There are a few things that are ingrained into the American sports fan: 1) Cheer on your team; 2) Root against the opposing team; and 3) hate your team's rival with a bitter passion no matter what.
This is why New York Yankees fans get shivers just thinking about rooting for the Boston Red Sox to win a World Series. Montreal Canadians fans deport anyone who would cheer on the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals; Los Angeles Lakers fans would rather be forced to move to Alaska than root for the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals; and in February, Chicago Bears fans caught wearing any green and gold during Super Bowl Sunday were immediately straitjacketed and sent to a mental hospital (the last story I doubt is true).
So, how is it possible that come Saturday at 8:49 p.m., when the No. 3-seeded Connecticut Huskies are scheduled to tip off against the No. 4 Kentucky Wildcats at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX., that some Syracuse Orange fans might actually be cheering on the Huskies (30-9), a fierce Big East Conference rival?
I don't have a PhD in the psychological studies of college basketball (though, I would love to have one), so I can't explain why rooting for your team's rival is acceptable as long as its takes place during non-conference contests. In fact, now more than ever this practice is encouraged.
"I don't understand," said my fiance, who is a diehard Yankees fan, to me and my friends who were watching the NCAA Tournament a few weeks ago. "You guys (who are Syracuse Orange fans) are rooting for teams in the Big East Conference? Like Pitt? Louisville? UConn? That's weird."
It's a very strange concept to explain to non-college basketball fans because it's very abnormal to hate a rival one minute and then cheer for them just days later. But that's what college basketball fans do. They root for the conference that their team is a part of as long as that team is playing out of the league. Success for one conference team is success for all -- this explains all why there was so much backlash against the Big East earning a NCAA record 11 invites to the NCAA Tournament.
It took me all season to warm up to the greatness that is UConn's Kemba Walker. At first, I just thought he was another flashy Huskies player with a lot of talent and UConn head coach Jim Calhoun was just tossing him out there 40 minutes a game to make sure his squad got on SportsCenter (though, everyone knows his team was probably going on SC anyway). Then as the season progressed and Walker's early-season numbers dwindled a bit (he went from second in the nation in scoring to about sixth by the end of the regular season) I figured, "See! He's not that good!" However, everything changed when No. 15 and the Huskies collected five wins in five days in the Big East Tournament, March 8-12, and smashed the conference record of four-in-four by the 2005-'06 Syracuse squad led by the legendary Gerry McNamara.
"That was pretty impressive", I thought to myself. "But, let's see if Walker can keep it going throughout the NCAA Tournament. There's no way he's going to last."
Four more victories later, and here I am along with the rest of the college basketball world giving a standing ovation to Walker and the rest of the Huskies for pulling off what me and most fans (including UConn's) deemed impossible. Walker, who averaged 26.1 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting in UConn's past nine victories, has been the catalyst and if I could, I'd like to take every negative thing I said back. (Sorry, Huskie fans, I was just looking through conferencing-playing goggles. The non-conference spectacles are a bit less biased).
No worries, though, the disdain for coach Calhoun and former UConn players are still there. And, if UConn were to reach the final game against either No. 11 Va. Commonwealth Rams or No. 8 Butler Bulldogs, I'd jump off the Big East Conference bandwagon in a heartbeat -- in my world, cheaters should never prosper. But, for at least a few weeks and one more game, the UConn basketball program has one more Big East basketball fan rooting them on.
Even though, it's hard to explain why.
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