UConn enters Selection Sunday playing its best ball in months, quite possibly its best of the season.
The Huskies endured a pretty brutal regular season to make the NCAA tournament (at least we’re 99 percent sure). In the end, that’s all that matters. As we learned last year, anything can happen in the postseason.
Ryan Boatright (AP)
Now, am I saying UConn is going to the Final Four? Probably not.
To this point, all UConn has proved is that it can lose to a great team by two or three points. But the Huskies can hang with anyone, and if they make a few extra plays (or the high-seed makes a few extra mistakes), it’s possible they win some games in the tournament.
High point: Looking back, UConn’s best win was probably against Florida State in the Battle 4 Atlantis consolation game. I’ll still go with the win over Notre Dame on the road, though. The Huskies got production from Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith as Ryan Boatright sat out.
Low point: (tie) The late-season loss to Providence was horrible for two reasons: UConn led by 14 and, at the time, it really, really needed a win. The other low-point was the Louisville loss, which was just an utter disaster in the second half. UConn trailed by as many as 30.
MVP: Jeremy Lamb. He hasn’t been UConn’s best player at all times — Boatright and Shabazz Napier have also had their moments — but Lamb has been the most consistent.
There is no Cinderella in this year’s Big East tournament.
Yes, Louisville (the No. 7 seed) is, technically speaking, an underdog, but the Cardinals’ NCAA tournament status was never really in question. Four Big East teams entered the tournament with NCAA uncertainty. Let’s look at how each one fared at the Garden:
Jeremy Lamb (AP)
Big East tournament: Defeated DePaul 81-67, defeated West Virginia 71-67 (OT), lost to Syracuse 58-55
Record: 20-13 (8-10 Big East)
Quality wins: at Notre Dame, vs. Harvard, vs. Florida State, vs. West Virginia (twice), vs. USF
Bad losses: at Rutgers, at Providence, vs. Central Florida, at Louisville (by 21), at Seton Hall
Top 50 record: 6-8
Eyeball test: UConn is playing its best ball of the season. Huskies are 0-3 vs. Syracuse, but have showed they can hang with nation’s elite teams.
Status: In. Expect UConn to be an 8/9 seed…a dangerous one, at that.
Big East tournament: Defeated Villanova 56-47, Lost to Notre Dame 57-53 (in a shootout by USF standards)
Record: 20-13 (12-6)
Quality wins: at Louisville, vs. Cincinnati
Bad losses: at Georgetown (by 30), vs. Old Dominion, at VCU (by 23), at Auburn
Top 50 record: 2-9
Eyeball test: It’s not pretty, but the Bulls get the job done. USF routinely holds opponents below 50 points, although it did let Notre Dame explode for 57. The Bulls do not have one player averaging double-figure points.
Status: Last four in. The Bulls had an easy Big East schedule (doubled up on Providence and beat Villanova three times), so their record is a little misleading.
Kevin Jones (AP)
Big East tournament: Lost to UConn 71-67 (OT)
Record: 19-13 (9-9)
Quality wins: vs. Georgetown, vs. Kansas State, vs. South Florida, vs. Cincinnati
Bad losses: at Pitt, at Kent State, at St. John’s
Top 50 record: 4-8
Eyeball test: WVU picked up a big win to close the regular season at South Florida, but won just four of its last 12 games.
Status: In…depending on what else happens around the country. The Mountaineers really could have used one win at the Big East tourney.
Big East tournament: Defeated Providence 79-47, lost to Louisville 61-55
Record: 20-12 (8-10)
Quality wins: vs. Virginia Commonwealth, vs. UConn, vs. Georgetown, vs. West Virginia
Bad losses: at Villanova, vs. Rutgers, at DePaul
Top 50 record: 4-7
Eyeball test: Not good. The Pirates annihilated Providence, 79-47, in the first round of the Big East tournament, but that hardly makes up for a 28-point defeat at DePaul to close the regular season. The Pirates have stumbled since blowing out Georgetown on Feb. 21.
Status: Out. Seton Hall will be the most nervous Big East team Sunday night.
UConn shouldn’t be too anxious, though, because it almost certainly played its way into the NCAA tournament in the past week.
But, the question was inevitable. Someone, at some point in the press conference, was going to ask Jim Calhoun “Do you think you’ve done enough to make the NCAA tournament?”
Jim Calhoun (AP)
And when that inquiry popped up, Calhoun briefly exhaled and said “well, let’s see.” What ensued was a five-minute rant, which at times was naturally sarcastic, in defense of UConn’s resume.
“Twenty-two of our games were against top 100 competition,” Calhoun said. “That’s not a very good schedule, but they say it’s No. 1 in the country.”
“I remember early in the season, UConn playing a poor schedule,” he continued. “Who’s poor? Florida State? I just went through the teams they said we weren’t playing, and then I looked what what the people in the Big East who were so kind to give us Syracuse twice.”
Make that three times.
‘Cuse moves on to the Big East semis while UConn awaits it fate on Selection Sunday. Here’s the Huskies’ updated tournament resume:
RECORD: 20-13 (8-10 Big East)
BEST WINS: at Notre Dame, vs. Harvard, vs. Florida State, vs. West Virginia (twice)
WORST LOSSES: at Rutgers, at Providence, vs. Central Florida, at Louisville (by 21), at Seton Hall
TOP 50 RECORD: 6-7
EYEBALL TEST: Getting better. UConn has “turned the corner,” according to point guard Shabazz Napier, and is undoubtedly playing its best ball of the season as the Big Dance approaches.
