But a lot can happen in a week. In the past seven days, UConn went 2-0, including a road upset of No. 3 Villanova. Just like that, the Huskies are back in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Connecticut is currently 16-11 (6-8 in the Big East). If the season ended today, there is no question they would not make the Big Dance. The selection committee does not hand out invitations based on talent.
However, there is reason for optimism among Husky faithful. UConn still has four regular-season games remaining before the Big East Tournament. Those games are home against No. 8 West Virginia and Louisville, and on the road against Notre Dame and South Florida. UConn probably needs to win each of these games to make the NCAA tournament. Fortunately, the two most difficult games are at home. If the Huskies manage to win out, they will finish the regular season a respectable 20-11 (10-8 Big East).
According to ESPN’s “InsideRPI,” UConn is 45th in the RPI Rankings. That puts the Huskies on the bubble and makes them a fringe tournament team. (A losing Big East record would certainly place them on the outside looking in.) The main reason for the lofty RPI ranking, despite the average record, is their strength of schedule and quality wins. UConn has played the second-most difficult schedule so far. They also are a solid 4-6 against top-50 RPI opponents, including last week’s win at Villanova.
So why are national college basketball analysts talking as though the Huskies are completely out of the picture? For one, UConn was 4-8 in the Big East. Another reason is that, although the Huskies are very talented, they have not played consistently well this season. This is especially true in Big East play, where they have been a little Jekyll and Hyde. There is no sugarcoating a 6-8 Big East record.
Another reason why you have not heard UConn’s name mentioned is because everyone is used to the school being a powerhouse. This year’s team is not dominant, but the Huskies are not terrible either. They are a bubble team, same as Cincinnati, Marquette and Florida.
Ask the selection committee, and they will tell you that wins are not everything. For example, Mississippi State is 19-8 and on the bubble, but its best win is at home against Old Dominion. The Bulldogs are by no means a lock for the Big Dance. In fact, the Bulldogs have a lower RPI than UConn does. The point is, UConn does not need to win 24 games to make the tournament.
College basketball analysts seem to think UConn is done is because they disregard computer rankings. Who knows why? Perhaps they are trying to distance themselves from college football’s BCS nightmare. Whatever the explanation, analysts are wrong to ignore a team’s computer profile. Even though NCAA tournament at-large teams are selected by a human committee, these individuals still lean heavily on computer numbers.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi is always very accurate when it comes to predicting the field of 65 because he relies mainly on computer profiles. Lunardi’s current “Bracketology” report lists UConn eight spots away from the dance. That may sound like a steep hill to climb, but all the Huskies need to do is win.
UConn is a difficult team to get a handle on this year. On pure talent, the Huskies are certainly a tournament-caliber team. But they have been up and down all season. They have lost four games by double-digits, and only one of those losses was to a ranked team. On the other hand, in the past two weeks, they played great against two top-5 teams (Villanova and Syracuse), going 1-1. If you only watched UConn play in these two games, the eyeball test would tell you the Huskies are tournament worthy.
Working against UConn is that the two teams directly ahead of them in the Big East standings have both beaten the Huskies this year. Marquette won their only meeting, while Cincinnati is 2-0. This could really hurt the Huskies come selection time.
There is no question that, at the moment, UConn is not an NCAA tournament team. There is also no question that they are a bubble team. If the Huskies can win their four remaining regular-season games, they should make the field of 65.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion about expanding the NCAA tournament. I am completely against that idea. Without going into all the details, the main reason is that every team has an entire season to make its case. If the tournament was expanded, UConn would be a lock right now. But is that really a good thing? Shouldn’t the tournament be exclusive? In college football, fans are hoping for a four- or eight-team playoff. Sixty-five teams are definitely enough for college basketball.
For UConn, its postseason starts now. The Huskies must win their remaining four regular-season games to get a bid. Is it a lot to ask? Sure. But that is the hole UConn has dug for itself. All the Huskies can do is take it one game at a time. The battle starts Monday night, at home against No. 8 West Virginia.
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