After a few years of rotting away in the American Athletic Conference (also, you know, winning a National Championship, but whatever), UConn is back where they belong: the Big East.
Is it UConn's fault the men's basketball team slowly withered away and lost relevancy? Sure, but where is the fun in that? Excuse making is way better. Hell, even the women's team began losing Final Fours and National Championships.
But when it comes to March Madness, UConn, the Big East, and Madison Square Garden all go together as good as anything. It was a staple... and it's finally a staple again.
Now, if you're reading this and know my sports fandom, you're probably wondering: why in the living fuck are you a UConn Huskies fan?
I have a very confusing life story. My family has lived in 15 different homes/condos/apartments in three cities/towns since I was born in 1991. Connecticut (Plainville/Farmington to be exact) was my home from birth until 2004 when I moved to Austin, Texas, and then my family moved to California after I moved to New York City following college (at Penn State... don't worry, it'll get more confusing), and then recently moved back to Austin. No one in my family is in the military, my dad works in the golf industry, it makes no sense, I know.
My professional sports teams are the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers (also Vegas hockey, I have become a die-hard since the moment they were announced in 2016, I needed a team, refused to root for an existing franchise, and love 'Ocean's Eleven', but that's a story for the end of the month). Why Cleveland? Because my dad cursed me upon birth, that's why. He is from the Cleveland area and really gave me no option. So I grew up in Connecticut as a Cleveland sports fan, which is obviously difficult since none of those three teams are ever really on television there. This is especially the fact when you consider that the Browns didn't exist from 1995 through 1999, and there isn't a network in the world that would air a Cavs game in the years leading up to the arrival of LeBron. There was no hockey team to root with no Cleveland team, and our local team, the Whalers, moved when I was six. So, the only team I could really get into locally while keeping my pro sports fandoms and watch live and in-person was the UConn Huskies. All I really had was UConn, I lived my life of watching Tim Couch and the Browns lose, the Indians fall short of World Series, and the Cavs do... whatever they did... through bottom lines and sports tickers. It was the late-1990s and early 2000s, there were no streaming websites.
Is my fandom weird? Of course, it's scattershot, and I accept all questioning, but so be it!
I've been to countless UConn games, from the Big East Tournament to the Hartford Civic Center (what's an "XL Center"), Gampel Pavilion, NCAA Tournament games, and more. When I went to Penn State in 2009, I finally had my own college football team (sorry UConn football, never cared about ya), but refused to give up UConn basketball (I don't care about Penn State hoops, but I do mourn for my friends who lost their chance at a tournament team this last March). When my family moved to Texas in 2004, I didn't get a chance to see them much anymore, except for this fucking awesome Kemba game in Austin the year they won the National Championship...
Though, most people know this as the game Roscoe Smith heaved a full-court shot with 11-seconds left...
Moving back to the Northeast in 2014 for my full-time-job-life, I also moved back to a Big East region that lost UConn. Living walking distance to the Garden and not having a chance to see the Huskies play in the Big East Tournament was a bummer. The UConn Garden takeover home game is as good as it gets. The vibe, the energy, the history, it's such a massive piece of UConn and college basketball fandom… and it was just… gone.
Again, UConn should shoulder a good amount of the blame for their near-disastrous run in the AAC, but it has always baffled me as to why fans from the conference were so offended when Husky fans complain about the conference. Going from the incredible historic matchups and rivalries of the Big East every week to what they faced in the AAC was that of a different world. Even the year they won the National Championship in 2014, the regular season was fairly forgettable. Everything between their out-of-conference win over Florida and boat-raced loss to Louisville in the AAC Tournament will forever be a blur to me. Is it snobby to have this thought process, to prefer playing the Johnnies in the Garden, duking it out with Nova and Georgetown every year? I guess, maybe it is, but it has always seemed fairly easily defendable. There's just something different about March when it begins in Manhattan at the Garden rather than at the Amway Center in Orlando.
This has been a long-winded way of saying, "FINALLY!"
I'm getting goosebumps thinking about the Garden in March again for the Huskies. Not having Syracuse and Pittsburgh this time around is a bummer, but beggars can't be choosers at this point.
Why not pump those goosebumps up more and look at some of my favorite UConn Madison Square Garden March moments:
The most obvious one. I'm not sure there is anything to say really. Mid-day, mid-week Big East moments just hit different. I didn't get a chance to see this in person, but I left Spring Break early to go see them take down Louisville in the title game. Shout out to the grumpy Cards fan behind me who were pissed I would stand up during big moments.
Until the Kemba shot in 2011, this was always my favorite UConn Big East moment. The Taliek Brown shot at MSG has to be one of the highest-arcing three-pointers in the history of the sport. This team eventually fell to eventual-Champs Maryland in the Elite Eight, which was a bummer, because this was a magical tournament run. Those Pitt-Ben Howland teams underachieved so much, they were always so damn good.
No disrespect to Rip Hamilton, but when I think UConn basketball, the faces of Khalid El-Amin and Jake Voshkul always pop into my head first. (Those Ron Artest and Omar Cook-era St. John's teams were awesome, need the Johnnies back to being a top program for the sake of the conference)
I was too young to truly remember this one, but it is always a great nostalgia-watch. Ray Allen's running celebration is such an iconic Huskies moment.
This will forever be one of the most hilarious unfair disadvantages in college basketball history. UConn, a 7-seed, got to play de facto home games at Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. I had just moved to New York when this Tournament started, so I was fortunate enough to go. It's the craziest I have seen the Garden for UConn in my time as a Huskies fan. It was the Big East Tournament, essentially, but without any of the local teams. I remember the Michigan State fan kid next to me asking him mom why there were so many UConn fans. It was bananas and loud as hell. Getting to see them punch a Final Four ticket in the Garden was so damn cool.
Those are just a few memorable mome-- oh, you expected me to post the six overtime game against Syracuse? Not a chance.
I am fucking amped, and I know all my fellow UConn basketball fans are as well this morning. The Big East and the Big East Tournament essentially sparked the last two UConn National Championships and cemented Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier as legends. It may take the Huskies a year-or-so to gel (they get one buffer year before I begin to get angry if they fail), but just the idea of them being back in the conference alone has me excited as can be.
Also, if you want to yell at me for my weird fandom, go for it. But here is a quick explainer guide.
Regardless, go Huskies. See you in March, MSG.