Why UConn will win
HOUSTON – NCAA sanctions tarnished the reputation of their coach. A preseason poll predicted they would finish 10th in the Big East and, only a month ago, the Connecticut Huskies ended the 2010-11 regular season with four losses in five games.
Heck, last year, Jim Calhoun’s squad didn’t even make the NCAA tournament.
Yet here are the Huskies, one win away from a national championship.
“Entering the season,” forward Alex Oriakhi said, “I’m not sure any of us thought this was possible.”
Now it actually seems likely. While tonight’s game against Butler in Reliant Stadium promises to be an exciting affair, the edge should tilt toward the Huskies. Here are some reasons Connecticut is favored against Butler.
• Kemba Walker: The junior guard was one of college basketball’s top players during the regular season and has been the star of the NCAA tournament thus far. Walker is averaging 23.7 points on the season and 25 points in his last five games. Walker is already being hailed as one of the best players in school history along with former standouts such as Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Ray Allen and Caron Butler. Adding a national championship to his resume would only enhance his reputation. As good as he was during the regular season, Walker has made noticeable strides in the last few weeks. Sometimes known for taking ill-advised shots and trying to do too much, Walker has become much more team-oriented as of late. He’s averaging 7.8 assists during the NCAA tournament. His selfless play has helped elevate the performance of his teammates – especially freshmen Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb.
• Jim Calhoun: A victory Monday would make Calhoun just the fifth coach in NCAA history to win three or more national titles. The others: John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight. That’s pretty elite company. Even more impressive is that Calhoun’s championships would’ve come in 1999, 2004 and 2011, meaning he used a completely different group of players to claim each crown. Guiding a team that finished ninth in the Big East with a 9-9 record to the NCAA title game is one of the greatest feats of Calhoun’s success-filled career. If the Huskies pull off the win, it will be interesting to see whether Calhoun retires in the ensuing days or opts to return in 2011-12. It will be tough to blame Calhoun if he decides to go out on top.
• Intangibles: Beginning with the first game of the Big East tournament on March 8, Connecticut enters Monday’s contest touting 10 straight victories. Because they played in the Big East, the Huskies are more battle-tested than Butler, which competes in the Horizon League. They also boast superior athleticism. Butler doesn’t have a future lottery pick on its roster – or at least not anyone that comes close to comparing to Walker, who is projected to go No. 6 overall in this summer’s draft. And even though Butler’s Brad Stevens is one of the top young coaches in the game, he doesn’t have a pair of national championship rings like Calhoun. Plus, just as it has all season, Connecticut is playing with a chip on its shoulder after being picked to finish 10th in the Big East by a panel of league coaches.