this season was a spot in the Big East Tournament.
The Huskies have been the one team that has been left out of the conference realignment party, and instead of moving on to the new Big East or the ACC next season, they will be stuck in a conference of rejects, with a plethora of teams coming in from Conference USA.
UConn has provided fans with plenty of unforgettable memories at the Big East Tournament, which is something that they will not be able to do this season.
From the six-overtime thriller with Syracuse in 2009 to Ray Allen's showdown with Allen Iverson and Georgetown in 1996 to Kemba Walker's heroics on the way to the national championship in 2011, there have been very few Big East Tournament memories that do not include the Huskies.
Being excluded from a conference tournament that they have had great success is such an emotional blow to such a great fanbase.
I, myself, am not a fan of UConn, but I am a fan of the Big East Conference, and seeing an illustrious program like UConn suffer greatly at this time is a disgrace to college basketball.
To make things fair, the postseason ban was handed down before the whole conference realignment process found legs.
While that is a truly understandable fact, the current crop of Huskies players were not around when these violations were committed. To punish a group of excellent human beings and an even stronger head coach with this penalty is absurd.
Ollie's Huskies team could have let the violations get to them and failed to show any effort in a season that really had no true reward.
However, the Huskies did the complete opposite, and they thrived in the face of adversity by finishing 20-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big East, a record which would have landed them the seventh seed at Madison Square Garden this week.
Players like Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright inspired plenty of great performances by the Huskies this season and they would have been a thrilling team to watch in the Big East Tournament while playing alongside their bitter rivals for one last time.
When next season begins, UConn will once again be eligible for postseason play but its spot in the conference tournament will not be as meaningful. Playing against the likes of SMU, Central Florida and Houston will not have the same effect on the fans and players as would playing Syracuse or Georgetown.
While Ollie and his Huskies team will continue to rebuild their program's reputation next season, it will not have the same meaning had it been done in the Big East.
UConn has been left out of so much this season, and it will continue to be left out of the college basketball scene until it finds someone to rescue it from its soon-to-be-named conference.
The misery of the UConn men's basketball program is something that should not be suffered by such a prestigious program, especially in a year like this.
While we can focus on the negative all we want, the truth is that UConn made the Big East Tournament and the Big East Tournament made UConn. With the two parties being separated for good, a part of every college basketball's fan's heart will be broken forever, and that is something money can not buy back.
Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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