To quote Bob Dylan’s epic ballad “Red River Shore”, “Though nothing looks familiar to me, I know I’ve stayed here before.”

No one would blame UCONN women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma if he identified with Dylan this morning, there’s something familiar about the surroundings for the NCAA tournament, or unfamiliar.  There aren’t a lot of familiar faces, only one other team from his own league, but he has been here before.  “It reminds me of 1995”, Geno said of the lack of respect his new league, the American Athletic Conference, received from the selection committee, “We got only two teams into the NCAA tournament and we did really well that year.”

The reference was to the year UCONN and Miami were the only Big East representatives in the NCAA tournament and the league received so little respect that Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer openly pointed to UCONN as the one team that didn’t belong when the final four arrived in Minneapolis.  That was the day before the Huskies thrashed the Cardinal by 27 points on the way to their first national championship, but Vanderveer wasn’t completely wrong.  UCONN came out of a league so weak the RPI barely showed up on the Richter scale.

“Maybe there is a little bit of a parallel”, Geno told the Valley Press going into the American Athletic Conference tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena, comparing the AAC to the Big East of 20 years ago, “But times were different then.  The Big East had just two teams in the NCAA tournament, but little by little we got better and better, we added some teams and the next thing you know, we got nine teams to the tournament.”

Geno used the phrase himself following last night’s seedings for this year’s tournament, “Deja vu”.  The AAC landed only two berths in the big dance, the rest of the league got no respect.  South Florida and Rutgers, the third and fourth seeds for the conference tournament and semifinalists at the Mohegan Sun, were left out of the NCAA field.  Louisville, which had been ranked in the top five most of the season, was relegated to the number three seed in it’s own region.  But, as he saw it with the Big East 20 years ago, Geno doesn’t feel there was a conspiracy against the AAC, the conference got pretty much what it deserved.

“I don’t know that they sat around in a room and said, ‘Lets intentionally do this to this conference or that conference’, he said last night at Gampel Pavilion, after the seedings were revealed, “I think conferences are treated as a whole, ‘Here’s your RPI, here’s what your teams did.'”

While he’s disappointed that South Florida, in particular, was left off the dance card, “I thought (they) played great down the stretch so I was really disappointed for them”, he understands that the league schedule does little for a team’s RPI, so it’s up to the teams to make that schedule tougher on their own.

“Everyone’s going to have to find a way to schedule the right games and beat the right teams”, he said, again with a flash of deja vu, “We’re going to have to do what we did back in the 90’s in the Big East.  You almost have to do it the way (the Wichita State men) did it.  If you play in a conference where the other teams are not at that level, you have to beat them all.”

20 years removed from coming out of a league that got no respect to win a national championship Geno Auriemma faces a similar scenario, only, this time, as the team to beat, the overall number one seed.  But he has been here before.   As much as he may have in common with Bob Dylan this morning, there aren’t many observers who expect Geno will be singing the blues when it’s all over.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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