John F. Silver
UConn and Syracuse in a capacity house at the XL Center in Hartford and with a national television game during Rivalry Week on ESPN.
These are the kinds of games that the Big East was created for as two of the programs that dominated the conference face off.
The schools have met 87 times with the Orange holding a 54-36 advantage over UConn. The rivalry was created for television.
It’s a game that television has destroyed.
UConn (16-6, 6-4 Big East) and No. 6 ranked Syracuse (20-3, 8-2 Big East) will play today in Hartford in the final matchup of the two power programs in the conference.
By this time next year the Orange will be in the ACC reaping in their television money while UConn could very well be tightening its belt as its share of the television money (reported to be about $2 million) will lead others to wonder about the ultimate fate of the athletic program.
The conference realignment has shattered rivalries for television riches and nowhere is there a more stark example than UConn-Syracuse tonight.
This is the final go-around for the rivals with UConn’s postseason ban making a meeting in the Big East tournament an impossibility.
So for good or ill, the Huskies will host the Orange in Hartford in what’s become the penultimate game of the UConn season.
The Huskies will face the Orange short-handed, as Enosch Wolf is suspended indefinitely, and the game will also test the backcourt play if UConn’s Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier against Syracuse’s Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams.
Napier (17.2 ppg.), listed at 6-1, and the 5-11 Boatright will matchup with the 6-6 Carter-Williams, who leads the nation in assists at 8/5 per game, and the 6-4 Triche.
The size differential is something the Huskies are used to and Boatright (15.8 ppg.) has long learned to play as the smaller guy.
“We’ve been playing bigger guards our whole lives,” Boatright said Tuesday.
Syracuse is bigger across the board. Not only with Carter-Williams and Trish in the backcourt, but also at the forward spot with 6-8 C.J. Fair knocking in 14 points a game, the 6-8 Jerami Grant and 6-9 sophomore Rakeem Christmas. Add in 6-8 James Southerland, returning for his second game after an academic suspension, and the Orange are tall, athletic, long and explosive.
That poses a problem from the Huskies, who will have to navigate the matchup 2-3 zone of the Orange that is unlike any other defense in the country.
“They’re long,” Boatright said. “Their back wings play real high to take away the wings’ jump shot; the baseline and middle man are very important. We’ve got a lot of great shooters on this team. We’re going to have to make shots.”
UConn coach Kevin Ollie has had the Huskies work extensively on the zone in Big East play as nearly every team has resorted to it against the Huskies. Syracuse is just another challenge.
The Huskies are currently seventh in the Big East at 6-4 and can take a shot at first place Syracuse, which is 8-2. That would be a nice feather in the cap for the program.
“(The Huskies) have put themselves in a great position to player the leader of the Big East with two losses,” Ollie said. “One of the leaders is coming in and hopefully we have 16 in the XL. Hopefully game is sold-out, hopefully crowd is behind us and we can show off what we are all about and adversity we hit we push right through them.”
This is the last time UConn and Syracuse are scheduled to play, and it could be a long while before the schools play again. What television creates, television takes away.