Men's College Basketball Nation: Connecticut Huskies
In other words, it was always going to be interesting to see what Ollie did with all this, whether he could recruit like his predecessor and how he would do so. Of the many pairs of oversized shoes Ollie has to fill, those might be the most daunting. They're certainly the most important.
The strategies may or may not be different, but the early signs are that UConn's talent pipeline is doing just fine. On Saturday, shooting guard Daniel Hamilton -- brother of former Texas star Jordan Hamilton and UTEP prospect Isaac Hamilton -- committed to Connecticut. He's the class of 2014's No. 27-ranked overall player, and as our own Dave Telep wrote this weekend, Ollie owes persistance for his commitment:
When Isaac Hamilton selected UTEP over a host of Pac-12 programs last year, the family cited a long-standing relationship with the Miners staff. As a result, when Isaac committed to UTEP, other programs not only backed off Isaac, but also Daniel. However, one of the coaches who recruited Isaac was Ollie, and he never stopped recruiting Daniel.
"He recruited me and Isaac at Crenshaw," Daniel Hamilton said. "When Isaac committed he never stopped. A lot of the coaches that recruited Isaac stopped recruiting me.
This news comes on the heels of the transfer of NC State shooting guard Rodney Purvis this spring. Purvis will sit out a year and be eligible in 2013-14, and he's the definition of an elite perimeter talent. He was the No. 20-ranked player in the 2012 class whose clear offensive talent were outshined by whatever defensive and chemistry issues the Wolfpack suffered from throughout his freshman season. Assuming Ryan Boatright sticks around for his senior season, that is a very intriguing prospective backcourt -- quick and probing with the ability to lace outside shots.
Point is, UConn might not be putting up Kentucky-level recruiting classes just yet, but they are holding their own since Ollie came. At this crucial moment in the program's history, as it tries to gain footing in a new conference landscape under a new coach, Huskies fans can know they've at least got talent going for them.
2. Baylor coach Scott Drew said Isaiah Austin has told him all along that he would take his NBA draft decision down to the final weekend. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Cory Jefferson made up his mind to stay and Austin is still quiet at this point. Drew said Austin wasn't planning on making too much of a fuss about his decision and will probably let it be known without much fanfare. But if Jefferson and Austin return, Baylor will have one of the most athletic and intimidating frontcourts in the country. Of course, they need quality guards to ensure they are a top three finisher in the Big 12 after losing Pierre Jackson from the NIT champs.
3. UConn coach Kevin Ollie wasn't sure what Shabazz Napier would do this weekend before the NBA draft deadline Sunday night. Napier should come back if he wants a chance to play in the NCAA tournament and improve his position. He would run the real risk of going undrafted if he were to declare. Napier would start out as a preseason American Conference potential player of the year with Louisville's Russ Smith, Memphis' Joe Jackson and Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick.
2. The Big Ten suddenly got incredibly younger with this week's two coaching hires -- Northwestern announcing Chris Collins and Minnesota tabbing Richard Pitino. The under-40 club will give the league a new look. The two take over programs that are striving for consistency, but both desperately need an upgrade in facilities to hang with the big boys. Collins and Pitino will need to use their youthful enthusiasm to build momentum since the dollars aren't in place for facilities they were used to -- Collins was at Duke and Pitino at Louisville and Florida before his stop at Florida International. Northwestern had been looking at Collins for quite some time. But Pitino was clearly a new name for Minnesota in the past week as athletic director Norwood Teague looked for an off-the-grid-type hire like he made at Virginia Commonwealth. Pitino got off to an impressive start in his coaching career at FIU with the upset of Middle Tennessee in the Sun Belt tournament and a chance to earn the league's automatic NCAA tournament berth. Now he'll face his toughest challenge of his career. He has a brand name in basketball, which carries weight, but will need to put together a strong staff to quickly earn the trust of his players this spring and summer. This can work at both places. Memphis, for example, has been a soaring success under Josh Pastner. Pastner led the Tigers to conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances as a young, vibrant assistant-turned-head-coach of a major program. Collins was a fit at Northwestern so there's no issue there. But give Pitino a chance to see if this could work.
