For the first time in the 14 month history of Tailgate Review, we are going to interact with folks from the other side of the lot in the month of April! Well, at least the game we are discussing is going to take place in the 4th month. We are heading to the frigid northeast this afternoon to the gloomy city of Storrs, Connecticut to visit with the beautiful fans of the University of Connecticut. As we have done for the first game of all 3 weekends of the tournament, TGR is exchanging Q&A’s and posts with a site affiliated with our opponent. Today, Matthew Farrell of UCHuskies.com has granted us his presence and knowledge on a very important subject, Operation Odyssey Dawn. Actually, he didn’t answer my question about that subject, instead choosing to criticize my intelligence, but he is a hell of a guy. Head over to his site and learn all you can about UConn basketball, baseball, an football. I promise it will benefit you down the road of life!
I present to you, our conversation, enjoy…
RAP: The run the Huskies are on is one of the most impressive streaks in recent memory. Has Connecticut ever experienced a more exciting few weeks in it’s history?
MF: As a college sophomore, I was a year away from being born for the 1990 “Dream Season”, but this is what older generations of UConn fans constantly point back to. This was the very beginning of our prominence on the national level, and in the Sweet 16 featured one of the most difficult and clutch buzzer beaters of all time—Cats fans who haven’t seen it should Youtube “The Shot Tate George” to see this unbelievable ending.
RAP: Will UConn’s hammering of the cats in Maui have any effect on what will happen Saturday night in Texas?
MF: None whatsoever. Jeremy Lamb, who is truly our Robin to Kemba Walker’s Batman in this tournament, was a non-factor in the Maui tournament. Likewise, UK’s Josh Harrelson didn’t weigh in much back in November but is clearly a force to be reckoned with now. If we beat you guys Saturday, it will be because we’re a better team than you now, not because we were better than you in Hawaii.
RAP: John Calipari has never been implicated in any NCAA investigation, yet, he is constantly criticized in the media as a “rogue”. Jim Calhoun has been suspended by the NCAA for violations. Why does Calhoun get a pass in the national media?
MF: Calipari has had two programs’ Final Fours taken away and bolted each time…even if there’s nothing on his record, people are able to put two and two together. As a coach it’s not just about you but how you represent your program, and obviously both of those previous programs have had severe NCAA trouble stemming from his tenure. But Calipari isn’t alone in negative media attention—Calhoun hasn’t been even close to getting a pass. I’ve seen a lot of national outlets take shots at him throughout this season—he’s getting it just as bad as your coach.
RAP: If Kemba walker does not advance any further in this tournament, how will he be remembered by UConn fans over time?
MF: He’ll be remembered for having the greatest individual season ever by a Husky, and by leading one of the team’s most fun-to-watch seasons ever. It’s not just the numbers for Kemba—but the amount of clutch shots he has hit and the fiery passion he has. And something about his dominance leading the way for five freshmen and two sophomores has given this UConn team an identity we may never see again. There is no doubt he is our greatest of all time for a single season. Long term, we’ll have to step back and see.
RAP: It has not helped the men in Tennessee having a stud women’s program in basketball. How does Geno Auriemma’s success affect UConn’s men’s program? If at all?
MF: I think the effect is pretty minimal. When the UConn men are winning, campus is fired up. When they’re not, we’re all disappointed, and the women’s success doesn’t act as much of a consolation. I have a lot of appreciation for what the women are doing but they don’t interfere one bit with my passion for the men’s team. I’m sure their success inevitably brings the school benefits with revenue and exposure, but Calhoun’s squad fuels the fire for most of campus.
RAP: With Kentucky not making the Final Four since 1998, how is UK and it’s program viewed by young east coast fans like yourself?
MF: While growing up, Kentucky always seemed to be among the crowd of the elite, but never really stood out above say Duke, UNC, or Michigan State. But with John Wall and company coming in last year, the program really started to rise up in terms of national attention. I attended the UConn/UK game at the Garden that December and was shocked at how well Kentucky fans traveled—even in midweek in the winter. We essentially played a road game in a city close by.
RAP: Would you consider Rick Pitino to be the slimiest coach in the Big East? If he isn’t, who is?
MF: I know the answer you want and as much as I wish I could avoid it; he has to be the guy. Something about his craftiness on the bench makes me respect him as a tactician, but be terrified of him as an opponent. If hair gel is a factor in sliminess, though, Steve Lavin of St. Johns is right up with Pitino.
