Tonight, at seven, UConn will take the short trip up Route 44 to Providence. There, for perhaps the last time as a Big East opponent, they'll enter the Dunkin' Donuts Center to take on the Big East's peskiest fly: the Providence Friars.
Personally I have had two opportunities to visit the Dunk. For the first, in January 1996, I celebrated my ninth birthday by watching UConn easily handle the Friars 83-74. That team, which was led by Ray Allen and this Kevin Ollie fellow you may have heard of, did what most UConn teams in the 90s did: beat Providence. Sure, Providence won a game here and there (and even swept UConn in 1993), but for the most part the Huskies dominated their neighbor to the east, compiling a 15-5 record in the decade, with only one of those losses coming in Providence.
The turn of the century didn't bring a huge change either, sure, UConn dropped a game at the Dunk in 2001, but the Huskies rolled to a 7-3 record, including a win in Providence in January of 2006. I was at that game too, this time as a freshman at UConn, and now watching Marcus Williams lob half-court alley-oops to Rudy Gay as the Huskies cruised.
I can't say I thought about Providence much in the 10 years between those games. Sure, they were a conference opponent, but they were, well, Providence. It was an easy win and UConn picked up two national titles in that time. Yes, UConn lost a game here or there (I blame Ryan Gomes) but they just won't a concern.
At least they weren't then. In the seven years since that '06 game the Huskies are a pathetic 2-5 against Providence and haven't won in the Dunk during that span, including an incredibly frustrating 72-70 UConn collapse last year. UConn has won a national title and made another Final Four over those seven years and Providence hasn't even made the tournament (they did grab two NIT bids and lost in the first round each time). It just doesn't matter, UConn has been haunted by the Friars.
Because of that, I take no comfort in the fact that PC is 2-6 in the Big East and has a 10-10 record featuring losses to UMass, Brown, DePaul and BC. I don't feel good about the fact that UConn has the advantage according to KenPom and I don't find solace in knowing that PC's leading rebounder is 6'6". I know that whatever might be working in UConn's favor tonight, Providence has been a pain in the ass and an unreasonably difficult opponent for almost a decade. I can't explain it, but I know I hate it. I don't care if UConn wins big or small tonight, I just care that they win, so I can go back to ignoring them.