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Miscellany

The Defending Champion Connecticut Huskies Have No More Mulligans

Connecticut has been steadily sliding since early January. Last night, they added their worst loss of the season based on opponent, losing to the Providence Friars, who were 3-13 in the Big East entering the game. That loss means that after a 12-1 start, the Connecticut Huskies have lost 11 of their last 16 games, and they are still without coach Jim Calhoun, who plans to rejoin the team this weekend.

On Monday, I listed the teams who were in, almost in, and on the bubble. Connecticut was very much on the bubble but probably in the field then. Now, they are squarely on it. Given their schedule, though, they now have no margin of error for their next three games. All must be wins. Pittsburgh to close the regular season, and the Big East Tourney opener (potentially against Providence again) are games that a team on the bubble cannot lose. Then, if they win those, they will likely be squaring off against West Virginia or Seton Hall. Both of those teams are also in the tournament mix, and that could be a play-in game.

As it stands right now, Connecticut is 3-6 against teams that I have as already in or likely in the field from my previous post, and 3-4 against other bubble type teams, for a 6-10 overall against potential tournament at-large teams. That’s not great, but most teams on the bubble have a losing record against potential tournament at-larges. The issue for Connecticut is that while they have three quality wins in Notre Dame, Florida State and Harvard, they also got plenty of opportunities, and other teams have a better top win. None of those are the key victories over a top seeded team that might swing the balance yet.

What will the committee do if Connecticut is compared to a team like Drexel if they lose in the CAA final, a team with a similar win percentage against tournament type teams, but who has spent the last two months playing much better? Central Florida is a bubble team with a similar win percentage against tournament teams. I don’t think they are in, but they do have the head to head neutral court win over Connecticut, something that does not favor the Huskies if it comes down to that. The other thing we know is that most of the teams will have opportunities to add a big win (Texas in the Big XII, Miami in the ACC, several teams in the ACC or Atlantic-10, for example) and some of them will do that. Connecticut will have to match that now.

We can also compare UCONN to the other teams in the Big East considered on the bubble: Seton Hall, Cincinnati, South Florida, and West Virginia. Connecticut has the highest RPI still, though it did drop to around 35. The Huskies better hope the committee blindly follows the RPI rankings, because when you size it up, they actually don’t have a better case. West Virginia and Connecticut have a virtually similar profile, except West Virginia’s best win is better (Georgetown). Cincinnati may have a much lower RPI, but that’s because of some weak non-conference wins pulling it down – the Bearcats are 5-6 against tourney type teams compared to 6-10 for UCONN. South Florida is only 2-8 against tourney type teams despite their gaudy Big East record, so they would be the one I would slot below Connecticut at the moment, but they do have opportunities this week against Louisville and West Virginia, and are in better form recently.

The Big East tournament 2nd round matchups could feature some do-or-die games, and now Connecticut is part of that. Win three in a row, they are probably in, win four in a row, they are definitely in, and anything short of that, and the champs are gone.

[photo via US Presswire]

 

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