Different Type of Challenge

Now we know the exact task ahead of the Connecticut men's basketball team in 2012-13. Banned from the Big East Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament in 2013 because of past academic deficiencies, the regular season schedule means everything to the Huskies.

That schedule was released Wednesday after the Big East office completed its gigantic jigsaw puzzle known as the conference schedule.

Yes, things will be different around Storrs this season for the three-time NCAA champions from UConn.

There are some big conference matchups still worth the anticipation. Louisville, coming off another Final Four appearance under coach Rick Pitino, will visit the XL Center for a Big Monday showdown on Jan. 14. UConn's final Big East game at Pittsburgh will follow on Jan. 19. And Syracuse, perhaps UConn's greatest rival in Big East history, will make its final appearance as a Big East opponent in Hartford on Feb. 13, also at the XL Center in Hartford.

Syracuse and Pitt will both exit the Big East after the 2012-13 season, packing their bags and heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference. In the past 10 years, UConn and Pitt staged some classic matchups during the regular season and especially in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.

"Who would have thought that would have developed into a rivalry?" Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said recently. "UConn and Pitt? Ten years ago no one would have thought that. It's amazing. Did we ever not have a great game? They were all close."

The season opener against Michigan State on Nov. 9 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany highlights UConn's non-conference schedule. It will be the first NCAA regular season game to be played in Europe. The Huskies will return home to play Vermont at Gampel Pavilion Nov. 13 before heading to the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Nov. 16-19. The Huskies open that tournament against Wake Forest.

Here are some quick thoughts on UConn's schedule:

- The non-conference schedule is one of the best since Jim Calhoun became coach in 1986. And why not? Without postseason play, the Huskies need some challenges and incentive. Playing top name programs from other conferences is the recipe for that motivation. In addition to Michigan State and Wake Forest, the Huskies will play North Carolina State in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, Harvard, Fordham and Washington.

After playing Wake Forest in the Paradise Jam, the possible opponents for the Huskies include Iona, Quinnipiac (coached for former UConn assistant Tom Moore), New Mexico, George Mason, Mercer or Illinois-Chicago.

- The Jimmy V Classic (Dec. 4, 9 p.m., ESPN) will be an emotional contest. The tournament is played to assist the Jimmy V Fund for cancer research and honors the late Jim Valvano. The nation knows Valvano led N.C. State to a national championship. But Valvano was an assistant coach at UConn under Dee Rowe, one of the last people to visit Valvano before he passed away from cancer.

When I wrote my book, "University of Connecticut Basketball Vault: The History of the Huskies," Rowe told me how much Valvano meant to him. Together for the 1970-71 and 1971-72 seasons, Rowe leaned on Valvano often as those two teams combined for 18 wins and 31 losses.

"I would have jumped off a bridge into the Connecticut River if it weren't for Valvano keeping me sane," Rowe said. "There was only one guy like him. He had such a passion for the game."

- Former UConn player and assistant coach Steve Pikiell brings his talented Stony Brook team back to Storrs on Nov. 25.

- It will be Huskies vs. Huskies when Washington visits the XL Center on Dec. 29.

- UConn will play an 18-game home schedule, including exhibitions against AIC and UMass-Lowell. Ten games will be at the XL Center in Hartford and eight at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.

- UConn opens the Big East season Jan. 1 at Marquette. The Huskies play repeat games (home and away) against DePaul, Cincinnati, Providence and USF in the Big East.

-And without postseason play of any kind, we know for sure, without a doubt, that the season will end March 9 at Gampel Pavilion against Providence.

"Within every game, that could be our own little championship," Calhoun said last week when asked about setting goals for this team. "Getting better every day can be our own victory. We're sitting on 25 straight [winning seasons]. You don't want to be the team that doesn't make it 26."

UCONN'S 2012-13 SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TV SITE TIME

NOVEMBER

Thu 1 AIC (exhibition) Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn. TBA

Sun 4 UMass-Lowell (exhibition) XL Center, Hartford, Conn. TBA

9 Armed Forces Classic Ramstein Air Base, Germany

Fri 9 vs. Michigan State ESPN Ramstein Air Base, Germany 5:30 pm

Tue 13 Vermont TBA Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn. TBA

16-19 U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Fri 16 vs. Wake Forest CBS Sports Network 6:30 pm

Sat/Sun 17/18 vs. Iona or Quinnipiac TBA TBA

Mon 19 vs. New Mexico or George Mason

or Mercer or Illinois-Chicago TBA TBA

Sun 25 Stony Brook TBA Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn. TBA

Thu 29 New Hampshire TBA XL Center, Hartford, Conn. TBA

DECEMBER

4 Jimmy V Classic Madison Square Garden, New York

Tue 4 vs. North Carolina State ESPN Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y. 9:00 pm

Fri 7 Harvard TBA Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn. TBA

Mon 17 Maryland-Eastern Shore TBA XL Center, Hartford, Conn. TBA

Fri 21 Fordham TBA XL Center, Hartford, Conn. TBA

Sat 29 Washington ESPN2 XL Center, Hartford, Conn. 7:30 pm

JANUARY

Tue 1 at Marquette* ESPNU Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wis. 8:00 pm

Tue 8 DePaul* TBA Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn. TBA

Sat 12 at Notre Dame* SNY Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, Ind. 2:00 pm

Mon 14 Louisville* ESPN XL Center, Hartford, Conn. 7:00 pm

Sat 19 at Pittsburgh* ESPN2 Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, Pa. noon or 1:00 pm

Sun 27 Rutgers* SNY XL Center, Hartford, Conn. 2:00 pm

Thu 31 at Providence* ESPN/ESPN2 Dunkin' Donuts Center, Providence, R.I. 7:00 pm

FEBRUARY

Sun 3 USF* SNY Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn. 2:00 pm

Wed 6 at St. John's* ESPNU Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y. 7:00 pm

Sun 10 at Seton Hall* TBA Prudential Center, Newark, N.J. TBA

Wed 13 Syracuse* ESPN XL Center, Hartford, Conn. 7:00 pm

Sat 16 Villanova* ESPN/ESPN2 XL Center, Hartford, Conn. noon

Thu 21 Cincinnati* ESPN/ESPN2 XL Center, Hartford, Conn. 7:00 pm

Sat 23 at DePaul* SNY Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Ill. 8:00 pm

Wed 27 Georgetown* ESPN2 Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn. 7:00 pm

MARCH

Sat 2 at Cincinnati* SNY First Third Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio 2:00 pm

Wed 6 at USF* ESPNU Sun Dome, Tampa, Fla. 9:00 pm

Sat 9 Providence* ESPNU Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Conn.

*— BIG EAST Conference Opponent

All times Eastern Standard

All information as of Sept. 5, 2012 and subject to change

Remainder of game times, TV coverage to be announced later


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