NCAA Tournament: 2011 UConn Huskies Not as Good as 1999 and 2004 Huskies
The 2011 NCAA tournament defined the March Madness. It was the first time the Final Four didn't feature a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. In a year that seemed to take parody to whole another, the Huskies' 14-0 record in elimination games is even more remarkable. It began in November in Hawaii, resumed at the Big East Tournament in New York City, and culminated into a championship finish on Monday night in Houston, Texas.
That is mark that is generally associated with a team that was highly ranked in the preseason and has dominated the regular season. The Huskies failed to make the tournament the previous season, were not ranked when the season began (a fact that has been under-reported), and finished with 9-9 record in Big East play.
They are the first team to win the Final Four after being unranked in the regular season since the 2003 Syracuse Orange. All this during a season when the Big East sent 11 teams to the Big Dance.
It's not surprising a Big East won the Final Four. Teams such as Notre Dame and Pittsburgh were popular pick to win the NCAA tournament. Many people felt the Huskies were entering the tournament on an empty tank after a five-day trek in the Big East tournament and would fall in the first round, let alone make the second weekend.
They won the title with a starting lineup that included three freshmen and a sophomore. Throughout the year UConn was seen by many as a one-man band led by Kemba Walker, an East Coast version of Jimmer Fredette's BYU.
Which is the best UConn men's team ever?
This was far from the case. It would be insulting to call Jeremy Lamb a back court sidekick after the tournament he had. Although they will lose Kemba Walker, the Huskies should be back in the top 10 next year with an experienced group of players led by Jeremy Lamb. It's hard to believe he was only ranked 76th on rivals.com "Top 100 players for the 2010 recruiting class."
The 2011 UConn Huskies may be Jim Calhoun's best coaching ever, considering all the obstacles the team has gone through and the controversy surrounding the NCAA sanctions against him. Calhoun will be suspended for the first three games of the 2011-2012 season for "failing to create an atmosphere of compliance" in relation to scandal with a booster. However, this seems to be in the back of the minds of most Huskies fans at the moment.
Even with every challenge this Huskies team has overcome, they are nowhere near as good as the two previous championship-winning teams for Storrs. The 1999 and 2004 Huskies teams entered their seasons as national title contenders and played that way the entire season.
The 1999 UConn Huskies were ranked No.2 in the preseason poll and were the third overall No. 1 seed in the tournament. Richard Hamilton led the way for Calhoun's first championship by averaging more than 21 points and 44 percent field goal shooting a game.
Other than Hamilton, this squad wont be remembered for its NBA talent. Only two other Huskies, Jake Voskuhl and Khalid El-Amin, even made an NBA roster.
This team came back with a vengeance after a disappointing Elite Eight loss the previous March and had the best record in school history at 34-2. The season ended with a 77-74 victory over the Duke Blue Devils for the national title.
UConn entered the 2003-2004 preseason polls as the number one team in the country. Emeka Okafor was considered to be the best player in the nation and potentially the top pick in the NBA Draft (later was drafted second overall by the Charlotte Bobcats). They looked like the team to beat again and where coming off a Sweet 16 appearance.
However, this didn't appear to be the case for most of the year. The Huskies lost their fourth game of the season to Georgia Tech and would only hold the number one ranking for six weeks during the season.
By season's end it appeared the nation's best team once again on Tobacco Road or in all places, Palo Alto, California. After losing the Big East championship game to Syracuse, they entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed with a 24-6 record.
While two number one seeds (Stanford and Kentucky) lost during the first weekend, the Huskies showed why they were number one team in the preseason by winning their first four games by at least 16 points.
This is set up a rematch of the 1999 title game with Duke in the Final Four, in what many saw as the "de facto" national title game that season. UConn once again won in close fashion against Duke and closed the season by avenging their loss against Georgia Tech.
Emeka and Ben's team weren't as dominant during the regular season as the 1999 Huskies, but they were by far and away the more talented team. A record six players were first-round draft picks. Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon were the second and third picks of the 2004 draft. Charlie Villanueva went seventh overall in 2005. In 2006 Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone and Marcus Williams were drafted in the first round.
The talent on this team went beyond those six first-round picks. Denham Brown as a second rounder in 2006, but will always be remembered for sending the Elite Eight game against George Mason into overtime.The Huskies all-time three-point leader Rashad Anderson went undrafted, but he was a key player for the 2004 title team and second overall No. 1 seed in the 2006 tournament.
The 2004 Huskies may have been the most talented championship team, at least from an NBA perspective, since the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats.
At the moment it's fair to to say that the 1999 and 2004 UConn Huskies were more better than the 2011 edition. Even the 2006 team had more talent than this year's team. However, Rudy Gay and company don't have a banner that is hanging on the rafters of the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion.
The 1999 Huskies only lost two games the entire season and were considered a co-favorite, along with Duke, to win the title that season. The 2004 Huskies weren't as consistently dominant, but their legacy has been strengthened by sending more players to the NBA.
Perhaps, the legacy of this UConn team will improve over time. It's not out of the question for them to eventually have more NBA players (three) than the 1999 edition. Kemba Walker and his Huskies went through more obstacles than the previous two championship teams from Storrs, but at the end of the day they are the third best Huskies team ever.
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