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Matt Burke: UConn men's basketball is no longer 'big-time'

Rodney Purvis and the UConn men's basketball team is just 6-9 on the season.

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ESPN’s Jeff Goodman is an expert UConn troll. He knows the right buttons to push to get the fan base riled up, yes, but lately it’s been really hard to deflect any jabs he throws.

Goodman recently penned an article, “Kevin Ollie’s tenure at UConn suddenly going south,” and it actually lets Ollie off the hook pretty easy, given that the Huskies are 6-9 (6-9 !!!!!) as we approach mid-January.

It’s plain to see: the men’s basketball program is headed in the wrong direction, and it’s already a lot closer to becoming St. John’s – a former power that toils in college basketball’s abyss - than it is to becoming Duke again.

Now, a lot of this stuff is directly due to bad luck I'll admit. The conference realignment stuff involved a lifetime’s worth of bad luck for us (yes, 'us.' I’m a disgruntled alum). And there isnothing that Ollie and the Huskies can do about the injuries this season. But, let’s start with the stuff that we - alumni and fans - can control.

It might do us some good to actually, ya know, start showing up for games again. This past Sunday’s blowout win over UCF, easily UConn’s best performance of the year, was an embarrassment in terms of attendance. The announced crowd was 8,163, but there’s no way in hell there were more than 5,000 fans in the building for a game that was broadcast nationally on CBS Sports Network.

It’s not like this one was played on random Tuesday night, either. It was a 5 p.m. tip on a Sunday. What’s the excuse there? Too late? Too early? The Lord's day?

Yeah, it went head to head with a Giants playoff game, and I’d estimate that 35-40 percent of UConn basketball fans are Giants fans too. But what about Huskies fans with Patriots and Jets allegiances? What about those who don't care about pro football? There are surely more than 5,000 of you that live within driving distance of that building at 1 Civic Center Plaza.

When I was a student at UConn (yup, I’m a loser who plays the ‘in my day’ card), we often talked about how we would never be able to see a game live at Gampel Pavilion after graduation because the student section was always spoken for and the “rich people seats” were all legacy seats. Now? I can get a ticket to Wednesday night’s Temple game at Gampel for a cool $7, according to StubHub.

I get that the product on the court is awful right now, and it’d be a lot easier to show up and cheer for a nationally ranked team. But there’s a trickle-down effect of apathy from the fans to the program to the recruiting process going on here.

UConn lost out on Hamidou Diallo, one of the biggest names they’ve ever targeted, to Kentucky this past weekend. If there were a few more butts in the seats in those ugly early season losses to Wagner and Northeastern would it have made a difference in landing Diallo? Probably not. But the lack of support from fans and the lack of strong play from the team against inferior competition certainly did not help in the recruiting process.

It’s easy to imagine any of these big name high schoolers coming to Storrs and/or Hartford, sitting down for an entire game, and thinking to themselves, “Really? This is it? These guys are supposed to be big time?”

I don’t feel like we’re big time any more.

I used to look forward to the AP polls coming out each week to see if UConn had fallen out of the top five or had jumped into the top 10. In recent years, I don’t even check the polls – because I know UConn won’t have a spot there.

A spot in the top 25 used to be a birthright for us, but no longer.

Take this for instance: This time of year in 2004 we were No. 1 in the top 25 poll. In 2006, we were No. 3 in mid-January. In 2009, we were No. 4. In 2011, we were No. 10.

Even in 2014, the year of Ollie’s title, we weren’t even in the top 25 at this point in the season.

The numbers do not lie. It’s been a slow, painful decline for the men’s basketball program.

The 2014 title was great, but it masked the large issue at hand.

We’re not big time anymore.

 
 
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