The smoke has finally cleared from the last two rounds of this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and while there were a pair of unexpected gate-crashers into this year’s Final Four—with No. 7 seed Connecticut winning the East Region and No. 8 Kentucky claiming top honors in the Midwest—the Huskies have drawn the longest odds to keep the party going by winning it all, according to odds from Doc’s Sports.
The following are five reasons why Connecticut does have what it takes to cut down the nets next Monday night in Arlington, Texas.
5. The Huskies Are Flat-Out Hot
Many a championship in sports has been won on the heels of unstoppable momentum, but that force tends to grow even stronger from a team that nobody ever saw coming. It is no big surprise that oddsmakers have opened the Huskies at +700 to win this tournament while naming Florida the clear favorite at -110 (Kentucky is listed at +250 and Wisconsin is a +325 third favorite).
Connecticut could manage only a third-place finish in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference, which featured Louisville (for just one season), a bunch of misfits from the redesigned Big East and some defections from Conference USA. The Huskies went on to win twice as many games as they lost (12-6) in regular the regular season, and they were bounced from the AAC Tournament with a 71-61 loss to Louisville as eight-point underdogs. Remember, it is not how you start—it is how you finish.
4. Expect Big Things from Big-Time Players
Whenever a Cinderella team goes on a long and unexpected run in this tournament, the inside story is usually about a team coming together to exceed its abilities. You could probably make a strong case that Connecticut underachieved this season with the likes of Shabazz Napier and—to a lesser extent—DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright. There is some serious star power on this team, and it has already proven that it can stand toe-to-toe with any team it faces.
Napier has been a force throughout the Huskies first four games of this tournament, with 24 points or more in three of the four contests while adding a total of 24 rebounds and 18 assists. Daniels and Boatright combined for 23 points and 10 rebounds in Connecticut’s stunning 60-54 victory over Michigan State in the Elite Eight.
3. Been There, Done That
I can vividly remember watching the first few rounds of the 2011 Big East Tournament when UConn had to get by teams such as DePaul and Georgetown just to get into the quarterfinal round. I also remember how the Huskies beat Louisville in the title game as three-point underdogs before heading into the NCAA Tournament.
From there, they took out teams like Arizona and Kentucky to land in the national title game against another huge upstart, Butler. It did not matter which of those teams won that game, as history was going to be made either way, but what impressed me the most was the way that UConn’s Kemba Walker put his team on his shoulders and carried it all the way to a National Championship.
2. Stats Do Not Lie
The Huskies definitely have some star power on their side, but overall they are a deep and talented team that is extremely well coached. The legacy of Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun is alive and well in Connecticut under the watchful eyes of current head coach Kevin Ollie, who took over the reins in 2012.
His team comes into the Final Four averaging 76.8 points per game in this tournament, which is an uptick from a season average of 71.9 points per game. The Huskies shot 44.8 percent from the field this season, but in a key win over No. 3 Iowa State in the Sweet 16 they shot 52 percent from the floor and 47.4 percent from 3-point range. Defensively, UConn has allowed an average of 63.7 points per game, but it put the clamps on Michigan State by holding the Spartans to 54 points and 39.1 percent shooting from the floor.
1. Twice Is the Charm Against the Gators
One of the main reasons why Connecticut’s odds to win this tournament are so high is a rematch against No. 1 Florida in Saturday’s semifinals. Sure, the Gators have won their last 30 straight to improve to 36-2 on the year. And sure, they have breezed through this tournament with four double-digit victories.
But anyone who follows college basketball is well aware that one of those two Gators losses came at the hands of Connecticut in a 65-64 loss on Dec. 2 as four-point road underdogs. You always hear about how hard it is to beat a team twice in the same season, especially one as good as Florida, but in this case it actually benefits the underdog Huskies. Sometimes knowing you can do something helps to eliminate any potential stumbling blocks that may be in the way of actually getting it done.