Is Providence College becoming a hot rival to UConn’s men’s basketball team? Depends on who you ask

There is no current team in the Big East that the UConn men’s basketball team has played more often than Providence.

When they first met, Babe Ruth’s Yankees in 1927 were still the defending World Series champions. Two of the original seven members of the Big East — a league created by former Brothers coach Dave Gavitt — have faced each other 75 times since and 63 times as conference opponents. UConn has a significant head-to-head advantage overall (45-30), in Big East play (38-25) and, of course, in national titles (4-0). Still, the brothers had a few spurts of dominance and were often a tick in the Huskies’ fur, even beating some of UConn’s championship teams (Ryan Gomes, anyone?).

Separated by a mere 50-mile bus ride on Route 6, and back together as Big East enemies after an eight-year respite due to the conference roster, UConn-PC appears to be a rivalry. natural and nascent.

But is it?

“I would say by geography, Connecticut has to be up there,” PC coach Ed Cooley said. “I think Villanova is definitely up there. These two come to mind right away, for me. You are looking at two of the biggest marquee teams in the Grand Est. I don’t know if these schools or fanbases will see this, but from my eyes as a head coach, as far as proximity and region go, these two stand out for me.

Providence head coach Ed Cooley applauds his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Butler at the Big East Basketball Tournament on Thursday, March 10, 2022 in New York . (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

UConn coach Dan Hurley, however, wasn’t quite ready to go. In fact, Hurley isn’t sure the Huskies have a real rival.

“Not when you’re at UConn,” he said. “With the history of this place, the brand, the notoriety and the respect of the four national championships and all the players in the NBA, one of the greatest coaches of all time (Jim Calhoun), and all that happened with women’s basketball…every game, you feel like it’s the other team’s Super Bowl.

Asked specifically about Providence, Hurley still didn’t budge.

“St. John’s feels like a rival, Seton Hall feels like a rival,” he noted. “I think everyone in your conference feels like a rival. For UConn, it’s different, because of the brand. It has nothing to do with any of us coaching or playing here at the moment. We haven’t been part of all this success. But every game for us feels like a game. of rivalry, because we get everyone’s “A” game every night.

Still, PC has had to get under Hurley’s skin a bit lately. Providence beat UConn — which was playing without an injured Adama Sanogo — in the Huskies’ Big East opener in front of fans Dec. 18 in Hartford.

Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley reacts during the first half of a college basketball game against New Mexico State in the first round of the NCAA Men's Tournament Thursday, March 17 2022, in Buffalo, NY (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley reacts during the first half of a college basketball game against New Mexico State in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Tournament Thursday, March 17 2022, in Buffalo, NY (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The rematch scheduled for January 15 in Providence was postponed due to COVID issues within the Friars program, and the match was never rescheduled. While a significant portion of Huskies fans seem to believe PC was dodging the rematch, the fact is the league was responsible for all of the postponement, and the only date available (February 3) would have involved UConn playing three games in five. days, sandwiching the brothers between fights with Creighton and at Villanova.

UConn didn’t want to be part of that.

When UConn was selected in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as Providence qualified for the Sweet 16 for the first time in 25 years, Cooley seemed to be ubiquitous in the media – no doubt an advantage in later recruiting that would not have couldn’t please Hurley.

But the kicker may have come last month, when out of nowhere, Corey Floyd Jr. transferred from UConn at the computer. Suddenly, UConn’s (hopefully) two games with Providence next season just got a whole lot more interesting.

“It will definitely spice up the game,” Cooley conceded.

New wrinkle to the rivalry

Indeed, this one seemed to resonate more with UConn fans than past defections to Friar Town. When Andre LaFleur left the UConn staff almost on the eve of the Huskies’ national championship parade in April 2011, it certainly didn’t sit well with Jim Calhoun. But it wasn’t Wade Boggs or Johnny Damon leaving Boston for New York.

When to recruit Makai Ashton-Langford disengaged from UConn and pledged to the Brethren in March 2017, it was simply part of a mass exodus from Kevin Ollie’s sub-.500 team. And has anyone even realized that Brian Blaney, son of longtime UConn aide George Blaney, has been on Cooley’s staff for 14 years?

Floyd, a 6-foot-4 guard, sat out last season as a redshirt rookie, though he pestered Hurley a few times to drop the redshirt and let him play. The coaching staff told him he should be good for at least 15-20 minutes per game next season. It looks like Floyd wanted more.

“We recruited him and he picked Connecticut the first time around, which was a perfect fit for him at the time,” Cooley said. “People’s minds change, circumstances change. That doesn’t make him a bad guy or a coaching staff… things are changing in today’s world.

“With this portal and immediate eligibility, people are looking for an opportunity to play. The kid wanted to play. Not that he wouldn’t have played in Connecticut. Who knows what happens to those kids in those situations? I don’t think you see it as a negative, because at the end of the day it’s all about the student-athlete.

Since Floyd’s transfer, Cooley has brought in a host of other high-profile transfer guards and wings. Will Floyd play next season in Providence?

“In all honesty, I don’t know,” Cooley said. “I’m going to have seven or eight new guys. Honestly, I hope he does. But I won’t know until he’s around every day. It’s the truth.”

So, a new wrinkle has been added to a rivalry that may or may not exist, depending on who you ask.

“I think it takes a bunch of battles on the pitch, and recruiting battles and all kinds of different things to create the real animosity,” Hurley said.

Certainly, the programs have fought for recruits over the years. Besides Gomes, Providence nabbed New London’s Kris Dunn right under Calhoun’s nose. More recently, the Friars beat the Huskies for AJ Reeves, while UConn won battles for PC targets like Akok Akok and Donovan Clingan.

Who knows, maybe Floyd’s transfer will look like New Haven’s Sly Williams, who verbally committed to Providence but signed a letter of intent to play Rhode Island at the last minute, escalating this rivalry to a new level.

Or maybe not.

“I’m not going to see it any different, and I’m pretty sure Danny won’t see it any different,” Cooley said. “It’s a tough enough match as it is. It’s good for the game, it’s good for the region, there’s spice around it, and you hope it’s really competitive every time you play. For me, it’s more about the game than the individuals, if that makes sense.

david.borges@hearstmediact.com

Comments are closed.