ARLINGTON, TX - MARCH 31: Head coach Billy Donovan of the Florida Gators yells to his team in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines during the South Regional Round Final of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dallas Cowboys Stadium on March 31, 2013 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Huskies' season officially begins Oct. 18 with First Night, and it will also be their first season in the American Athletic Conference. No matter how glowingly commissioner Mike Aresco speaks of the newly formed AAC, the reality is that it's not the Big East. Not even close.
Which means that the best way for UConn to remain a viable national program is to win. There will be no "rising tides lift all boats" as it pertains to quality Big East basketball being a good thing for every conference member. It explains why the Huskies have Florida on schedule. And last week, Florida coach Billy Donovan explained why he agreed to bring his team to Storrs for the matchup.
“Nowadays, a lot of college basketball has moved to a lot of neutral site games, a lot of exempt tournaments,” Donovan told the Hartford Courant's Dom Amore. “One of the things I’ve always tried to do here, especially the last four or five years – ‘How do we bring really good quality opponents to our home court?’ What teams would be willing to do that?
“What Kevin [Ollie is] doing there right now, what Jim [Calhoun] has built there over the years, UConn is one of those programs that’s a national program. Although we’re starting the series on the road at UConn, it gets us prepared for our conference schedule and, [in 2014-15] it gives our fans a chance to see one of the better programs in the country.
“So we’ve done it with Wisconsin, we’ve done it with Maryland, we’ve done it with Louisville, we did it with Arizona last year. We’re just trying to identify programs and teams that really make sense for us, where, one, it’s going to make our team better, it’s going to prepare our team and also it’s great for our fans.”
So why is the game at Gampel, instead of the much larger XL Center?
“We’re going to do a home and home,” Donovan continued, ”and when you do a home-and-home, the home team decides where they want to play. You wouldn’t want a situation where [Ollie] would say, ‘We’re going to play in the Hartford [XL Center], but when we come down to Gainesville, we want to play in Jacksonville.’ As long as it’s a true home game, I’m fine with that.”
We've said it countless times this offseason, but ultimately, the Huskies' success will have little to do with how the AAC does as a whole, and everything to do with how the team plays. After an improbable 20-win season in 2012-13, and with all the starters returning, it's reasonable to think UConn will be just fine.