3. Old Dominion looked like it was set to go to former Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton before the Monarchs and athletic director Wood Selig tabbed American's Jeff Jones. This hire came out of left field, but might end up being one of the better fits. Jones played and coached at Virginia and should be able to recruit well in the fertile Tidewater area. Jones had made American a consistent Patriot League contender, which isn't easy to do in a conference where Bucknell and Lehigh are the anchors. ODU knows who it is and wanted to gravitate toward a coach that made sense. This hire does.
1. Louisville. Don’t look now, but the Cardinals are getting hot again, as in red-hot. Louisville has won six in a row and nine of 10. The Cardinals have a shot at a Big East regular-season title and possibly a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. First, though, is the regular-season finale against Notre Dame. Expect overtime.
2. Marquette. And on the Cardinals’ heels, here come the Golden Eagles. Marquette has won three in a row and five of six to clinch a double-bye in the Big East tournament. By now we ought to expect this from the Golden Eagles, but after losing the league’s leading scorer and player of the year, it’s a pretty impressive run.
3. Georgetown. The Hoyas’ 11-game streak came crashing to an end due to (depending on your point of view) 22 turnovers or an insanely lopsided foul disparity against Villanova. It’s not the end of the world. Georgetown can still claim a Big East title and make a case for a No. 1 seed. Of course, there’s a pesky little game Saturday against rival Syracuse, officially the last league game between the two.
4. Notre Dame. The Irish have one game left. Or four, depending on how many overtimes Notre Dame and Louisville decide to play. Regardless of the result, Notre Dame is assured of a solid finish in the Big East thanks largely to Mike Brey’s ability to once again redefine his team in the wake of an injury. Without Scott Martin, Notre Dame has gone all-in on defense.
5. Syracuse. Nothing like a game against DePaul to cure what ails you. The bottom-of-the-league-dwelling Blue Demons were the perfect antidote for the reeling Orange, which had lost three in a row. Now it’s time to see if Syracuse’s issues are really solved or if that game was merely a mask. It’s time for the last dance with Georgetown.
6. Pittsburgh. The Panthers will be a very dangerous team heading into New York. With DePaul as their last game, they'll likely be riding a four-game winning streak and, most importantly, surging confidence. Credit Tray Woodall with keeping this team on track all season.
7. Villanova. Enough bubble and roller coaster. The Wildcats are in the NCAA tournament after a ticket-sealing win against Georgetown. Now it’s about momentum. Villanova has been up and down all season, and while the Wildcats have shown remarkable resiliency, a little consistency would do them a world of good.
8. Providence. That people are even asking if the Friars have a shot at an at-large bid says everything about the job Ed Cooley has done. Providence could claim its 10th league win when it faces Connecticut to finish the regular season. Regardless, the Friars head to New York as a team no one wants to play.
9. Connecticut. The wheels are coming off a little bit here for UConn, which is trying to finish out the regular season without Shabazz Napier. The Huskies have lost three in a row, including a bad loss to South Florida. Connecticut’s season is over this weekend because of APR penalties.
10. Cincinnati. The best news for the Bearcats: They get a second chance. This season went off track in the past month, with six losses in eight games. Cincinnati finishes with South Florida, but it has to hope for good things in New York to turn around its postseason fate.
11. St. John’s. And the drama continues for the Red Storm. Steve Lavin suspended leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison for the rest of the regular season due to, he said, repeated failure to live up to the team’s standards. Then a game later, St. John’s and Notre Dame exchanged haymakers in a game-ending brawl. Lost in the confusion -- a three-game losing streak.
12. Rutgers. Give the Scarlet Knights credit. Without their leading scorer and with little left to fight for, they did just that -- they fought. Rutgers gave both Georgetown and Marquette plenty to handle before eventually losing each game. The Scarlet Knights close out the season against rival Seton Hall.
