2011 NCAA Tournament: How Syracuse Helped UConn Win the Title

Mike MuellerContributor IIApril 5, 2011

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04:  Kemba Walker #15 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Butler Bulldogs to win the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament by a score of 53-41 at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

First, let me say congratulations to the UConn Huskies.

Their run through the Big East and NCAA tournament was simply remarkable.

UConn was 14-0 in neutral court games this season and definitely deserved to be standing at the end.

The Huskies saved, at least, some face for the Big East who put just two (UConn and Marquette) of 11 teams through to the Sweet 16.

It was a great win for the conference and for head coach Jim Calhoun, who is now 3-0 in NCAA title games.

But what if this run never happened?

What if UConn lost in the Big East Tournament?

What if Syracuse beat the Huskies?

No one will ever know.

Fact is, UConn went on one of the best runs in tournament history and they deserved the title but I also think Syracuse helped fuel that success.

The Huskies were limping into the Big East Tournament, losing three of their last four games to Notre Dame, West Virginia and Marquette.

They had no identity and were relying too much on All-American point guard Kemba Walker.

They breezed through DePaul and Georgetown in the first two rounds of the conference tournament and had a great 76-74 win over Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals.

That set up another overtime thriller with Syracuse in Madison Square Garden.

Kemba Walker had been on a tear up to that point, scoring 78 points in his first three games of the tournament but Syracuse traditionally keeps Walker in check.

They held him to eight points in an Orange road win at the XL Center earlier this season and shut him down through the first ten minutes of their semifinal matchup.

Then Syracuse did what the Orange does best—let teams and players back into the game.

Led by Scoop Jardine, the Orange took quick shots and allowed UConn to get out in transition. That brought Walker back to life and jumpstarted the media craze for Kemba.

Walker finished with 33 points and 12 boards but more importantly led his team to a 76-71 overtime win over Syracuse.

It was a huge win in terms of confidence and really sparked their postseason run.

If Syracuse stuck to their game plan, made Walker beat them from the outside and took better shots on offense then UConn's run possibly never happens.

They most likely would have gotten a No. 4 seed in the tournament and could have traded places with teams like Louisville, Kentucky, Arizona and Wisconsin.

If you look at just two of those possible match ups for UConn, given how the tournament played out, then their run to Houston becomes a lot tougher.

Take Louisville's spot for instance in the Southwest. If they got by Morehead State and Richmond, then they are playing Kansas in the Sweet 16, not San Diego State, one of the softest No. 2 seeds I have ever seen.

If they were in the East as a No. 4 seed, the Huskies would be playing West Virginia (who they already lost to) in the second round and Ohio State in the Sweet 16.

I'm not saying the Huskies were not capable of beating either Kansas or Ohio State but their chances of winning the title would definitely have decreased with a lower seeding.

Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville all had their chances to stop UConn's run. They all contributed to the Huskies success and their run to the NCAA title.

The Orange could have brought Walker back to earth but instead they elevated his NBA draft status and solidified him as a college basketball legend.

What ifs don't mean much in sports, but you can't help but wonder.


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