Randy Edsall is back and why you should hope it’s to stay.

uconn-huskies

I wish the UConn football program success because I love this school and understand the role football plays in progress for the University as a whole. However, UConn is not just a college to me, it is my home. So, in today’s press conference, when I hear Coach Edsall claim UConn is the only school he would return to as head coach, after calling Maryland a “dream job” just 5 years ago, it does not help me move on from the past as he suggested I do.

Please don’t get me wrong, I do think Coach Edsall is the right choice to restore our football program. But, if his intention is to parlay success in Storrs to another “dream job”, we will be right back in this situation 10 years from now. As a University, we cannot afford that. We NEED a stable football program. Without it, we will remain on the Power Five’s waiting list.

You don’t think Jim Calhoun received lucrative offers after the 1999 championship season, or Geno after 95? I can guarantee you they did. They stayed because they wanted to build a program and they wanted to do it in Storrs, Connecticut. A type of program that Randy Edsall was on his way to building before he left on a jet to Maryland just five years ago.

I will always support UConn but I left that press conference unconvinced this isn’t just another stop on the Randy Edsall revival tour. This isn’t just about football, this is about continuing the progress of the University, a University that for some of us is not just a step along the way to the “dream job”, it is the dream job.

That being said, I will be rooting for Coach Edsall and the UConn football program. As all you loyal fans out there know, it’s the only position we take.

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AAC Tournament Recap: Thank you Ryan Boatright

 (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

This team just didn’t have it.

There is no other way to put it. Ryan Boatright is not Kemba Walker, Ryan Boatright is not Shabazz Napier and the UConn Huskies fell short in the American Athletic Conference Tournament Championship game yesterday. Although our NCAA Tournament hopes rimmed around and bounced out, I saw something in Hartford this weekend that while not validated by a postseason berth, makes all the difference as a fan: we finally competed.

The 2014-15 UConn Men’s basketball season has been a bumpy road to say the least. Walking down a cobblestone Pratt street, under the official AAC Tournament arch and into the XL Center- you knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Though I have written about the relative lack of competition in the AAC, winning 4 games in 4 days is a challenge regardless of conference or level.

If there was one aspect of this team that left me perplexed to the point of frustration, it was the lack of competition. A lack of toughness that has become a staple of UConn basketball over the years. Call it a championship hangover, call it too many new pieces to the puzzle, this team struggled all season to find their identity.

No, we are not going on another magical ride through the NCAA Tournament but I will tell you one thing. We found our toughness in Hartford this weekend. Plagued by youthful miscues, devastated by injury and largely undersized but never once did we give in. It may have taken an entire season, but we found our identity. We found what it means to play UConn basketball.

Sure, Brimah’s backcourt violation in the closing minute against Cincinnati evoked groans from the crowd but even after the Bearcats overcame a five-point deficit in the final 1:25- we did not quit. Instead, guys stepped up and made winning plays when their number was called. Daniel Hamilton, mourning the passing of his grandmother, knocked down a clutch deep three that couldn’t help but remind me of this Taliek Brown prayer from the 2002 Big East Championship game (40 second mark).

Judging from the clear momentum swing, I don’t think we beat Cincinnati in OT. That’s when Captain Boatright delivered the final dagger with a lightning quick crossover-to-three-pointer for the victory. Kemba had his signature shot, Shabazz followed suit, and now Boatright will join them in UConn highlight reels.

Fast forward to Tulsa, a game that saw the Huskies outrebounded 40-28 and trailing for more than 32 minutes. Things were looking especially dim late in the second half, with Tulsa up 10 and only 6:35 to play. Instead of succumbing to the ball-hawking pressure, UConn came to life. Said Boatright:

“It was ugly for a second, I’m not going to lie. When we got in that under-4 minute timeout, we all looked each other in the eye and said we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to dig ourselves out of this hole and win the game.”

And win the game they did. UConn used a 14-1 run in the closing 3:30 to advance to the championship game. We didn’t hit many shots, but we hit the shots we had to. Earlier in the season (cough Yale, cough Texas) we found a way to lose. Against Tulsa, we found a way to win. That shows mental toughness but most importantly, that shows growth. However painful, sometimes doing it the right way is more important than the end result.

