Seventh-seeded UConn will likely sneak into its fourth national championship game in the last 15 years and their staccato style of play gives them a good shot at washing off 2013 with a confetti shower as well.
In doing so, the Huskies will become the only team to give thanks to the sky that final tourney day twice in the last half decade and the first to do so coming off a one-year tournament ban for not meeting academic standards (which is sort of the equivalent of prohibiting a McDonald’s from building near an off-ramp for not meeting food standards.)
Digressions aside, none of the top basketball minds in the country seem to be able to figure out how the Huskies do it.
It’s the college hoops equivalent of the George Thorogood phenomenon.
Every song sounds the same, yet they’re all just different enough to make people scratch a collective head and say, “Well they must be doing something right to win three championships (or sell 15 million albums).”
Or maybe they’re just annoying and won’t go away. So after awhile, annoyance becomes acceptance.
The school which has only appeared in four final fours — with a perfect winning percentage in national championship games — must have a nice little deal worked out with the fiddle player from down below. The “public Ivy” from Storrs, CT seems to get a bye to the Elite 8 every time it goes dancing.
Its most recent piece of mantle flair may be the best example of the UConn Way. As a three seed in 2011, they cruised by Patriot League representatives Bucknell en route to routing perennial underachievers Cincinnatti with double-digit victories in the first two rounds.
Their stint didn’t get much tougher against never-quite-ready-for-prime-time San Diego State in the Sweet 16.
Then came a pair of close ones, one against Arizona and a buzzer beater to take down four-seed Kentucky.
The final game was a defensive clinic against Cinderella eight-seed Butler. In the forty minutes prior to putting the championship hats on all crooked, UConn held Butler to 18-percent shooting and 41 points as future lotterian and current Bobcat guard Kemba Walker took the tournament MVP and the Huskies hoisted a third trophy in 10 years.
The 2011 tournament was won because UConn’s uptempo offense, combined with a relentless ability to slow it down when the shot clock mercilessly winds down for an opponent, turns the mightily favored to mush.
Hurry up to slow down is the lineage of Jim Calhoun — and it courses strong through the veins of current Husky frontman, 41-year-old Kevin Ollie. Ollie features NBA-inspired offensive schemes as his five on the floor perform defensive surgery on the other end.
The result is watching a slick track on one side of the court and freshly poured cement on the other.
Now jump to 2014’s East Regional semis.
Enter Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, boyhood friend and high school teammate of Ollie. Hoiberg brought the same bad-to-the-bone beat against the Huskies Friday. The Cyclones played like the dervishes their mascot connotes all year, averaging a paltry 15 seconds per possession and more shots (62) a game than happy hour at Señior Frogs.
UConn, at 17 seconds and 56.2 shots respectively, was second to Iowa State in brevity and shots taken.
The result was one of this year’s tournament’s least-touted, but most captivating games. More pick and rolls than a bus full of fourth graders digging in their noses. More isolation than an unemployed 30-something in his mom’s basement playing Call of Duty Ghosts with a broken headset.
When the dust settled, it was the Cyclones winding down as the Huskies posted a tournament-high 81 points to spin the cardinal and gold back to Ames.
DeAndre Daniels picked up 19 of his 27 points in the second half and senior point guard Shabazz Napier continued to run his pro-style backcourt more efficiently than a Costco checker.
Sure, UConn’s glass slipper should shatter during the much-waited match-up with Michigan State Sunday. NBA-ready power forward Adreian Payne creates a mismatch with the entire UConn philosophy. It may be much too much for the five-point sapphire-eyed overbred underdogs to overcome.
But don’t count out completely these Huskies. Those who have usually end up holding the ladder of history and looking up as UConn cuts down the nets.