ESPN — No. 9 seed vs. No. 8 Memphis (Oh, and it gets better. Joe Lunardi has the Huskies in Louisville….and the No. 1 seed in that bracket is Kentucky. So, essentially, UConn would be playing two road games to get into the Sweet 16).
CBS — No. 10 seed vs. No. 7 Vanderbilt (Jerry Palm has Ohio State as the No. 2 seed in UConn’s region).
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
CBS: “It’s already begun, with people tossing around the name “Kemba” after the UConn Huskies have reeled off two wins in the Big East tournament. It’s in reference to last year’s ridiculous run to the tourney crown, but this isn’t the same team. Jim Calhoun knows it and so do veterans like Alex Oriakhi, who was around for last year’s memorable five victories in five days. That team was fun to watch. This team is a complete enigma.” — Jeff Goodman
UConn gave Syracuse all it could handle for a third time and, once again, fell short.
Five-minute spurts hurt the Huskies in the two regular season meetings (Cuse outscored them 31-1 in two big runs that took less than 10 minutes).
Andre Drummond and Shabazz Napier (AP)
Thursday’s Big East quarterfinal was no different: UConn went 7:08 without a field goal. In that span, the Huskies were outscored 10-2 and subsequently surrendered the lead. They never got it back.
“I think we let them get away with this game more than the game at Gampel,” said UConn point guard Shabazz Napier. “We didn’t do what we were supposed to do at the end of the game, which is what the great teams do.”
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance,” Napier said. “We were up, we acted like we had won the game. We should have played better on offense and dug down deeper on defense. We let up — pretty bad.”
* Syracuse seems to bring out the best in Andre Drummond. The big fella went for 14 and 10 Thursday and had a RIDICULOUS dunk that I will later find on YouTube. He also battled on the boards, which wasn’t the case against West Virginia in the second round.
“We were disappointed in him yesterday,” said coach Jim Calhoun. “….I really got into him privately about, I don’t care what he does, he has to compete. And he competed today.”
* UConn’s three-game winning streak was snapped, but it came away from the Big East tournament in a “good place,” Tyler Olander said.
“We’re starting to have fun,” Napier said. “Team chemistry comes from having fun and doing the things that friends do. We all finally started to have fun when coach came back and we started feeling like a big family.”
* Jim Boeheim had high praise for UConn for the third time this year.
“I would be shocked if Connecticut didn’t win two games in the NCAA tournament — at the minimum,” Boeheim said.
For what could be the last time, old rivals Syracuse and UConn will tango at Madison Square Garden in the Big East tournament.
Whether you can watch the game or not, follow along below and chime in with your own insights as Hearst Connecticut Media Group UConn beat writer Kevin Duffy (from MSG) and friends live blog the proceedings starting 15 minutes before the noon tipoff.
Just click the “play” button below to join the chat and follow along as the Huskies try to improve their NCAA tournament standing and advance to the conference semifinals by knocking off the No. 2 Syracuse Orange.
There’s no doubt yesterday’s UConn-West Virginia thriller was one of the most memorable games in the Huskies’ Big East tournament history.
There wasn’t a conference title on the line, but in a rarity for a UConn program unaccustomed to being on the Bubble, there may have been something more important at stake — a spot in the Field of 68.
That got us thinking: Which UConn Big East tournament game was the most memorable?
Was it a Ray Allen-led UConn team, boosted by freshman Ricky Moore’s 20 points, beating Allen Iverson-led Georgetown for the 1996 title? Donyell Marshall scoring a tournament record 42 points in 1994 against St. John’s? UConn being on the losing end of a six-overtime epic against Syracuse?
We came up with 10 nominations. Read through them and vote in the poll to pick the top one:
* The six-overtime game: UConn falls to Syracuse in an epic battle in the 2009 quarterfinals.
* Kemba Walker buries a step-back jumper at the buzzer to beat Pitt in last year’s quarterfinal, providing the signature moment in UConn’s improbable title run.
* Ben Gordon finishes the 2004 tournament with a then-record 80 points, leading UConn to a 61-58 win over Pitt in the title game and setting the stags for the Huskies’ second national title.
* Taliek Brown hits a 30-footer at the shot-clock buzzer to help send UConn past Pitt in the 2002 title game.
* The 1996 title game: Moore and Kirk King led the scoring attack for most of the game, and Ray Allen shot a wild, off-balance leaner that bounced around the rim and through the net as UConn outlasted the Hoyas for its second Big East championship.
* Marshall goes off for a record 42 points in the 1994 quarterfinal against St. John’s.
* The Beginning of an Era: Bridgeport’s Chris Smith, now the head
coach at Kolbe Cathedral, led UConn to a 78-75 victory over Syracuse in the 1990 Big East title game. It was the first of seven conference titles.
* McNamara burns Huskies: Five years before Kemba Walker propelled UConn
to the title, Gerry McNamara led the ninth-seeded Syracuse to an unlikely conference title of its own. McNamara led the Orange past UConn, 86-84, in the quarterfinals.
* Freeman wins MVP – Always regarded as an unsung hero, junior forward Kevin Freeman, now a member of the UConn coaching staff, was named the 1999 Big East tournament most valuable player. The Huskies routed St. John’s, 82-63, in the final.