After I deemed their season dead a month ago, the UConn Huskies have suddenly found some bite left in the tank.
Following an overtime loss to Tulsa that prompted this headline that could make me eat my words, the team has rattled off a 9-4 run in conference play. While not an amazing stretch of dominance, it is a far cry from their early season struggles.
Wins against some strong AAC teams have not only taken the season out of disaster territory, but have some fans thinking that an NCAA bid may be in the works. While it’s easy to see that this sudden change has made watching UConn games enjoyable again rather than a chore, we need to see the reason for the change to examine the legitimacy of a late season UConn rebirth into a conference or national contender.
All year the Huskies have needed a player to step up and play second fiddle to star sophomore guard Jalen Adams. Different players have seemingly been ready to assume the mantle, but none have held on. One key to their recent success has been the consistency of senior guard Rodney Purvis, who has scored more than ten points in each of the Huskies’ past four wins, including 23 against USF. Having that second option has helped Adams to flourish and allowed the team to start to win again.
On top of that, the frontcourt has stepped up in their rebounding efforts, headlined by Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah. There’s no question that UConn’s star power rests in their guards, but with the frontcourt stepping up to provide a physical presence in the paint, it provides a balance they hadn’t seen in the beginning of the year.
With their final three games against top 100 RPI teams in Houston, Cincinnati and SMU, it’s the Huskies’ last chance to make a case for themselves to be included in the big dance near the end march. That said, with a string of unlikely wins against these strong teams, there maybe a bid waiting for UConn to grab.
Famed ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s take? UConn would need to run the table to finish the regular season, and worm their way at least to the AAC conference tournament finals to even have a chance. Unlikely? Of course. Possible? With UConn in March, you betcha.
The journey starts tonight in Houston. UConn got blown out against the Cougars in the conference opener earlier in the season, but that was when Adams was out with a concussion. The team has another chance to salvage the season and perhaps gather some steam heading towards the conference tourney.