13. Seton Hall. The Pirates have won just once in the month of February. After an injury-plagued season, they probably won’t mind putting this year behind them. But if there is something to motivate them, it is this -- a game against Rutgers, the team that beat them by two earlier in the season.
14. South Florida. The Bulls are doing their best to have a good finish to erase the taste of a bad season. South Florida has won two in a row heading into its finale at Cincinnati. The difference in both Bulls victories: USF scored points.
15. DePaul. The Blue Demons have assumed their customary place in the Big East standings -- at the bottom. DePaul must beat Pitt and hope USF doesn’t beat Cincinnati if it wants to crawl out of last place in the league.
1. Georgetown. While the rest of the top 25 spent the week losing on the road, the Hoyas kept winning. Georgetown did not close the Carrier Dome, but it walked out for the last time against its Big East rival with a victory and then followed it up with an impressive double-OT victory at Connecticut. Heading into the home stretch, the Hoyas have won 10 in a row and are the team to beat.
2. Louisville. No one is talking much about the Cardinals these days. That might change after this weekend, when Louisville heads to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse. The Cards have won seven of their past eight -- the lone loss to Notre Dame in five overtimes -- but also have feasted on teams they should frankly beat. The stakes are higher from here out, with the Orange followed by a desperate Cincinnati team and the Irish once more.
3. Marquette. Buzz Williams is tired of hearing that his team works hard. Fine. It plays really hard, too. It is neither an insult to the Golden Eagles' talent nor a slap to their methods to say they are a blue-collar team. It's a fact. Williams doesn’t often get the stud recruits, but he builds top players, and that is what’s happening with this team. Marquette has won three of four and remains very much in play for the Big East regular-season title.
4. Syracuse. If Jim Boeheim is lashing out at the media (again) you can bet the Orange are having some troubles. Whether it’s a masterful distraction tactic or mere frustration, it’s also telling when Boeheim goes on a postgame rant. He did it again this week after Syracuse lost to Marquette on the heels of its loss to Georgetown in front of 35,012 Orange fans. Syracuse can still win this thing but the road isn’t easy -- with DePaul sandwiched between a home game against Louisville and a road game at Georgetown.
5. Notre Dame. The Irish’s defense continues to work its mastery, limiting Cincinnati to just 41 points after holding Pittsburgh to 42. Notre Dame’s methods may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they're working, as the Irish have won four of their past five and seven of their past nine heading into what should be an interesting game at Marquette.
6. Pittsburgh. Don’t count the Panthers out just yet. After backsliding against Marquette and Notre Dame, Pitt regrouped nicely to beat St. John’s and South Florida this week. The Panthers got their defense back in order in both games and Jamie Dixon eased the offensive reins just enough to allow the Panthers to breathe.
7. Villanova. The Wildcats simply need to decide what tournament they’d like to play in for the postseason and stick to it. Villanova put itself on the right side of the bubble with a gutsy win against Marquette and then found itself teetering a game later, after losing to feckless Seton Hall. The Wildcats have two games left to prove their worth before the Big East tournament and both have some oomph -- at Pittsburgh and home against Georgetown.
8. Connecticut. As the Huskies’ season heads toward its conclusion -- with no Big East tournament in sight -- they continue to impress with their effort. UConn lost in double overtime to Georgetown but will finish above .500 in the league. Considering how limited the lineup is, that’s a big plus for the Huskies.
9. St. John’s. The roller-coaster Red Storm appear destined to finish on the same up-and-down swing they've been on all year. St. John’s is a good team, but not quite yet an upper-echelon team. That said, this young lineup could pull off an upset of sorts in the Big East tournament.
10. Providence. The league’s best turnaround goes to the Friars and Ed Cooley, who have won five of their past six and could, with games against St. John’s, Seton Hall and Connecticut, finish above .500 in the league. That’s a huge step for a rebuilding team.