The Championship

SMU was always going to be our destiny in this tournament, it was inevitable from the onset. The Mustangs, entering having won 9 of their last 10, played with a chip on their shoulder from the tip. You could tell this team still felt the pain from last year’s tournament snub and was determined to seal their fate before the 6:00PM Selection Show.

SMU’s energy killed us on the offensive glass, taking advantage of both Kentan Facey’s absence (concussion) and early foul trouble from UConn’s front line. Our lack of depth was exposed with SMU’s bench outscoring our depleted Huskies 29-8. Boatright, clearly feeling the effects of two hard falls, was just not himself. You could feel the team rally around him, desperately trying to pull out a win for their Captain. From Rodney’s strong drives to the lane to Brimah’s rim protection late in the second half, the supporting cast did what they could. That is what you have to love about these Huskies. We fight for our own. Unfortunately this season, it was just not enough.

This team didn’t have it, but am I disappointed? No. We put ourselves in a position to make the NCAA tournament and that is all a fan can ask for. A team that could not close out Yale to start the season beat three tough opponents in a do-or-die environment. My only regret from the weekend was not giving Ryan Boatright an appropriate applause when he exited the championship game. On the heels of a ferocious comeback- and questionable foul call- I don’t think it registered this was Boatright’s last game in Hartford. Luckily, we are fortunate enough to have one last opportunity to thank Ryan for his contribution to the program this Wednesday at Gampel Pavilion. Out of all the UConn greats, I have never seen more tenacity packed into such a small frame. Thank you Ryan for a great four years and best of luck in the future.

We now turn our focus onto the NIT. Though it’s not the NCAA Tournament, we are still playing basketball in March when the majority of teams are at home. This team has finally found its identity. Carrying that over for a few more weeks against tough competition will be huge for this young team moving into the offseason.

I will leave with one final question.

Do you remember what happened the year following our last NIT berth?

AP

AP

Just saying. 


Some pictures from the weekend:

UConn-USF

UConn-USF

UConn-Cincinnati

UConn-Cincinnati

UConn-Tulsa

UConn-Tulsa

UConn-SMU

UConn-SMU

Shoutout to this die hard UConn fan who made the trek from California

Shoutout to this die hard UConn fan who made the trek from California!

State of the UConn

State of the UConn

 

President Herbst, AD Manuel, Coach Ollie and all those who bleed blue:

We are two years into this new conference. No longer a member of the most dominant conference in college basketball but rather, the American Athletic Conference. A conference reminiscent of the island of misfit toys in the Christmas classic Rudolph- the schools no conference wants to play with. Pittsburgh Big Monday rivalry games have been replaced with lazy Sunday’s in Houston. ESPN College GameDay is no longer with Syracuse, but SMU. And finally, after much research, I can officially confirm the win over Tulane will count towards our conference record, not exhibition.Yes, the outlook sure seems bleak at times and I am reminded by every AAC-Google-search-autocorrected-to-ACC of what could have been. But, does conference realignment alone mean Connecticut is no longer home to the college basketball capital of the world? Absolutely Not.

Tonight, we turn the page.  

This weekend’s blowout loss to SMU albeit disheartening was by no means disqualifying. As with any season, the ultimate goal is and still remains to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. From there, anything can happen. Now, we must shift our focus off this season’s frustrations and onto how we can position ourselves for continued postseason success. Success that will translate from year to year, keeping in mind our position in a new conference.

Schedule for an at-large, play for an automatic

March Madness can be achieved in one of two ways- an automatic bid (win the conference tournament) or an at-large bid (selected by NCAA committee based on performance). At-large bids are awarded based on a number of different criteria, none more prominent than the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). To summarize , you are rewarded for beating teams who beat good teams on a scale of 1(best)-351(worst). Click here to see how RPI is officially calculated. Although other rankings do exist that may be more accurate, RPI is primarily used by the NCAA selection committee. Similar to the SATs and college admission, if a strong RPI doesn’t get you in, it at least gets you looked at.

The eccentrically formed American Athletic Conference simply cannot compete with the strong numbers posted by powerhouse programs in the former Big East. Numbers that are highly scrutinized by the selection committee, and, will ultimately decide a team’s postseason fate. In contrast to the Big East, the AAC is more on par with a pair of mid-majors- the West Coast Conference (WCC) and Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). Here is a comparison of the percent of conference members in the top 50 of numerous statistics evaluated by the selection committee. As illustrated below, the level of competition found in the 2011 Big East is far superior to the 2014/15 AAC, WCC, and MVC.

