Thursday, January 8, 2015

Is Cincinnati now UConn's most heated rival?

In this new world that UConn now occupies -- no longer in the Big East, with no more annual bouts against old-time rivals like Syracuse, Georgetown, Pittsburgh or even Providence -- has a new chief rival emerged for the Huskies?

Is Cincinnati now UConn’s biggest rival?

It may not make any sense geographically, and it certainly doesn’t foster the same kind of emotion with UConn fans as the Orange or Hoyas. But no team has been involved in more heated games with the Huskies over the past few seasons than the Bearcats.

UConn holds a 10-5 all-time advantage over Cincy – 9-5 since the Bearcats joined the Big East in 2005-06. But the Huskies won the first five meetings. Since then, the teams have split the last 10 games.

In the last six meetings -- again, an even split between the two -- over the past three seasons, each game was decided by six points or less, or in overtime.

Of course, UConn has won when it’s meant the most – in the 2011 NCAA tournament’s Round-of-32 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and in last year’s AAC tournament semifinal game in Memphis.

The Huskies also beat Cincy in another area last year, when Shabazz Napier beat out Sean Kilpatrick for AAC player of the year honors. Kilpatrick wasn't pleased about this perceived snub, and neither was Cincy coach Mick Cronin, who was heard by Connecticut Post writer Bill Paxton telling Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson that "heroes are made in March, boys. This is all (B.S.)."

And that wasn't the first time that Cronin found himself involved in a controversy involving a UConn player and conference postseason honors -- although, to be fair, this one seemed to be more a Jim Calhoun concoction than anything Cronin actually did.

Of course, Cronin won't be on the sidelines for Saturday's 11 a.m. game at the XL Center. He's out for the rest of the season, at least as head coach, due to an artery problem. Admit it, you'll miss the little devil.

Certainly, there seems to be a little healthy friction between the two programs.

A few years ago, after Syracuse had played its final game against UConn as Big East foes, Jim Boeheim (in between calling Andy Katz an "idiot" and a "dishonest person") noted that the Orange's biggest rival used to be St. Bonaventure.

Then, the Big East formed, and Syracuse hasn't even played the Bonnies in over a decade.

"Your biggest rivals are going to be the teams in your league," Boeheim said.

UConn and Cincinnati, like it or not, are in the same league. Along with Memphis, they're the most decorated programs in this league. And it's too early to call UConn-Memphis a rivalry, especially since the Huskies swept the Tigers in three games last season (twice in Memphis). Rivalries can't be too one-sided.

So, are the Bearcats now UConn's biggest rival? If you say no, it's still Syracuse or Georgetown, remember, they don't consider UConn their biggest rivals. Neither does Duke. Meanwhile, Providence would like to consider UConn its rival, but UConn fans seem to think differently.

Oh, and Cincy considers the Huskies their rivals.

"We've had such close games over the years," said associate head coach Larry Davis, who's taken over for Cronin for the season after Cronin suffered an aneurysm a couple of weeks ago. "They're gonna be a team you've got to go through to win championships every year. Hopefully, we are too. Those are your rival games."

Maybe the Huskies simply don't have a rival right now.

Let me know what you think.

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