11. Cincinnati. And there’s the opposite of Providence, the Cincinnati Bearcats. They don’t look like an NCAA tournament team and they aren’t playing like one either, having lost five of their past six. This is a tailspin without rhyme or reason and one that may not end anytime soon, with Connecticut and Louisville on the schedule next.
12. Seton Hall. Give the Pirates their due. Mired in a nine-game losing streak, with a roster decimated by injuries and nothing much to fight for, Seton Hall still managed to play with gumption and oust Villanova. Fuquan Edwin especially ought to be lauded; he has carried the Pirates on his back all season.
13. DePaul. The Blue Demons aren’t really 13th in the league. They are essentially tied for last but, since we have to rank even the bottom, at least give credit to DePaul for trying. The Blue Demons put up a decent first-half fight against Louisville and actually led UConn at the break.
14. Rutgers. The good news for the Scarlet Knights -- the season is almost over. The bad news -- they still have to play Georgetown, Marquette and rival Seton Hall, all without leading scorer Eli Carter. That’s almost cruel.
15. South Florida. Last week the Bulls were 329th in scoring offense; this week they're 332nd and sadly for USF, this game is predicated on scoring more points than your opponent (just a tip). The good news -- the Bulls play DePaul next so someone actually has to win.
2. If the Georgetown-Connecticut game was the last one between the two schools, the series ended with a bang. The Huskies are the big loser in fading rivalries with the Big East split after seeing quality games over the past 10-plus years with Pitt, Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, Providence and St. John's. The ACC has always said it can take schools early, and that's why I wouldn't be surprised to see Notre Dame in the ACC in 2013-14 if this split occurs. Louisville and Rutgers are stuck in the Big East and Maryland in the ACC because it's too late to change for this fall. Louisville would have to play Connecticut, Cincinnati and Memphis in 2013-14 to at least keep those rivalries going for another year before they could get split up once the Cardinals move to the ACC.
3. UCLA coach Ben Howland said he's confident that the Pac-12 can become a destination conference tournament with the move to Las Vegas, much like the Big East was in New York. There is a chance. The Pac-10/12 was never a draw at Staples Center in Los Angeles; the league has a chance with the games in Las Vegas. The Big East had something unique in New York with the players wanting to play at Madison Square Garden. The ACC missed that opportunity by playing in Greensboro, N.C., (home to an arena and not much else for a destination) and not Charlotte or another major city in the region. The SEC should probably stick to Atlanta or New Orleans. The Big Ten should have made Chicago its tournament home annually (the event is there this season) and the Big 12 makes most sense in Kansas City, Mo. If the ACC were smart and thinking long-term, it should try to get into MSG with Syracuse, Pitt, North Carolina, Notre Dame and, of course, Duke as draws every year.
2. I sat next to Jim Calhoun for Wednesday night’s Connecticut-Georgetown game at Gampel Pavilion and it was like taking a class in basketball. Calhoun was informative, analytical and calm in describing the action in front of us. He only got excited when Omar Calhoun hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation. I cannot get over how much at peace Calhoun is in his “retirement.” I wasn’t sure he would be after making the decision in the fall. But he really is in such a good space. He seems as healthy, physically and emotionally, as he has been in years.
3. Akron might not have the profile to be a lock as an at-large NCAA team, but it would be a shame if the Zips don't get a bid if they can’t win the Mid-American Conference tournament. Akron won in overtime at rival Ohio on Wednesday to go to 13-0, 23-4 overall with three games remaining. The Zips haven’t lost since Dec. 15 at Detroit, winning 19 in a row. This is a team I want to see in the Dance -- and probably one many coaches don’t. Akron can win games in mid-March. The committee doesn’t need to change its prescription to see that this team passes the eye test quite well.
1. Georgetown. John Thompson III was understandably worried that his Hoyas might look past basement-dwelling DePaul, what with the last game at the Carrier Dome next on the docket. He didn't need to be. His Georgetown team is clicking and now rides an eight-game win streak following a walkover of the Blue Demons.
