The Big East basketball schedule-makers never make things easy for UConn. Every year it seems like, it feels like the Huskies have opened the league schedule against one of the BE's best teams, usually on the road. A little research will show that's not quite true, but it may as well be; last night's loss to Pittsburgh was UConn's sixth defeat in its last seven league openers. There's something off-putting about losing an opener. In the first game of a conference season, everyone has their gameplan ready, and the season is fresh. No one has been able to make adjustments, or make adjustments to those adjustments, or make adjustments to those adjustments to those adjustments. It's mano-e-mano.
To lose six out of seven is bad enough, but it seems like each loss has mirrored the way the Huskies' season would eventually end. Here's a look back at the Trail of Tears:
Boston College 75, UConn 70
Jan. 5, 2005, at Hartford Civic Center
What happened: BC took the lead midway through the second half and led by as many as 10 before a late UConn comeback. The Huskies tied it in the final minute, but Craig Smith and Jared Dudley made plays late to give the Eagles their last win of any consequence as basketball program.
Fatal flaw exposed: I wasn't really a UConn fan at this point (high school graduating class of 2005 WHAT???), so someone better informed will be able to fill this in. But it is notable that in UConn's NCAA Tournament loss to Julius Hodge-led NC State that year, the Wolfpack took the lead midway through the second half, led by double digits, and came up with a couple silly plays in the final minute (Andrew Brackman, anyone?). Also, like BC, that game appears to be NC State's last win of any consequence.
Marquette 94, UConn 79
Jan. 3, 2006, at Bradley Center
What happened: Steve F--king Novak goes off for 41 points and 16 rebounds in the Golden Eagles' first Big East game ever. Marquette led 43-37 with 18:00 left in the second half; that lead blew up to as much as 24. Marquette shot either 130% from 3 (as I remember) or 37% (as it happened). UConn was just 27 for 71 from the field that night.
Fatal flaw exposed: Marquette exposed this UConn team's fatal flaw of "losing in kind of a fluky way to a team playing out of its mind." See: Cuse, Syra and Mason, George. See also: ANGER AT STUPID SINGLE-ELIMINATION TOURNAMENTS BECAUSE WE WERE CLEARLY THE MOST TALENTED TEAM THAT YEAR AGHHHHHH.
West Virginia 71, UConn 61
Dec. 30, 2006, at WVU Coliseum
What happened: A young UConn team went on the road in the Big East after padding their record (11-0 with no wins over a team in the top 60) and was soundly beaten. UConn would lose 14 of their final 20 games, beginning with this one.
Fatal flaw exposed: Everything. Let us never mention this team again.
UConn 98, Seton Hall 86
Jan. 3, 2008 at Prudential Center
What happened: Back when he was good, Jerome Dyson scored 27 points on 14 field goal attempts, and Hasheem Thabeet was awesome (15 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks) as the Huskies won a defense-optional affair on the road.
Fatal flaw exposed: None? As the only team to lose a Big East opener to UConn since Emeka Okafor graduated, we can only conclude that Seton Hall sucks.
Georgetown 74, UConn 63
Dec. 29, 2008, at XL Center
What happened: Georgetown opened with an 18-3 run, shot almost 50% from 3 (and DaJuan Summers, Greg Monroe and Chris Wright were 17-for-33 overall from the field) and, despite a big run midway through the second half, the Huskies never led.
Fatal flaw exposed: UConn couldn't shoot over the zone, Thabeet was neutralized by a mobile big man, and looked lost thanks to terrible games from Craig Austrie and Jerome Dyson, mirroring the eventual Final Four loss to Michigan State (in which Kemba's badness replaced Dyson's).
Cincinnati 71, UConn 69
Dec. 29, 2008, at XL Center
What happened: A big comeback, capped by a Kemba Walker 3 with 9 seconds left, was thwarted when Gavin Edwards gave John Cahill a chance to blow his whistle. Lance Stephenson hit two free throws with 0.7 left for the deciding points.
Fatal flaw exposed: UConn lost a close game against an evenly-matched team that was decided in part by a terrible decision by a supposed senior leader. Nope, that didn't keep happening over and over and over and over and over and over again last year.
Pittsburgh 78, UConn 63
Dec. 27, 2010, at Peterson Events Center
What happened: Pitt jumped on top of a young UConn team early and was never really threatened. Kemba Walker had an off-night (despite scoring 31 points, it took him 27 shots, most of which were contested very well), and no one else played well enough to offset that. The Panthers' lead stretched from 9 to 15 for basically the entirety of the second half, and it seemed as if Pitt was able to get quality shots with ease each time down the court.
Fatal flaw exposed: UConn looks a little fraudy, and has an answer to "how will UConn do against a good team on a night when Kemba isn't Superman?" The answer: uh, not so good. It's tough for anyone to go into the Zoo and win, and Pitt is just about the biggest nightmare matchup on UConn's schedule, but I don't think anyone who watched that game can feel better about UConn today than they did 24 hours ago.
The warning signs were already there concerning UConn's status as a top 10-15 team in America. Now we have more evidence. And now $20 (and perhaps the fate of humanity itself) rests on whether UConn is actually as good as they looked for 20 minutes against Kentucky, or whether UConn is just a middling Big East team who caught fire in Maui.
So there you have it. Here's hoping they open our league season with someone we match up well against, like Villanova or Syracuse, or a team that's completely terrible, like Rutgers or Syracuse.