RAP: Matt from Winchester asks…Does your coach suffer from chronic constipation, or is that his natural facial expression?
MF: Matt—Unfortunately, he does. We try not to make it a laughing matter up here—it’s a harmful side effect of winning two national championships and we can’t seem to find a solution.
RAP: Patrick from Tampa asks…Do you think Geno (the women’s coach) is as big of a douchebag as the rest of the country thinks he is?
MF: Patrick—probably not, because there is no way he can fully live down to the miserable thoughts outsiders have of him. But his personality does get to be a pain—I have to respect him for his success as a coach, but I’ll never get why he seems to think women’s basketball will ever have anything close to the attention of guy’s hoops. Men’s basketball is what America cares about, Geno, with the women always an afterthought. Deal with it.
RAP: The Big East received 11 bids to this years tournament. At the end of the first weekend, only two moved on. Is Charles Barkley right, was the Big East “turribly” over-rated this year?
MF: The Big East chose one weekend to act overrated all season. Unfortunately, it was the first weekend of March Madness, but that doesn’t diminish the amazing success the conference had all year. Remember—none of our bids were even bordering the bubble, so all eleven teams were comfortably in, and rightfully so with their marquee wins and solid resumes. Plus, our two Sweet 16 teams both finished in the bottom half of the league. Regardless of how many teams your league has, that is an astonishing stat.
RAP: Jay-Z joined the Kentucky team in the locker-room after they defeated North Carolina on Sunday afternoon. If UConn wins this year’s title, who would be the most likely artist to appear in the Huskies locker-room afterwards?
MF: Jay-Z, of course. No offense, but I’m sure the rapper’s loyalty to New York trumps his respect for Kentucky. And there’s no bigger rep of NYC basketball at this moment than Kemba Walker, especially with his iconic performance in the Garden three weeks ago. If HOV is in Houston, I’m sure he’ll congratulate Kemba if we get the W.
RAP: Red Sox or Patriots?
MF: How about Yankees and Giants? Connecticut is totally divided on sports, especially central CT where our campus is. That makes it a really fun place to live as a sports fan. When it comes to my friends, they’re all pretty much 50/50 on New York or Boston teams. It makes it really fun to trash talk, that’s for sure.
RAP: If you were Jim Calhoun, how would you game plan against Stacey Poole, Jr.?
MF: Looking at his stats, he appears to be a matchup nightmare. Hopefully we can get him in foul trouble, because that seems like it’s the only way to get him on the bench. We can assure you coach Calhoun is centering most of his gameplan around stopping this diaper dandy.
RAP: You have watched Kemba Walker play all season, dominating for the most part. If you were coaching against him, how do you slow him down?
MF: There’s only one real way to try to slow him down—clamp down on everyone else and take your chances with one guy on him. If you double Kemba, he’ll burn you—there’s not many better at splitting the double and of late, he is also fine with utilizing teammates. K-Walk can get his shot off no matter what; you just need to hope they’re not falling. That worked for teams a lot during our 4-7 stretch to close the season, but he’s shooting percentages have gone way back up on this winning streak. Also on this streak, Kemba has been lights out at the free-throw line, both getting there and making them. That’s something the Kentucky D will need to be aware of.
RAP: Tell us about yourself, your site, and your roll in Operation Odyssey Dawn…
MF: I’m a sophomore at UConn and CT native, and it’s been a pretty crazy ride sports-wise so far in my limited college career. Both the basketball and football team had some heartbreaking losses last year, but we balanced it out with a win at Notre Dame in football and a court-storming beatdown of #1 Texas in basketball last year. You can bet campus was absolutely wild for that. This year, it’s been unreal. The football team is headed to the BCS, the women and men to Final Fours, and even our baseball and soccer teams have enjoyed stretches in the top 10 nationally. It’s a real exciting time to be a Husky.
UChuskies.com is our site, and Michael Grant and Patrick Hopkins have been running it and it’s been a privilege to be on board this year and give their site a student perspective. Check out the page and maybe you’ll find some strategies for Big Blue, based on what we’ve done in some of our recent games. As for my “roll” in the operation, I think you mean “role.”
Don’t do too much more to make us in the Northeast wonder too much about SEC literacy.