2. Syracuse. The Orange already stopped one hot Big East team cold. Can they do it again? The task against Georgetown on Saturday will be a lot tougher. Still, what Syracuse did to Providence -- which had won four in a row including victories against Cincinnati and Notre Dame -- was impressive. It was an impolite beatdown, with the Orange leading 43-16 at the half.
3. Marquette. The Golden Eagles overcame a sluggish start to beat free-falling Seton Hall and remain tied atop the league standings. That’s probably a surprise to a lot of folks, but Marquette always is in the mix. Tough game Saturday at a hungry Villanova team.
4. Louisville. The game against South Florida wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, but Russ Smith's game was a lot more palatable. That’s huge for the Cardinals. The mercurial guard is really the key to Louisville’s success. He has to find a way to remain electric but in control if the Cards are going to own March. He did it against USF, scoring as always but complementing his game with four assists, six rebounds and a more attentive focus on defense.
5. Notre Dame. The Irish remain a good, if unreliable team. They managed to score all of three points in the first 14 minutes against Pittsburgh and win the game anyway. So that’s something. And so is winning three of their past four, even if by just the slimmest of margins. A tough finish -- Cincinnati, at Marquette, St. John’s and at Louisville -- will determine a lot for Notre Dame.
6. Villanova. And they’re back. On the bubble, that is. The Wildcats went from in the tourney to out to back in again, courtesy of a good win at Connecticut and a survival victory against Rutgers. This Saturday’s game against Marquette isn’t a must-win, but a home game against a top-25 RPI team is the kind you want to get to solidify your spot.
7. Pittsburgh. Just when the Panthers got everyone’s attention. ... Back-to-back losses to Marquette and Notre Dame aren’t the end of the world, but Pitt remains something of a show-me team, needing to prove it belongs in the NCAA tournament and has found a consistent stride. Sunday's game against St. John’s is a pretty big one.
8. Connecticut. When Ryan Boatright couldn’t score against Villanova, the Huskies lost. When he couldn’t score against Cincinnati, UConn won. The difference? Shabazz Napier. He scored 27 against the Bearcats, helping a feisty UConn team stay competitive even when there’s little to compete for.
9. Cincinnati. A once promising season is slipping away for the Bearcats, who have lost four of their past five and are a very precarious .500 in the league. With a tough sprint to the finish -- at Notre Dame, Connecticut and at Louisville among the remaining four games -- Cincinnati is going to have to work to finish on the winning side of the league slate.
10. St. John’s. The Red Storm are good enough to beat the teams they are supposed to beat, such as South Florida this week. Now they have to figure out how to get over the hump and beat the top teams. Pitt is sort of a tweener game for St. John’s, tough because of the way the Panthers defend, but not completely unbeatable. It will be interesting to see how Steve Lavin’s group handles them.
11. Providence. Don’t jump off the Friars’ bandwagon altogether. Yes, the 25-point loss to Syracuse showed just how far Providence has to go, but remember how deep the hole was for the Friars. With a favorable schedule to finish the regular season -- at Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John’s and at Connecticut -- there’s still plenty Providence can do in what should be a pivotal, turnaround season for the Friars.
12. DePaul. The Blue Demons won for the first time since Jan. 5, beating Rutgers in a game in which they led, trailed and then led again. DePaul followed it up with a blowout loss to Georgetown. So much for that.
13. Rutgers. From the "things can always get worse" file, the Scarlet Knights will finish the season without their leading scorer. Eli Carter has a fractured fibula. Give his remaining teammates credit for putting up a fight against Villanova in the first game without him, but with four games left, including Marquette and at Georgetown, uphill just got a lot steeper in Piscataway.
14. Seton Hall. The Pirates have been done in by injuries all season, and the record shows it. At 2-12, Seton Hall has its worst Big East record in 29 years. Seton Hall has tried a team meeting. Kevin Willard closed the locker room after the most recent loss. It’s probably time to ask those priests at the end of the bench to get to work.
