Syracuse v. Connecticut. Throughout history, this has been the basketball rivalry in the Big East Conference and one of the best in college basketball, period. Regardless of the fact that only one Hall of Fame coach will be on the bench, the last chapter of this storied rivalry will be written tonight. Jim Boeheim v. Jim Calhoun ended following the 2012 season, when the latter retired.
It’ll mark the final meeting between these Big East behemoths as members of the same conference, and the final meeting between two teams that won back-to-back national titles in 2003 and 2004 (Syracuse in 2003, UConn in 2004).
There will be no six-overtime thriller at Madison Square Garden in the Big East quarterfinals this year, thanks to UConn’s postseason ban. (Video for those of you who might have missed the thriller back in 2009. I was there.)
There will be no more in-game debates over which program has produced better players. Syracuse has Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, and Dan Schayes. UConn boasts Ray Allen, Caron Butler, Rudy Gay, Richard Hamilton, and Kemba Walker.
No more awesome College Gameday commercials in anticipation of the big game.
There will be no more sellout crowds at the Carrier Dome or Gampel Pavilion to celebrate this rivalry. In fact, it’s kind of weird that the final match-up between this two won’t take place at either venue—Hartford’s XL Center will be the setting for the final meeting.
Tonight’s game isn’t about the names on the back of the jersey—it’s about the name on the front. Regardless of where each is ranked, because at least one always is, there always seems to be something magical in the air when these two meet.
Syracuse comes in ranked No. 6 in the country with a 20-3 record while Connecticut, at 16-6, is unranked. James Southerland is back for the Orange, so they’re at full strength. The Huskies are without center Enosch Wolf, who was arrested Monday, though this certainly won’t be a deciding factor in the outcome but it’ll be interesting to see UConn’s game plan without him.
‘Cuse is playing well again after a mini two-game losing streak, having won their previous two with relative ease. Kevin Ollie’s squad comes in on the heels of an 11-point win over Seton Hall.
Syracuse’s 2-3 zone should cause problems for UConn unless they can find a way to consistently knock down shots from beyond the arc, like the past five games (39-105 3PT, 37.1%). They’ve been too reliant at times on the deep ball and everyone knows Syracuse makes it a little tougher shooting from three.
You can throw all the stats out the window when these two meet, however, and I expect this to be no different. It’ll be a hard-fought game throughout but the edge clearly goes to Syracuse, who is a legit title contender now that Southerland is back. But you never know exactly how it’ll play out.
The game will feature two best back courts in the conference. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche for Syracuse and Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright for the Huskies, which is worth the price of admission—for me, free.
I’m headed into Hartford later on to catch the final installment of Syracuse/UConn and I couldn’t be more stoked. I’m expecting an electric atmosphere in the XL Center and tomorrow, I’ll let you know my reaction. (No longer going tonight. My almost two-year-old is sick.)