Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Post-Mortem on the 2005-2006 UConn Huskies

Sorry for the lack of updates lately, my lovelies. Time management has never been a strength and I'm still adjusting to my new reality. Anyway...

This should be my last UConn post for awhile. Several people gingerly offered consolation after UConn lost to George Mason in the regional final, and they even remarked on how well I handled it. Of course I was upset but, honestly, much relieved when it was all over. This team labored under intense pressure and scrutiny all season. They were anointed preseason co-favorites (along with Duke) and thus faced an uphill climb just to meet expectations every game.

And the pressure was only intensified by the transitory nature of the roster; with four seniors (Denham Brown, Hilton Armstrong, Rashad Anderson, and Ed Nelson) graduating and three more players (Marcus Williams, Rudy Gay, and Josh Boone) all but certain to leap to the NBA, the season would be judged by two agonizingly polar extremes: national championship or bust. Few teams can thrive under that kind of microscope and the Huskies seemed to sense it as the season progressed.

But what disappointed me was not the loss itself -- it's how they were ironically done in by the strengths they'd relied upon all season (defense, rebounding, and blocks). Here, check out the regular season numbers (30 games) vs. NCAA tournament games (4 games):

--Opponent FG%: regular season 37.3%; tournament 46.1%
--Rebound Margin: regular season +10.5; tournament +2.0
--Blocked Shots: regular season 9.3 per game; tournament 4.5 per game

Now, I realize that four tournament games represent a tiny sample size against (by definition) strong competition, but the numbers do tell a story. UConn's defense failed to execute in the tourney like it did during the regular season. George Mason shot 5 of 6 in overtime -- season over.

I'm disappointed that kids like Denham Brown and Hilton Armstrong ended their careers on such a low note. They won a national championship as sophomores and I hope people remember that as their legacy instead of the stunned #1 seed. They gave us four great years and I'll remember them fondly.

OK, now on to the look ahead. I like the composition of the 2006-2007 roster. They'll look more like a "traditional" UConn team -- a little smaller than recent teams but with better guard play and perimeter shooting. Jeff Adrien, Craig Austrie, and Marcus Johnson return and should be even better after a year of seasoning (although Johnson barely played in the season's second half). A.J. Price should finally take the court after two tumultuous years battling health and legal problems. The recruits look nasty: UConn's 2006 class is consistently ranked among the nation's best by most outlets. The Huskies will be very young but extremely athletic; the talented youngsters could contribute right away and the team might surprise some people.

Already I can't wait for next season!

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