With a 17-point lead and 16 minutes to play against Central Florida on Friday afternoon, it seemed like the No. 4 Connecticut Huskies were beginning to countdown to a likely matchup with No. 20 Florida State. It would be a matchup of the best two teams in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and would provide the Huskies with their toughest test of the non-conference season thus far.
Perhaps, the anticipation of that matchup came just a bit too early. From the point they were up 17, UConn went on to score just 13 points the rest of the way. The Huskies committed more turnovers (eight) than shots made (six) in the game’s final 16 minutes. They went through a disastrous six-and-a-half minute stretch late in the second half where they did not make a single shot from the floor.
As a result, UCF rallied and pulled off a signature win, beating Connecticut 68-63 to advance to the Battle 4 Atlantis title game against Harvard.
Wait, Harvard? This was supposed to be a tournament dominated by UConn and Florida State, right?
Following the tournament’s top team, Florida State mustered just 41 points in a five-point loss to Harvard. Statistically, the Seminoles were their usual selves—they held Harvard to just 27 percent shooting from the field, and forced 17 turnovers. However, this game was decided at the foul line. The Crimson got to the foul line for 24 shots, compared to just 10 for Florida State.
As a result, we have one totally unexpected matchup, UCF vs. Harvard, in the title game. We also have one much-anticipated matchup, UConn vs. Florida State, in the third place game. Nothing against Harvard, who UConn will actually play at home in early December, but the Huskies may be a bit better off in the long run for the chance to play Florida State.
Looking at the non-conference schedule ahead of them, UConn does not have a ton of games that appear to be overly challenging. Harvard and Fairfield will certainly not be easy games, and a trip to Tennessee in January may be tougher than expected as well. However, there aren’t any games against teams as imposing as Florida State that UConn will face, outside of the Big East.
Florida State—who destroyed UConn’s Big East rival Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament last year—can challenge the Huskies on offense in ways they won’t otherwise face before Big East play. For a team who's still adjusting to life without Kemba Walker, UConn needs to learn how to overcome various challenges in November and December, so they can win tough games later in the season when it matters most.
Last year, UConn won the Maui Invitational—beating Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky in three straight days. Those early-season challenges and the experience gained from them clearly helped the Huskies in both the Big East and NCAA Tournament—between which they won 11 straight games and championships in each.
This year, there's no Walker, and there isn’t quite the same level of competition in the Battle 4 Altantis as there was in Maui. However, UConn can salvage a lot of this tournament by bouncing back from a disappointing loss and making the adjustments necessary to beat a Top-25 team on a neutral floor. Neither team wants to leave the Bahamas with two straight losses.