Conference RPI SOS CFRPI CFSS
Big E. 2010/11 65% 80% 70% 95%
AAC 2014/15 35% 20% 25% 10%
WCC 2014/15 20% X 30% X
MVC 2014/15 20% 10% 20% X

*Ratings Percentage Index, Strength of Schedule, Conference RPI, Conference SOS*

Without the Big East to inflate our postseason resume, how can UConn ensure an at-large bid without winning the conference title? For that, we will take a look at mid-major college basketball powers Gonzaga (WCC) and Wichita State (MVC).

It begins with our non-conference strength of schedule.

Four years ago, we could rely on the strength of the Big East to float us into the tournament when we were on the bubble. The Big East Conference had the #1 overall RPI out of all D1 Conferences, including a ridiculous 10 teams in the top 50 (above). Given the ultra-competitiveness of the Big East, each week provided an opportunity to boost RPI, or, recover from a RPI-crushing loss. The last week of Big East conference play in 2011 saw UConn win at Cincinnati (31) then lose at West Virginia (16) and home to Notre Dame (12). On paper, yes that’s a 1-2 mark but when you take a deeper look at the numbers the road loss at West Virginia was essentially negated by the win over the Bearcats and UConn enters the conference tournament off a home loss to a tough Notre Dame squad. Definitely not an ideal stretch entering tournament play but also not bubble bursting due to the quality of our opponents.

After easily defeating DePaul (217), the Huskies faced Georgetown (6), Pittsburgh (7), Syracuse (17) and Louisville (18). Though we beat all four, my guess is we earned the at-large bid after the quarterfinal victory over Pitt. The Big East was supremely competitive but it also provided opportunity to control fate with your play. Glancing at the chart below, Big East members played on average 10 games against RPI top 1-25 teams in 2011. That is 10 opportunities to prove yourself against an elite team, 10 opportunities to demonstrate growth over the course of a season. Opportunities that simply do not exist in the AAC, WCC, and MVC.

Conference RPI 1-25 26-50 51-100 Total 1-100
Big East 2011 10 2 4 16
AAC 2014* 6 3 4 13
WCC 2014 3 3 5 11
MVC 2014 3 1 6 10

*Louisville removed for accuracy

For further comparison, let’s look at a recent stretch of UConn AAC play. Starting January 25th with a win over South Florida (215), UConn lost on the road to Cincinnati (29) followed by another road loss to Houston (239). This time, although the Cincinnati loss is not a “bad loss” in terms of RPI (and most importantly, in the eyes of the committee) Houston is inexplicable. Additionally, although we won our next two games, Eastern Carolina (242) and Tulane (182) combined hardly account for the Houston loss- especially when it allows Doug Gottlieb to do this:

In any case, the days of mourning the Big East are over. A new era is underway and we must not be shortsighted. How do we compensate for a lack of quality competition in conference play for years to come?

Schedule for an at-large…

To answer that question, let’s take a look at the resumes of both Wichita State and Gonzaga in relation to our Huskies. Also, note the 12/13 Wichita State and 11/12 Gonzaga profiles from years they did not win the conference tournament, but earned an at-large bid. These are the numbers that got them in the big dance.

Team RPI SOS NCSS CFSS
Gonzaga 14/15 8 90 15 172
Wichita 14/15 16 109 26 196
UConn 14/15 85 82 84 103
Wichita 12/13 38 102 63 129
Gonzaga 11/12 25 81 59 122

ESPN.com

UConn’s non-conference strength of schedule (NCSS) is particularly alarming considering a conference strength of schedule (CFSS) over 100. Aside from the obvious fact they are winning, both Wichita State and Gonzaga have a significantly stronger NCSS. To date, our best non-conference win comes over Dayton (32), hardly head-turning. We desperately need to schedule quality non-conference games, and lots of them. Even January’s win over Florida- though quality at the time- means nothing after the Gators recent struggles. Our schedule must be packed with talent to compensate for unexpected down years.We cannot afford to play in mediocre tournaments, we need to face off with the elite. Recent home-and-home series have been announced with Georgetown, Arizona and Ohio State along with planned participation in the 2016 Maui Invitational. This type of aggressive scheduling is necessary should we need any wiggle room in conference play due to poor performance or injury.