15. South Florida. How low can they go? The Bulls in scoring, that is. USF is now 329th, averaging 59.2 points per game. There are only 16 teams beneath the Bulls and only two -- Vanderbilt and Nebraska -- from power conferences. And again we just have to ask ... how did the Bulls beat Georgetown?
1. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright have decisions to make in a month. The UConn season will end without a postseason on March 9 after the Providence game due to the Academic Progress Rate penalty. Napier was asked about this following UConn's win against Cincinnati on Thursday. He doesn't have to say anything since he has time to make a decision. But here's the deal: Napier would get drafted, but there's no way to guarantee where, while Boatright has less of a chance, according to NBA personnel. I can't pretend to know their family situations. But there's no guarantee that the money would be beneficial enough to make it worth it, while leaving behind what they sacrificed this season. Napier and Boatright decided to stay put after the sanctions. They could have bolted. Instead, they were committed to UConn and Kevin Ollie. I have no vested interest here but just an observation: Wouldn't they want to return so they could play in the NCAAs in 2014 and challenge for the Big East regular-season title? That's a sure thing. The draft, collecting money and actually contributing in the NBA next season is not.
2. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said he received a call from San Diego State coach Steve Fisher about possibly moving back a home-and-home series with the two schools, which was slated to start in Cincinnati. The reason? Fisher loaded up his nonconference schedule with the anticipation that the Aztecs were going to be in the Big West next season. But the Aztecs decided to stay put in the Mountain West and now have an overload of tougher games, so Fisher is trying to pull back a bit. Cronin is cool with moving the series back if he can get a quality home-and-home series to start at home in 2013-14. The problems in scheduling for San Diego State and Cincinnati are occurring at a number of Big East schools since they don't know exactly who will be in the conference in 2013-14 or 2014-15, although there is an assumption everyone will be settled in the fall of 2014.
3. The Big East is preparing to have 18 schools in the conference for 2013-14 -- before the seven Catholic-based schools leave to form their own conference in 2014 and Notre Dame and Louisville leave for the ACC and Rutgers for the Big Ten. Temple, Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU are all coming next season while Syracuse and Pitt leave. The 2014-15 Big East could have 10 schools. Tulane is set to come in to be the ninth member, and, according to a source, there is a chance East Carolina joins as a full member for No. 10. Tulsa and UMass are the two most discussed possibilities of being the 11th full member.
While Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke still has a hold on the top spot in the fourth Player of the Year poll, comprised of voters for the AP, Naismith, Robertson and Wooden Awards, a gaggle of people are keeping pace, most notably Indiana guard Victor Oladipo.
The junior entered the poll two weeks ago in fourth place and moved to second in our panel of 51 voters, including being in first or second place on every ballot but one that came in after Indiana’s 72-68 win over Michigan State on Tuesday night.
The other big mover was Gonzaga junior forward Kelly Olynyk, who sits in fifth place after receiving votes for the first time in the last poll two weeks ago.
As a reminder, pollsters are asked for their top three vote-getters in the poll anonymously, with three points given for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one for a third-place vote.
Tracking the contenders:
Burke: Preseason -- T-11th; first regular-season poll -- 2nd; second regular-season poll -- 2nd; third regular-season poll -- 1st; fourth regular-season poll -- 1st.
Oladipo: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- 4th; fourth regular-season poll -- 2nd.
McDermott: Preseason -- 2nd, first regular-season poll -- 3rd, second regular-season poll -- 1st, third regular-season poll -- 2nd; fourth regular-season poll -- 3rd.
Plumlee: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- 1st; second regular-season poll -- 3rd; third regular-season poll -- 3rd; fourth regular-season poll -- 4th.
Olynyk: Preseason -- NR; first regular-season poll -- NR; second regular-season poll -- NR; third regular-season poll -- T-10; fourth regular-season poll -- 5th.
