UConn Basketball: What Experts Say About Huskies' NCAA Tournament Chances
The UConn Huskies have overcome a lot in the 2011-12 season, most notably the health of their head coach, Jim Calhoun.
Now they’ll almost assuredly have to get past the top-ranked team in the country in the Round of 32 in order to successfully defend their national championship.
The Huskies were given a No. 9 seed, which was predicted by many of the expert bracketologists, even though they only managed an 8-10 record within their own conference. However, despite the surprisingly high seed given their record, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee made it clear to the Huskies that their notoriety and strength of schedule alone wasn’t going get them an easy ride into the Sweet 16.
As a result, Anthony Davis and the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats will likely await UConn, and that’s if they can get past the eight-seeded Iowa State Cyclones in their opening game, which is far from a guarantee.
There is always an intrigue surrounding the average teams in the power conferences at selection time, and the Big East is certainly the ultimate power conference at the moment. You could call it the SEC of NCAA basketball, as there is so much depth throughout the 16-team conference that just about any team can beat any other team on any given night, a fact that’s proven year after year in the postseason conference tournament.
For that reason, and that reason alone, UConn was given the benefit of the doubt by the committee and was almost guaranteed a spot in the tournament. Of course, it helps when you’re able to win three of your final four games and take the No. 1 seed in the East Region, the Syracuse Orange, to overtime in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.
So now that the defending champs are in the tournament, what are their chances of doing anything in it?
Can they pull off an upset over Kentucky in the round of 32?
Most experts don’t think so. In fact, every single bracket I’ve seen from a college basketball insider is picking Kentucky to make it to the Final Four, which means that UConn won’t make it past the opening weekend of the tournament.
This doesn’t mean the Huskies don’t have a shot to pull off the upset, though. As you’re about to find out, there are a few experts who feel they match up as well as anyone against the Wildcats.
Gary Parrish of CBS Sports
College Basketball insider Gary Parish focuses a lot on the potential Kentucky vs. UConn matchup in the second round, err, third round.
He seems to think that Connecticut has a decent shot against the Wildcats, as the Huskies are the only team that can go pro-for-pro against them. He makes some good points by citing the matchup between Marquis Teague and Shabazz Napier, along with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist vs. Jeremy Lamb and, of course, the freshmen big men Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond battling it out against each other in the post.
That Parrish ignores the UConn vs. Iowa State game in his tournament preview leads me to believe that he thinks the Huskies will get by the Cyclones with relative ease, which could be a mistake.
It’s true that UConn is a better team on paper than Iowa State, but the Huskies have lost a number of games to less talented teams already this season, which is exactly why they’re a No. 9 seed.
TV analyst and former baller Greg Anthony also likes how the Huskies match up with the Wildcats in terms of their roster, but he’s not picking them to pull off the upset in the Round of 32.
Anthony likes UConn’s backcourt trio of Napier, Lamb and Ryan Boatright, but he also acknowledged that they haven’t played up to their potential yet this season.
It seems as though Anthony is one of many analysts who isn’t ready to pick the Huskies to all of a sudden slip a switch and turn into the team that was ranked in the top 10 in the overall preseason rankings.
Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports
One of the few experts that’s leaning toward the Cyclones to defeat the Huskies in both teams’ first game of the tournament is Jeff Eisenberg, who runs the Dagger blog on Yahoo! Sports.
I’m not saying I necessarily agree with Eisenberg, but I will give him the respect he deserves for calling out those who are looking past the round of 64 to the potential sexy round-of-32 matchup between the storied programs of UConn and Kentucky. He particularly likes the fact that Iowa State’s two best players complement each other nicely.
Here's the problem with the potential matchup between last year's national champ and the favorite to win the title this season: There's a good chance it never happens. Iowa State's inside-outside duo of Royce White and Scott Christopherson is capable of toppling UConn in the round of 64, especially if the Cyclones slow the pace and get hot from behind the arc.
It’s hard to argue with those points. At the very least, it should be a very close contest, as the majority of No. 8 vs. No. 9 games tend to be.
Joe Lunardi of ESPN
In his comments on ESPN, college hoops insider Joe Lunardi brings up a good point that, if the Huskies can get by Iowa State, their matchup with Kentucky will essentially be a home game for the Wildcats since it takes place in Louisville.
Since Kentucky hasn’t lost in their home state all season, there’s a good chance it won’t happen against the underachieving Huskies if they face each other this weekend.
Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated
In his preview of the South Region, SI’s Andy Staples picks Connecticut as his bracket buster, which is hard to argue against given their aforementioned talent.
His best point is his reference to the fact that not many experts picked UConn to win last years’ title, but the Huskies defied the odds and did it anyway. Unfortunately, just when you think Staples is going to go out on a limb and pick the Huskies to get to the Sweet 16, he gets non-committal and states that the Huskies could also lose their opener against the Cyclones.
Few thought UConn could pull off a national title last year, but the experience many of these Huskies gained winning the tourney could tear apart some brackets this year. Of course, given its more recent history, it's entirely possible Connecticut could do something boneheaded and lose to Iowa State— an intriguing collection of transfers and under-recruited players coached by former Cyclone Fred "The Mayor" Hoiberg.
As intriguing as the Cyclones might be, I’m much more intrigued by the prospect of a Connecticut team that’s just as capable of going to the Final Four as it is of losing in the round of 64.
It should be a very interesting tournament for Jim Calhoun’s boys in 2012.