Do you realize we could have an NCAA Tournament without both Connecticut and North Carolina? In fact, if today was Selection Sunday, neither superpower program would make the Big Dance.
We touched on the struggling Heels last week (before that shocking home loss to Virginia on Sunday), so let’s focus today on the similarly slumping Huskies. Connecticut fell at Louisville 82-69 on Monday night for its second three-game losing streak in a month. The Huskies are now 13-9 overall (8-12 ATS) and just 3-6 in the Big East (5-4 ATS), ahead of only cupcakes St. John’s, Rutgers and DePaul.
Of course the team remains without head coach Jim Calhoun, who took an indefinite medical leave of absence before the Jan. 20 game with St. John’s. The Huskies won that one and then upset then-No. 1 Texas in Storrs on Jan. 23, but the bloom has fallen off for interim coach George Blaney with this current three-game slide. That win over the Horns remains UConn’s only victory over a ranked team in five tries this season. And what’s scary about the current losing streak is that none of the three opponents – Providence, Marquette or Louisville – can be considered NCAA Tournament locks. In fact, only the Cards have a legitimate shot at making it and they had lost four of five before beating UConn.
UConn is horrible on the road at 0-5 (2-3 ATS) and still has five conference road games remaining – at Syracuse, Villanova, Rutgers, Notre Dame and South Florida. I would consider UConn only a favorite in that Rutgers game, maybe at USF. The Huskies have now lost five straight Big East road games dating back to last season, their longest league road losing streak since the 2000-01 season.
The Huskies still have a starting five that can compete with anyone on a given night, but the bench depth is putrid. On Monday against Louisville, Gavin Edwards had 13 points off the bench, but he’s in reality a sixth starter (he played 37 minutes). If you disregard Edwards, the Huskies bench players got a total of 32 minutes and contributed one point, seven rebounds and three turnovers. So whenever foul trouble strikes a starter – as it did on Monday – UConn is pretty well doomed. And turnovers have been a problem all year: 72 of them in the past four games alone.
There’s still hope for a late run. The Huskies lead the nation in blocked shots and the Big East in field goal percentage defense. And there are rumors that Calhoun might return to the bench for Saturday’s home game with DePaul, which should be an easy win regardless.
If Calhoun returns, I believe this team will reach the NCAA Tournament. For one, UConn currently has the No. 1 strength of schedule in the land. Secondly, the Huskies should run the table in the final four home games, with only West Virginia likely to provide a big challenge. So four home wins gets them to 17 wins overall and seven in the conference. So by simply beating Rutgers and (an improving) South Florida on the road, that gets UConn to 19 wins and 9-9 in the Big East – there’s no chance a team at.500 in the nation’s best conference misses the NCAAs.