Blogs > Elm City to Eagleville

A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Auriemma has tough task ahead

Yesterday Geno Auriemma said his goal was to lead the way to turn whatever conference UConn is a part of in the future into the best women's basketball conference in the nation just as he did with the Big East.

While Auriemma has accomplishment a great many things people thought were impossible during his Hall of Fame tenure with the Huskies, it might be his best work yet if that ends up happening in the new-look Big East once the seven Catholic schools depart.

Just out of curiosity I took a look at the final RPI ratings (using the info on the NCAA's official site) to compare what the Big East looked like at the end of last season and how it would shake out without all the departing schools which includes Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Rutgers.

Last year's Big East featured four teams in the top 15, five in the top 20, seven in the top 26 and nine in the top 38. By comparison, after UConn's No. 4 final RPI rating, the next highest mark among teams slated to be in the conference when DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's Seton Hall and Villanova exit stage right would be Temple at No. 52 followed by Tulane (74th) and Memphis (75th).

Now all of this could become irrelevant since the "Catholic 7" are currently expected to be in the Big East until 2015 and in my opinion UConn is more likely than that to have landed a spot in another conference by them. However, for the sake of argument and discussion I figured I would provide the RPI ranking for the old Big East and the one that could emerge in a couple years.

2011-12                           2015-16
2 Notre Dame                  4 UConn
4 UConn                        52 Temple
11 St. John's                  74 Tulane
15 Rutgers                     75 Memphis
19 Louisville                  83 South Florida
23 DePaul                   102 Cincinnati
26 Georgetown           183 SMU
35 West Virginia         214 Central Florida
38 Villanova               316 Houston
69 Syracuse
83 South Florida
102 Cincinnati
127 Providence
128 Marquette
177 Seton Hall
199 Pittsburgh

Let's be honest, in the world of conference realignment three years feels like a century so who knows what the conference landscape would be if the Huskies find themselves in a Big East like the one listed above in 2015. It would make it even more important for UConn's non-conference schedule to be among the very best in the nation.

Right on cue, UConn president Susan Herbst released a statement or perhaps a plea for optimism to the UConn fan base regarding conference realignment.

Here is the statement

Dear UConn Friends and Colleagues:

It is difficult to write to you about athletics or any other conventional university items in light of the Newtown tragedy. We will never understand it; hopefully there will be some healing in the future, although that seems very far off right now. I ask that you consider giving one of the greatest gifts of all to the survivors of Sandy Hook Elementary: the opportunity to attend a top research university like ours. Please make a gift to a young child, so that he or she might have the honor of being a Husky some day. CLICK HERE

As you know, conference realignment continues at a rapid pace and UConn has new challenges we must face. I do not know when or how things will settle; no one does. There is more change to come that will reshape the landscape yet again. I assure you that the BIG EAST presidents are both unified and optimistic, working to strengthen the conference in imaginative ways that will see us through to a bright future for our students, coaches, and fans. Commissioner Mike Aresco is an outstanding leader at an extraordinarily complex time, and our university partners represent powerful, high-quality institutions that we are proud to join with in this conference.

I realize that this is aggravating to hear, but as in all things, we can only affect what is in our control. As a result, we strive for excellence at UConn daily across all departments, something very much in our control. We stand tall at UConn and we need not beg, plead, nor despair. That is not who we are, and my reading of our university history -- from 1881 to today -- conveys the pride of every generation, in good times and bad.

There are profound concerns about the future of collegiate athletics of course. I speak often to presidents across the nation, and we are hardly alone in our worries. Even many seemingly "secure" universities are fearful of the changes to come, not only in the realm of realignment, and hope for a long-term stability that seems elusive right now.

We here at UConn have incredibly powerful and compelling teams, decades of accomplishment, joyful traditions at games, and great plans in the works, such as our men's ice hockey team entering Hockey East in 2014, the top conference in the nation, and our new building projects, like the UConn Basketball Development Center.

I know that it is difficult to read much of the internet content right now about athletics, which seems to be dominated by negativity. Many bloggers, journalists, and even fans from elsewhere would like to see UConn hurt, and hence write with a cynical tone. This flip discourse is again, not in our control. The truth is that this is a top national research university with a terrific athletics program that will flourish, no matter what conference we are in and no matter what the media chatter looks like.

I wish you could see my mail and answer my phone, to get a true sense of how dedicated and upbeat our best fans are. Far from being depressed or dragged down by negativity, they are more committed than ever before, and know that it is their very commitment that will determine our future. They know that we will be more than fine, even if there are months and maybe even years of conference uncertainty ahead. We still get to play and we still get to win. Our true fans and supporters so love our coaches and students, and enjoy their tremendous efforts on the field and court. That is what I appreciate, and what all university presidents hope for.

When it comes to athletics, I normally write to you - so often these volatile days! - about student-athletes and our need to focus on them. Again, there is much cynicism around this topic. I cannot speak for other institutions, but here at least, focusing on our students guides what we think and what we do. We care deeply about student academic success, and the pride that we feel about all of our sports is both immense and genuine.

So, Huskies: Let's all hang tough and please keep some perspective, as hard as it is in a time of great change. Win or lose, conference struggles or not, UConn is a research university. So if you are feeling low, just head to our university home page and glory in the amazing new faculty we are hiring at a rapid pace, our incredible student successes across disciplines, scientific awards and invention by our faculty, and all that matters most at your flagship university.

I was hired because I'm an optimist, and I cannot help being just that. I never see the productive value in cynicism and negativity, when there is so much to be proud of. It's a tough world out there, but you can count on me to be the Number One Cheerleader for this superb place I call home. I hope to see you at many games this year - basketball, hockey, and spring sports are not too far off, despite the temperatures out there! Support our beloved university, our outstanding coaches and students, and all really will be well.

I realize that it is difficult to have a truly happy holiday if you are at all close to Newtown or are simply touched by it, as so many are, around the world. But do please have a safe and restful break, and be thankful that we are so tightly bound to each other by this great university community.

Susan Herbst



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