NCAA Bracket 2011 Predictions: 7 Reasons UConn Will Win a Championship
The Connecticut Huskies have been on an absolute roll the past couple of weeks.
Between their improbable Big East tournament run and their two convincing wins in the NCAA tournament, the Huskies reeled off seven consecutive wins in a week and a half against top-notch competition (except DePaul). I would be shocked if any team has done that before.
With UConn in the Sweet 16, the question now becomes, do the Huskies have the ability to turn this roll into one of the greatest stretches in NCAA history by cutting down the nets in Houston on April 4th?
Their road would be tough, starting off with San Diego State and then conceivably running into three top seeds in Duke, Ohio State and Kansas if the favorites all win (knowing March Madness, they won't).
While I wouldn't put money on it (mine is on Ohio State), it isn't out of the question. Here are seven reasons to believe in Kemba Walker and the Huskies.
In Connecticut's last two national championships (1999 and 2004), it came out of the West Region, which is where it is now.
This is without a doubt more coincidental than anything, but it does imply something: The Huskies can win on the West Coast, where few of their fans are, making those regional games more like road games in certain cases.
This will apply in their Sweet 16 game against San Diego State, considering the regional is being held in Anaheim, which is around 100 miles away from San Diego compared to nearly three thousand from Connecticut. While it will go down in the records as a "neutral court" contest, it won't be.
2. Jim Calhoun
NCAA violations aside, this man can coach. He may not provide an "environment of compliance," but he does provide an environment of winning.
With two national championships already under his belt and over 800 wins to his credit, Calhoun has one of the better coaching résumés ever, let alone for those still coaching. Keep in mind the first championship in 1999 came as being a pretty big underdog against Duke.
It would be shocking for his team not to be prepared for each opponent it goes up against throughout the rest of the tournament.
Considering he'll be sitting out the start of next season, he'll want to continue this season as long as possible so the wait for his return to the bench won't be as long.
3. Tournament Success
Obviously there was the Big East tournament (and I can't better phrase it than so many other writers have, so I'm not going to try), but people seem to forget that UConn burst onto the national scene this year back in November at the Maui Invitational, where the Huskies beat Wichita State, then No. 2 Michigan State and then No. 9 Kentucky on consecutive days.
UConn wasn't really expected to beat Wichita State in the first round, let alone knock off two Top 10 teams in consecutive days. They were a projected middle of the road team that would just get into the NCAA tournament in the preseason.
It was there that Kemba Walker became the household name he is now.
With two esteemed tournaments already down, why not make it a trio of titles? They've proven they can win on consecutive days against top-notch competition, so this wouldn't be something completely foreign to this squad.
4. Improving Supporting Cast
With all of the talk about Mr. Walker (more on him later), fans, including myself, have been neglecting the young supporting cast around Kemba that has improved throughout the season.
Sophomore Alex Oriakhi has shown flashes of being a dominant big man down low. He's averaging close to a double-double on the season (10 points and nine rebounds) while being the only big man that starts.
Also, when Oriakhi gets that double-double, the Huskies are 9-1 on the season. When he's in double figures in either category, they're 22-3. Translation: When Oriakhi gets into double figures, the Huskies are incredibly tough to beat.
The rest of the primary supporting cast is made up of freshmen Roscoe Smith, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier. Only Smith was highly regarded coming out of high school, but all three have done what typical freshmen do in their first season: struggle, show flashes of talent, struggle some more and then figure the game out enough to make solid contributions.
Lamb has cracked double figures in points in seven straight games and is the second-leading scorer. Napier has been a spark off the bench that has allowed Kemba to play off the ball more. Smith has turned into a solid rebounder (third on the team) and is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams with his size (6'8") and ability to play on the perimeter.
One of the best things about having youth is that when they're given success, their confidence goes through the roof.
Unless you couldn't figure it out from the previous slide, the Huskies are filled with youth. Only three upperclassmen see the floor (Donnell Beverly, Charles Okwandu and Kemba), while the rest are freshmen and sophomores.
These kids will be more confident than they probably should be, but it's better to be overly confident than overly nervous. With the games these guys have been through, there won't be any nerves, except maybe for the tournament final.
Also keep in mind that it is possible for incredibly young and talented teams to win it all. Calhoun simply needs to ask his buddy Jim Boeheim about that.
Quite simply the best player in the country that's played against arguably the toughest competition in the country.
While Jimmer Fredette's numbers are incredible and he will probably win POY, he didn't have to do it against Top 25 teams with NBA-caliber players on a nightly basis like Mr. Walker did this season.
The Big East has been disappointing to say the least this tournament, but that shouldn't take away from what Walker has done for this team this season.
He was the nation's leading scorer for much of the season while leading the team in assists, rebounding and steals.
The first half of the season, while the freshmen were still learning, Walker carried them to a 10-0 start. Once conference play hit, Kemba's numbers came back to the atmosphere, and the team struggled against the more experienced, and sometimes more talented, Big East opponents to finish 9-9 in the conference and 22-9 overall.
In the postseason tournaments, Kemba has averaged just over 25 points while beating six straight NCAA tournament teams.
Another four and he'll end up having one of the best seasons in the past decade.
7. Regular Season Schedule
Knock the Big East Conference all you want, but the fact UConn played against all of those teams gave it a serious advantage in that it has seen more different styles of teams than most squads who are still playing.
They played against zones (Syracuse), full-court pressers (Louisville), one-man shows (Providence and Seton Hall), balanced offenses (Pittsburgh and St. John's), small teams (Marquette), big teams (South Florida and Syracuse), dynamic backcourts (Georgetown and Villanova) and teams that will slow opponents down (Notre Dame).
Basically, they've seen it all, and that's not including their games against Michigan State (experienced), Kentucky (young) or Texas (multiple NBA players), which they all won.
The Huskies will have gone up against virtually every type of team that can be put in front of them, so don't expect Kemba and the crew to look lost against whomever they have to go through en route to a fairy-tale ending.
People thought the Huskies' Big East tournament would be the highlight of their season. Now, there's a possibility it'll only be second-best.