The consequence of failing to schedule for an at-large bid results in the one word so evil it can drop a slipper straight off a cinderella’s foot…

Snub

The Missouri Valley Conference has seen 5 RPI top 40 teams snubbed in recent years, including the most infamous snub of all time. In 2006 Missouri State’s bubble was popped after posting a 21 RPI- the best of any team ever left out of March Madness. In 1998, Gonzaga missed out on an at-large bid after losing in the WCC Finals- despite claiming the regular season crown and defeating #5 Clemson. Don’t think it can happen in the AAC? Just last year SMU posted a 23-9 record with a 53 RPI but was left out of the tournament following a first round loss in AAC play. Makes you feel a little better about this weekend…

…until you realize we are in the same conference…

…which brings me back to this year. Schedule for the at-large bid…

play for the automatic.

Maybe the American isn’t so bad after all. One HUGE advantage to playing in a weak conference? The conference tournament aka the automatic bid. Realistically, no matter how we struggle during the regular season, the AAC tournament could punch our ticket on a yearly basis. I like the idea of sealing our own fate as opposed to leaving it up to the NCAA (we are still the UConn of old in that regard).

LRPI measure’s a team’s RPI in road/neutral games only- a statistic we can use come tournament time (neutral sites). Here is a look at the average LRPI of each AAC member over the past 5 seasons.

Team LRPI Team LRPI
Cincinnati 29 UCF 112
Memphis 30 SMU 132
UConn 40 USF 163
Temple 71 Tulane 163
Tulsa 111 Houston/ECU 169

ESPN.com

As the numbers show and five games in five days proved, we are a tournament team like few others in the conference. Given our performance, there is still no combination of AAC teams I am scared of come March. Take last week’s match-up with Tulsa. We held the #1 team in conference (at the time) to 31% shooting in a 25 point blowout win. Ball movement was the best I’ve seen all year and the Huskies fed off the crowd’s energy.

Update: We get that crowd for the tournament.

Remember, Hartford hosts the AAC tournament this year. The average distance for AAC members to travel from their campus to the XL Center? 1,155 miles or 17.5 hours. That’s Hartford to St. Louis- ON AVERAGE! Aside from Temple (211 miles), the next closest school is Eastern Carolina (615 miles). As fans, we need to emphasize this advantage with a sea of blue and white. I saw what it did last year at Madison Square Garden and there’s no reason to think it cannot be recreated. Yes it is improbable, but hey, we feast on the improbable. We are after all, and will continue to be, the Hungry Huskies.

Undeniably, this is a new era for UConn basketball. Our struggles will be heavily documented and triumphs largely unnoticed. We no longer present ourselves along with the power of the Big East, but in a cloud of doubt cast upon by a weak conference. Gonzaga, currently sits at #3 in the AP poll with many calling the current squad best in school history. Yet in his column earlier this month, Yahoo Sports analyst Pat Forde still asked the question of “whether the WCC sufficiently seasons Mark Few’s program for NCAA play”. Regardless of our trophies, regardless of our NBA pedigree and regardless of our tradition, this same question will be asked about our Huskies.

But you know what, Houston, we don’t have a problem. Actually, we have an advantage. We are once again the underdog, problem is- we do just fine as the underdog.

Let’s continue this new era, and let’s start with this season.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless UConn Country.

USA Today

USA Today

Thoughts from UConn-Texas

David Butler, USA Today

David Butler, USA Today

Yes, we lost. And yes, it was heartbreaking. But no matter how bad it hurts it’s always better to get these games out of the way in November than March, just ask Pittsburgh. There is really only one way to look at this game: we shot 30% and lost to the #7 team in the nation on a buzzer beater. As always, there is room for improvement though the loss itself is more shocking than troubling. In my opinion, the only true cause for concern stemming from Sunday? Ryan Boatright’s ankle.

 The Bad

Points in Transition

Although we made a remarkable improvement in the second half, Texas scored far too many points in transition. Many of these points came from long rebounds off missed threes which again, leads back to the 30% from the field (3-16 3PT). SCJ (Sam Cassell Jr) was a main culprit. I’m not worried about the missed shots, this was his first big game at Gampel, that is to be expected. He needs to keep shooting and without hesitation. However, there were a few instances where he leisurely skipped backwards observing his shot as opposed to crashing for the long rebound or rotating back to prevent the fast break. If A). crash for a long rebound, B). rotate back to prevent the break, and C). DO EITHER JUST DON’T STAND THERE, the answer is C everytime.

