As I begin this post, UConn has just lost to Auburn 89-64 and I don’t hate it one bit. The loss drops the Huskies to 7-5 on the season - a season that lacks a quality win and features a number out blowout losses and escapes against Columbia and Monmouth.
The fact that the Huskies were an 11-point underdog to the Tigers, a team who hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003, is a proper indication of the status of the program.
For a program that has won four national championships in the last 18 years, the future looks bleak. Kevin Ollie won a National Championship thanks to bracket luck and Jim Calhoun’s leftovers in 2014, but it has all been downhill for UConn since.
The Huskies have made the tournament just one time since 2014 and the disintegration of the Big East seems to have effected UConn more than any other program.
The Huskies went from being apart of the premier conference in college basketball to the AAC, which is, despite the addition of Wichita State, mostly an afterthought and is littered with irrelevant programs like East Carolina, USF, Tulane, and Tulsa.
The conference spans a diverse geography that hurts UConn’s recruiting. The pipeline from NYC is still there, but without a consistent presence in Madison Square Garden, the Huskies don’t have the influence they once did.
The current state of the program demonstrates what a good cheating coach can do. UConn basketball was nothing before Jim Calhoun and it looks like it is returning to national irrelevance after his departure.
Calhoun made the Huskies one of the most sought after destinations for recruits. The fact that he had UConn in the same breath as the UNC’s, UCLA’s, and Kentucky’s of the world was an accomplishment in of itself. He routinely would beat out other premier programs for top talent (the only way to do that in Storrs, CT was to cheat) and was able to coach up recruiting classes that may have lacked some McDonald’s All-Americans.
This is also a fate that awaits Syracuse once Jim Boeheim retires. Boeheim, another noted cheater, has built a program where a program lacks any inherent advantages. Like Storrs, Syracuse, NY is hardly a premier destination for highly-rated recruits, but Boeheim was able to make it so with questionable recruiting tactics, over-looking drug tests and academic tests, and succeeding on the court.
The Orange have also suffered from the demise of the Big East. The ‘Cuse now play in a mostly southern conference with a limited presence in NYC, where they had tremendous success recruiting. Since joining the ACC, the Orange have made the tournament just twice. They made the Final Four in 2016 as a result of flukish bracket luck as the Orange had a weak argument to be in the field in the first place.
As I mentioned, the crumbling of UConn’s stature in college basketball is a development I welcome with open arms. While Calhoun was a program builder and good coach, he was also a multiple offender to NCAA rules and his players’ grasp of the English language was often loose at best.
This is a program that never played by the rules and while they have stayed mostly out of trouble under Ollie, that proves that they can’t compete on a level playing field.