The “PC Friars: BDTM” series (Show #4 above) features Friar fanatic reporter Brendan McGair and Warrior Friar Superfan Daniel James examining the team’s tough road in the Big East Tournament and Friar involvement in the Big Dance.
The Big East Tournament, maybe more than any other college basketball tournament, has been one of stories. Whether multi-day runs from underdogs or multiple overtimes in a single game, Madison Square Garden has played host to many tales in the Big East.
However, none are more exciting than seeing two rival teams face off against one another in this setting. A neutral court with fans from all teams picking sides, win-or-go-home stakes, and the feeling that no matter what happens, there’s going to be a new chapter between these two teams after the final buzzer sounds raises the energy – and intensity – of this tournament.
On Thursday at 2:30 in the afternoon, Big East and college basketball fans will get just that experience when the Providence Friars play the UConn Huskies.
Make no mistake, this is a rivalry at every level. The fanbases? Can’t stand each other. The coaches? No love lost once that ball goes in the air for the opening tip – and for Ed Cooley and Dan Hurley this dates back to when Hurley coached the Friars’ other rival, the URI Rams. The teams themselves? Both absolutely want to get that third win in a now best-of-three situation.
“Breaking Down The Madness:” YurView’s annual deep dive into the Big Dance begins on March 13 on YurView, Cox channel 4 in Rhode Island. See full schedule at the end of this article.
All the elements are there, and both fanbases know it.
On the one side you have the UConn Huskies. Four National Championships, plenty of NBA talent over the years, and a hall-of-fame coach that fans will remember with pride. All that means absolutely nothing when it comes to their perspective of Providence.
Sure, Husky fans will reference these accolades in discussions with Friar fans, but what’s it matter when you can’t get a team like the Friars off your backs – and the Providence fans know it? What do champion banners in the rafters matter when your focus and fixation is looking for every PC stumble and struggle? UConn fans enjoy their success, as they should, but they revel in every Friar misstep even more.
And Providence isn’t any different. UConn fans like to talk about PC as their younger sibling, but what’s it mean when little brother starts to take you on the court and put you through the woodchipper? What’s it say when you go head-to-head in recruiting battles, only to come up short to the Friars? Or when the Huskies have an unusual first round exit in the NCAAs and the Friars go to the Sweet 16?
Friar fans live for these moments of UConn anguish. When the Huskies are down, Friar fans smile. When Friar fans are the ones that get to twist the knife, all the better. And no matter the discrepancy in success between these two programs, Friar fans will never back down from a good round of smack talking.
Add to that all the little things that accumulate. Ed Cooley recently made comments in a post-game presser after a UConn loss about how the UConn fans were spoiled from the success they’ve experienced. If you know Cooley’s phrasing you know that’s an offer of praise – acknowledging how successful UConn has been, and the fans have been able to enjoy the spoils of it.
Think UConn fans heard it that way? Put it another way: if coach Hurley said the same thing, would Providence fans hear it in a positive light? Of course not, neither side would. It’s pouring a drum of gasoline on a fire that got reignited the moment UConn rejoined the Big East. Oh, and don’t even get the two fanbases started on how that separation went back in 2012.
And yet, through this rivalry, there’s joy to be found. This is what makes college basketball worth watching. Fans who have never watched either team are likely to tune in just to check out the latest chapter in the rivalry.
It’s what makes the game worth playing, watching, celebrating, and agonizing over. And it is, at the absolute core, what the Big East is all about. Intense rivalries that cover region, history, success, and most important of all fans.
I don’t know what will happen on Thursday afternoon. I do know this: my work calendar is blocked and I can’t wait to sit and watch the next chapter in the PC-UConn rivalry unfold in real time.
Brendan McGair is a sportswriter and columnist with the Pawtucket Times and the Woonsocket Call. A graduate of Providence College, McGair is a five-time recipient of the R.I. Sports Writer of the Year Award as voted by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA).
Follow McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03 and on Instagram @bwmcgair.