This game is so big that we decided to do another Q&A. I went to Kevin Meacham at The UConn Blog, another excellent entry to the Husky and Big East blogospheres, to get his take on Saturday's critical North-Mid-South-East NCAA Tournament Bubble Regional Divisional Semifinal. My answers to Kevin's questions should appear over there on Saturday morning.
(We also figured out that the only person on the face of the earth who writes longer answers to questions than me is him.)
1. What do the Huskies like doing on offense and defense? Who should we look out for, and are there any hidden X-factors lurking?
On offense, expect a lot of dribbling around and accomplishing nothing, followed by a wild drive from Kemba Walker or Jerome Dyson. That's only 20% sarcasm.
UConn doesn't shoot the 3 much (last in the country in percentage of points from 3-pointers) or well (Walker's our best 3-point shooter, at 37 percent). The post players are really raw on offense, and the guards rarely look down low anyway. Stanley Robinson can jump over everybody, but he's more content to pass the ball around the perimeter and wait for putbacks and alley-oops.
As you might be able to tell from my rant, UConn's offense has been a series of frustrations this season. There was a brief stretch of games (@ Villanova, vs. WVU) where Walker took over and got to the free throw line 15-20 times per game. Then Notre Dame realized that no one on UConn can hit a jumper, and they played off Walker and Dyson, forcing them to shoot. Or turn the ball over, in Dyson's case. This was not an anomaly.
Defensively, UConn is pretty much a man team. The Huskies' experience with zones hasn't been wildly effective (an extreme example: they blew a 19-point lead to Georgetown by sitting in a zone and letting Austin Freeman catch fire).
Dyson and Walker have reputations as good on-ball defenders, and have looked good in many games this year, but Notre Dame's guards did a good job of beating them off the dribble. If you do that, you might get blocked on the way to the rim, but you're as likely to either a) get an offensive rebound because the weakside post defender came over to help and block a shot; or b) you'll get to the free throw line.
The X-factor will be the foul differential. UConn lives at the free throw line (20th in the country in % of total points on FTs, 38th in the country in fewest % of points allowed from FTs). If you can even that disparity out by getting to the rim - UConn's bigs seem foul-prone lately - you'll be in good shape.
2. What does UConn need to do the rest of the way to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament? I think you guys have counted them out at least seven or eight times, and yet they're still in the mix.
It's really amazing that a 17-13 team could still be considered. It's a testament to how weak the bubble is, and if UConn were to somehow make the Dance, I'm sending a fruit basket to Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott.
To get in the tournament, UConn has to beat USF and [random bottom four seed] in the Big East tournament. They'll probably have to win their second round game, too, to get to 20 wins and relative lock status.
Although, barring upsets in the conference tourneys, I think a 19-14 UConn team gets in (barely...we're talking last team in) with our strength of schedule and RPI.
I love/hate this team. It's simply boggling how this team can look like world-beaters against Texas, Villanova and WVU, and then score 6 points in 18 minutes like they did Wednesday. I just get the feeling that if they do manage to scrape in to the NCAAs, they could get out of the first weekend. And if they don't, they'll lose in the first round of the NIT.
3. We all know Jim Calhoun is advancing in years and in crankiness (about 6% per year in my estimation). How much longer do you think he will coach? Is there a protege or coach in waiting?
It's a weird situation, because Calhoun of course went away for about a month and since then, a rumored five-year contract extension has apparently remained unsigned.
Calhoun will coach until he retires. The man owns Storrs, and the program is 100% Jim Calhoun. I think, unless he has more serious medical troubles, he'll coach at least two more years. He still seems to love coaching, and working with a very, very young team next year is just the sort of job he relishes.
There's no coach in waiting, but most people assume the next coach will be someone connected with Calhoun. There was a Doug Gottlieb story on ESPN.com recently that implied that, should UConn hire outside the Calhoun coaching tree (think Tom Moore at Quinnipiac, Dave Leitao formerly of Virginia, Karl Hobbs at GW, etc.), they won't get to reap the benefits of Calhoun's "I have 15 players in the NBA right now" recruiting pitch.
4. I left Tampa before we moved into the Big East and have not personally witnessed this. So for the benefit of our fan base, can you describe the typical snowbird UConn fan? They are quite likely to bump into them at the Sun Dome tomorrow. I'm thinking old, silver hair, covered in money and dressed straight out of an L.L. Bean catalog, but I could be wrong.
Doesn't that describe everyone who lives in southern Florida? I didn't know that they let anyone under 60 reside there.
Anyway, the people you describe are known as "UConn women's basketball fans." UConn is Connecticut's equivalent of pro team (except for the sad, delusional group that thinks the Hartford Whalers are coming back), so you're likely to run into plenty of folks of all generations who bleed blue and white.
If UConn has any kind of sustained run of not screwing up Saturday, be prepared for our big chants, where we 1) spell our name out (U! C! O! N! N!) OR 2) alternate between our team name and nickname (UCONN! HUSKIES!) twice, then reverse it on the third time. We're awesome like that.
Apparently, other Big East teams' fans find that U-C-O-N-N chant to be among the most goddamned annoying things ever, which pleases me greatly.
5. Is tomorrow the day USF finally beats the Huskies? What's your prediction?
Probably. It wouldn't surprise me to see another listless effort from UConn. On the other hand, I would like to pretend that our three seniors who play 30+ minutes have a little pride and will kill themselves to get back to the NCAA Tourney.
To be honest, I don't have a damned clue who wins tomorrow. USF is a much tougher out than usual, and they've given UConn a little trouble in recent years. So I'll go for some sweet reverse jinx action: USF 67, UConn 62
BONUS: Can you briefly explain the greatness of "I DON'T SEE WHY NOT?"
Ah, yes, our rallying cry for this nearly-lost season. (Almost...there's no apostrophe in DONT in the 'official' version.) It came from a tweet from our freshman power forward Ater Majok, and it's everything that I look for in a rallying cry:
- The no-apostrophe, inexplicable-question-mark double-whammy to give that "I'm so focused that I don't even have time for correct punctuation" feel
- Passive-aggressiveness, implying that we may indeed be close to seeing why not
- WHEN YOU YELL THINGS IN ALL CAPS YOU MEAN IT
I'm already much more confident, now that I think about it. UConn wins by a million tomorrow. I DONT SEE WHY NOT?