Rarely will you find a team happy to be an eight or nine seed in the NCAA Tournament. And not that I’m saying UConn is happy with their No. 9 seed where they face No. 8 seed Iowa St. and a potential showdown with the tournament’s overall No. 1 Kentucky, I don’t project to know the team’s state of mind at all.
But I think we as Connecticut fans — as well as members of the team — should be happy. Let’s face it, this wasn’t a succesful season. To enter the season as the No. 4 ranked team in the country with a real shot at repeating only to finish 20-13 overall with a sub .500 conference record (8-10) clearly isn’t what anybody had in mind.
Yet, here they are with a chance to repeat. Coach Jim Calhoun returns after missing nine games with a back ailment, freshman guard Ryan Boatright is eligible and has been playing with the team for six consecutive weeks and key sophomores Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.
The opportunity they get is to show it right away. If they get through their first round matchup (yes, I know the NCAA wants to call it the second round but give me a break, 60 teams get a first round bye? yeah, ooook. I mean, can’t we just call it a preliminary round or something?) against Iowa St., waiting for the Huskies will be the odds-on favorite to cut down the nets — the Kentucky Wildcats. And while on the surface this potential matchup seems cruel to both teams, I think as a UConn fan you have to look at it positively. Here are three reasons why:
1) It energizes the team. There probably isn’t any other seed (outside of being a No. 16) that will give a talented team the wakeup call it needs. After playing three really solid Big East tournament games combined with the memories from last year, this UConn team could be finally coming together.
2) A true barometer. But if the team isn’t quite there (at the level needed), playing Kentucky will let the team and the fans know just how far away it was. We will all know where the team stood and won’t be left with questions of “what if?”
3) Rematch. Lastly, a part of me just enjoys this draw because after beating Kentucky in the Final Four last year — and knowing how good the Wildcats are this year — it’s going to be sweet to see Alex Oriaki, Roscoe Smith, Lamb, Napier et al going against that squad this year. Will it take them back to last season and help raise their level of play? Will Andre Drummond show that he can outplay Anthony Davis?