The groundwork for a national championship was to be laid a couple weeks ago in Manhattan, but West Virginia (more specifically, Joe Alexander) got in the way.
The pouring of the foundation was thus postponed, but even the least optimistic Husky fan assumed that construction would commence this past Friday in Florida.
But it was not the 2008 championship that this team was preparing for.
This year belongs to UCLA, North Carolina, and maybe Memphis. Husky Nation was content to concede the spotlight for a year, comfortable spending a couple weeks in the shadows, using this tournament as a springboard to a run at a third title in 2009. Alas, a torn ACL and a loss to a 13 seed has changed all of that.
The 2008-2009 preseason predictions will be stopped before they even had a chance to start, and no amount of regular-season success will mitigate the damage, since this group of Huskies simply does not know how to win a postseason game.
Missing the tournament in 2007 hurt, but it was not unexpected. The team was young, and the omission was justified. It was the promise of things to come that took away the sting.
It was obvious that the talent was there, and this team would only get better. We crossed our fingers, hoping that someone would make the leap, establish himself as a leader, and take this team to the next level. Enter: A.J. Price, who was exactly what this team needed. He was a leader on the floor, and a great point guard to boot.
Things came together in January, as the team ripped of one win after another. Even the suspension of Jerome Dyson, their leading scorer, did nothing to slow down the Huskies.
A Big East regular-season title was within reach, if only for a few weeks. The team lost its momentum, never figured out how to integrate Dyson into the new team style, and did not look the same down the stretch.
Despite this, the loss to West Virginia in the Big East tournament was surprising, but it could be justified as well. The Huskies simply ran into the wrong player at the wrong time. Certainly, coach Jim Calhoun would use the extra time to tighten up the defense before tournament time.
Forty-five minutes of court time and one torn ACL later, the Huskies are on their way home, and it is San Diego that advanced. After the upsets of both Drake and Duke, one can only wonder how far this Husky team, at full strength, may have gone.
Instead, we are left with the following: Every contributor from this year's squad will be back for another year...yet every contributor from this year's squad will enter next year without a lick of meaningful postseason experience.
The 2008 NCAA Tournament was not theirs to win, we knew this going in, but this was a chance for the young Huskies to learn what it takes to win a postseason game or two. Without Price, UConn should have found a way to get by San Diego, but it was not likely to go much further.
Once again, an opportunity to build toward a title has been lost.
Can this team win a title next year? Sure it can, but since it was not able to adjust on the fly to the loss of their leader, it will now have to learn how to win in the postseason on the fly.
It pains me to say it, but Price's recovery aside, you can't like their chances.