Defending champ UConn finally may have run out of chances

No matter how hard defending national champion UConn works to prove it has no interest in participating in the NCAA tournament this March, we in the media simply refuse to give the Huskies' spot in the field of 68 to someone else.

They had to lose for a sixth time in seven games earlier this month to stop receiving votes in both polls. They had to drop two more home games to Syracuse and Marquette before most would acknowledge they were finally in real trouble. Then even after UConn blew a 14-point second-half lead and suffered a  72-70 loss at the hands of rebuilding Providence on Tuesday night, there were still some arguing the Huskies belonged in the field.

Granted UConn's No. 30 RPI, top-rated strength schedule and handful of quality wins are enough to merit consideration, but how many chances do the Huskies have to squander before we're willing to slam the door on them for good? They've lost nine of their last 12 games to fall to 17-12 overall and 7-10 in the Big East with just a game against Pittsburgh left on the regular season schedule.

It's not like there aren't teams playing well down the stretch who wouldn't gladly take UConn's spot either.

[Related: Mike Huguenin: Projecting the NCAA tourney field of 68 ]

CAA regular season champ Drexel and runner-up VCU have lost a combined one game since mid-January, but neither of them is an NCAA tournament lock due to lackluster non-league performances. Long Beach State went undefeated in its own conference, yet it may have to win the Big West tournament to earn an NCAA bid. Even in UConn's own conference, South Florida is 11-5 and playing stingy defense, but the Bulls are no lock to end a 20-year NCAA tournament drought because of a lack of marquee wins.

All the criticism of those teams is certainly all valid, yet it would be a shame to see a floundering, underachieving group like UConn hear its name called on Selection Sunday at one of the above teams' expense.

Even with four starters back from last year's national championship team and the addition of a future lottery pick in its frontcourt, UConn has been unable to generate good shots on offense or play consistent defense. Both their confidence and effort level has seemed to vary so widely that it's hard to know what team will show up from timeout to timeout, let alone game to game.

The way UConn has played during a tumultuous January and February, it's abundantly clear the Huskies should become the fifth defending national champ to miss the NCAA tournament since the field expanded to 64 in 1985. Now let's hope the selection committee doesn't prolong their suffering and instead does the humane thing by putting them out of their misery.

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