Zeller: Preseason -- 1st; first regular-season poll -- 4th; second regular-season poll -- 4th; third regular-season poll -- 5th; fourth regular-season poll -- 6th.
- With the way the poll is going, the Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year races might come to a head on March 10 in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Hoosiers and Wolverines close out the regular season by facing each other. If Oladipo continues to surge and Burke keeps pace and that game stalemates, a split could be conceivable.
- Doug McDermott and Mason Plumlee are still hanging around, but fading from view. This is the first time all season at least one of the two big men wasn’t in the top two of the poll.
- Erick Green, Shane Larkin and Otto Porter make their poll debuts. Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, Miami’s Durand Scott and Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier departed the poll after receiving votes two weeks ago.
- Three obligatory notes: Polls were due at 5 p.m. Wednesday, before Wednesday night’s games. Ballots are sent out every other Thursday and voters can submit their ballots at any time from when the call for ballots are sent out until that point Wednesday. Also, as a reminder, the poll is at the mercy of pollsters responding, which results in some fluctuation between the numbers of pollsters both overall and from region to region each week.
2. Connecticut's Kevin Ollie should be the Big East coach of the year. But the national honor is likely going to Miami's Jim Larranaga, barring a late-season collapse. The Hurricanes started unranked and are headed for a No. 1 seed-type season -- the hoops version of what Notre Dame did in college football in going from unranked to the national title game. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan would have to be in the conversation as well, as should Indiana's Tom Crean. The freshman-of-the-year chase has to be one of the most competitive, featuring Kansas' Ben McLemore, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, UNLV's Anthony Bennett and Arizona State's Jahii Carson, among others.
3. Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon made a great point Thursday about low scoring in college basketball. Dixon said that teams attempting more 3-pointers has led to more zone defenses and using up more of the shot clock. Of course, he added that teams are defending better and more fouls aren't being called. There are a lot of theories out there about low scoring, but perhaps the most important might be the lack of some fundamental shooting.
The only way Ollie knew how to coach the lame-duck Huskies was to ensure the team played as if the national title were still in sight.
The players never blinked. The ones who stayed remained committed and were determined not to play spoiler but to win the Big East regular-season title.
Now they still can.
And if the Huskies’ 66-58 victory over No. 6 Syracuse on Wednesday at the XL Center -- in the final matchup between these charter Big East members before the Orange go to the ACC -- is any indication, UConn isn’t going to be just a spoiler.
The Huskies have larger aspirations. They want to win the title and stick it to the conference that wouldn’t let them play in the league tournament after the NCAA ruled their academic progress rate was too low and banned them from the postseason.
Is it a reach? Possibly. But it’s not out of the question for the Huskies, who have a game to go against Georgetown, two with Cincinnati and none remaining against Syracuse or Louisville.
The win put UConn at 7-4 in the Big East, just a game back of the first-place trio of Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette.
What would it mean to the Huskies to pull off the improbable feat?
“It would mean everything, considering that they tried to take everything from us," said sophomore Ryan Boatright, who led the Huskies with 17 points Wednesday. “It’s realistic because anybody can lose in the Big East. We feel like we’re supposed to be here."
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsKevin Ollie has his Huskies a game out of first in the chase for the Big East regular-season title.
And it didn’t matter one bit against Syracuse’s length in the zone or on the boards. Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun handily won the perimeter battle with Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche.
Earlier in the day, Huskies assistant coach Karl Hobbs said UConn had to make seven 3s to beat Syracuse. The Huskies made eight, seven of those coming from the aforementioned trio, with one from Niels Giffey.
The Orange were just 4-of-23 from long range.
“They shot 8-of-14 from the 3, which is the best anybody’s shot against us in a long time," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Their guards played extremely well, but I thought all their guys played well."
Boatright didn’t hold back with his postgame comments, saying the Huskies had sent Syracuse to the ACC “with a taste of UConn in their mouth.” The same comment was uttered by Omar Calhoun after the game.