Jump Passes

Please stop. Daniel Hamilton stop. Ryan Boatright stop. Everyone stop. I realize Boat has a 35″ vertical which allows him more time than most to bail himself out, but still stop. Not only do jump passes hurt the spirits of your fans and your assist/TO ratio, they also hurt your teammates. With 14:18 to go in the second half Boatright’s jump pass was intercepted by Javan Felix who drew Kentan Facey’s second foul on the ensuing fast break. Granted, it didn’t have much impact on the outcome of this game but on a team short big men (ha), it could in the future. We can’t afford to get our bigs in foul trouble, especially when it’s bailing out a guard on a jump pass.

Terrence Samuel

Terrence Samuel as a player is NOT in the “bad” section. The reoccurring Terrence Samuel “drive-with-my-head-down-into-7-footers-with-no-idea-of-what-I’m-going-to-do-with-the-ball” IS in the bad section. I love that he can beat guards up front and penetrate the defense but his NYC instinct takes him all the way to the rim. Pull up Terrence. Develop a mid-range game. Take the mid-range jumper so Myles Turner doesn’t get 5 blocks and Brimah can lead the country.

The Good

Defense

The defensive intensity in the second half was classic UConn, that is the only way to describe it. Daniel Hamilton disrupted Texas from the start and finished with two steals and multiple disruptions*. At one point in the second half he implemented his own personal press and only relented when KO furiously motioned to retreat. Nolan, Brimah and Facey played outstanding post defense on imposing big men Myles Turner and Cameron Ridley. A few of my favorite defensive plays:

  • 2nd Half, 14:37: Nolan takes charge on Myles Turner resulting in his 3rd foul and removal from the game.
  • 2nd Half, 10:34: Off a switch on an inbound play (too soon, I know), Samuel anticipates Ridley’s shoulder drop and takes the charge. A very smart play on a clear mismatch.
  • 2nd Half, 10:07: One way to stop the ball from getting to the paint- deny the entry pass. Here, Samuel’s anticipation of Jonathan Holmes’ pass leads to a Hamilton steal and Boatright jumper. The less the ball is in the paint, the more fouls we preserve.
  • 2nd Half, 3:57: Brimah shows his length on a ridiculous block of Ridley’s hook.

*Disruptions are not a recognized statistic but should be.

Kentan Facey

Kentan Facey is quickly becoming my favorite player on this UConn team- turning in another solid effort with 4 points/8 rebounds. Facey crashes the boards with reckless abandon and unlike other UConn bigs- he finishes! You can’t underestimate the value of a player who can get himself involved in the game without having his number called- ever. With 7:30 to go in the second half, Facey collected a SCJ miss and dished to Boatright for a reverse layup that would be our last field goal of the game. With a struggling offense, those are the types of plays you need to get momentum swinging. Not to mention, Facey, at a mere 206 pounds out-rebounded both Turner (6-11, 240) and Ridley (6-9, 285), COMBINED!!! Obviously Facey is still a project and has a long way to go but I am impressed with his production thus far.

Hamilton/Boatright

Daniel Hamilton is the real deal. I have been impressed with his offense since the beginning but thought his feet were slow on defense. That changed yesterday. Hamilton is clearly more suited to guard the SG/SF position and proved that with his relentless hounding of Holland and Holmes. He is also tough, UConn tough. After taking an elbow to the nose midway through the 2nd half Hamilton returned with less blood but the exact same defensive intensity. He can finish too- Hamilton scored 9 of UConn’s first 11 points in a game where points were hard to come by.

Ryan Boatright turned in another emotional performance leading the team with 24 points. Yes, it took him 21 shots but aside from a lone high-arcing three with a hand in his face, none felt forced. Boatright is doing a little bit of everything for the Huskies -averaging 20 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.6 steals- just as Kemba in 2011 and Shabazz last year. In addition to bringing the ball up the floor against an athletic press- that’s a lot to put on one man’s shoulders, especially when they are supported by only one good ankle. Speaking of the ankle, no news as to whether Boatright will suit up Friday vs Yale but keep that chicken leg in your prayers. We need Boatright and we need him healthy.

As always,

GO HUSKIES!