Last year's national champion Connecticut Huskies will start their defense of the title against Iowa State in an 8-9 matchup in the NCAA tournament on Thursday.
Despite losing their best player to the NBA, the Huskies were supposed to compete for a Big East title and be near the top of the rankings all year. Inconsistent play and Jim Calhoun's health problems left the team in a state of flux, but they were able to do enough to get a decent seed in the tournament.
The Cyclones had a strong regular season, finishing third in the Big 12, but a poor showing against Texas in the conference tournament likely dropped them down a line or two. A victory over the defending champions would be a big confidence boost for this team.
Who Will Win This Second-Round Matchup?
Where: KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY
When: Thursday, March 15 at 9:20 p.m. EDT
Betting Line: Iowa State (-1.5), according to Vegas Insider
Key Injuries (via Chicago Tribune)
Day-to-Day: G Brendan Allen (Ankle)
Out: C Michael Bradley (Ankle)
No injuries listed.
Connecticut's Keys to Victory
The biggest problem that the Huskies have had this year is consistency, which stems from a lack of interest they seem to show at certain points.
Based on talent alone, there is no way that the Huskies are a No. 9 seed. But when you fail to perform up to your potential that is what happens.
Jim Calhoun is back and ready to get his team focused on the task at hand. They had another good run through the Big East tournament, so the momentum is starting to swing in their direction.
Iowa State's Keys to Victory
When the Cyclones are making shots, they are hard to beat. If they struggle to put the ball in the basket and control the tempo of the game, they try too hard and that is when they run into trouble.
They have to start the game fast, which will get their confidence high and have the Huskies questioning themselves.
This is their first tournament since 2005, so they can't get overwhelmed by the stage and team standing across from them.
What They Are Saying
Head coach Jim Calhoun may not have been pleased with his team's performance in the regular season, but he does feel that they are starting to peak at the right time.
From the Hartford Courant:
One of the reasons I think we do well in tournaments is because we play with a little different attitude. We don’t have anything to lose. ... In my opinion, we’re going to play next week someplace, but we’ve got a hell of a lot to gain. ... We’re going to really show some people we’re pretty good.
Talent often shines in the NCAA tournament, and the Huskies have a lot of it. They haven't put it all together yet, but if ever there was a time, this would be it.
Most Important Player to Watch: Connecticut G Jeremy Lamb
The Huskies are going to go as far as Lamb takes them. He has to be this year's version of Kemba Walker. That is a lot of pressure to put on anyone's shoulders, but it is what he asked for by taking over as the leader on offense.
It has been proven that when Lamb struggles, the rest of the team follows suit. In games when he scores 12 points or less, the Huskies are just 2-4.
Lamb has to be a star in order for Connecticut to win this game.
Key Matchup: Scott Christopherson vs. Jeremy Lamb
Christopherson is the most dynamic scorer for Iowa State. He can stop and pull up from beyond the arc, or drive in the lane for an easy jumper.
Lamb doesn't have the outside shooting touch like Christopherson, but he is a more athletic player and can do more on offense. He grabs rebounds and has gotten better at getting his teammates involved.
Whichever star player does a better job of controlling the game will lead his team to victory.
Connecticut started to play up to it's potential in the Big East tournament. The momentum will continue in the first round.
UConn 73, Iowa State 69