“It was definitely a big game," Calhoun said. “I know the tradition and the rivalry between these two teams. They got to leave with a taste of UConn in their mouth going to the ACC."
It’s no secret the Huskies wanted to go to the ACC, which instead picked Louisville over them and Cincinnati. UConn is left with the Bearcats in the remaining Big East as Syracuse and Pitt head to the ACC next season.
Jim Calhoun, the Hall of Fame coach, was courtside for the game and said during the second half that he didn’t want this rivalry to end.
Boeheim said after the game about the UConn series, “It’s been a great series. Connecticut and Syracuse have had so many great games over the years. The league wasn’t able to be kept together. I feel bad about the whole thing."
Syracuse has already signed up for a home-and-home series with St. John’s. The other one that makes the most sense is with Georgetown since the Hoyas are in a recruiting area that is crucial to the Orange. And that series with the Hoyas might take on more importance now that Maryland is heading to the Big Ten.
Jim Calhoun said Georgetown was always Syracuse’s biggest rival but the Orange were the top rivalry for the Huskies. Boeheim said after the game that he would be open to playing anybody.
“Your biggest rivalries are going to be the teams in your league," he said. “That’s just the way it is. Even if you play somebody, it will never be the same. It will never be the same."
To Ollie, this was bittersweet, since he said one of the reasons he went to UConn was to play in the Big East against schools such as Syracuse.
“It’s kind of hard with the rivalry being over with," he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to play somewhere, somehow."
If the Huskies can play with the same passion and purpose, flaws and all, the rest of the season as they did Wednesday, anything is possible in this league.
The role of spoiler fits Boatright.
“It feels great because they came in with their swag, their attitude, and they thought they were going to blow us out of the gym," he said. “We hit them first. In the second half, they thought they were going to make a run and we responded. It was a team effort. It was a great win."
And the credit goes to Ollie, who should be the front-runner for Big East coach of the year.
“We’re just one of the purest teams playing right now," Ollie said. “We’re not playing for the postseason. We’re playing for the love of UConn. We’re playing for the love of each other. We’re playing for the pride of getting better. They can’t ban us from that. They can ban us from the postseason, they can ban us from the Big East tournament, but they can’t ban us from getting better and loving each other. They really love being around each other, and it shows."
With Syracuse joining the ACC next season, this will be the last Big East meeting between Syracuse and Connecticut. Syracuse has won six of the past seven meetings and has won six straight against unranked Huskies teams. The last time an unranked Connecticut beat Syracuse was Feb. 5, 2007.
The Orange have played a zone defense on 92.6 percent of their opponents’ possessions this season -- that’s the highest percentage of any Division I team. Syracuse allows 0.68 points per play in its zone defense, the lowest in Division I. Overall, Syracuse has the fourth-most efficient defense, allowing just 86 points per 100 possessions.
Facing a zone defense is bad news for the Huskies, who are one of the worst Division I teams against the zone. Connecticut shoots less than 36 percent against zones and ranks 80th in points per play among the 88 teams with at least 300 plays.
Connecticut struggles to get to the free throw line when its opponents play zone. The Huskies have shot free throws on only 5.6 percent of their possessions against zone defenses, which is second worst of the 88 teams with at least 300 plays.
Offensively, Syracuse averages 17.2 transition points per game, which is 15th in the country and second in the Big East. Connecticut is averaging 15.6 transition points per game, fifth-most in the Big East.
Syracuse outscores its opponents by 13.5 points per game in the paint, tied with Maryland for the second-highest differential among schools in the major conferences.
That could pose a problem for Connecticut. The Huskies grab 4.3 fewer rebounds per game than their opponents. Among the 75 schools in major conferences, only Northwestern and South Florida are worse.
With James Southerland back on the court, Syracuse is a much different team. In the six games he missed, the Orange scored 14 fewer points per game than in the games he played.
Southerland’s absence had a large effect on Michael Carter-Williams. He leads the country with 8.5 assists per game, but he was averaging nearly four fewer per game without Southerland.