This season has been pleasantly surprising for a UConn team that, going into the 2010-2011 season was young and unrecognized. UConn immediately established itself as a top 25 team by winning the Maui Invitational, where they upset Michigan State, a team that had a number of players back from last year's Final Four team, and Kentucky, which was also regarded as one of the top teams in the country. Over the course of the rest of the regular season, UConn had convincing out-of-conference wins against Tennessee and Texas and strong in-conference wins against Georgetown, Villanova, West Virginia, Marquette and Cinncinati. The college basketball world was shocked when UConn won the Big East Tournament in historic fashion by winning 5 games in 5 days. Connecticut heads into the NCAA tournament as one of the hottest teams in college basketball, but many questions still linger.
Here are the keys to UConn cutting down the net in Houston:
Kemba Walker - The junior guard who will have enough credits to graduate a year early (very uncommon for student-athletes) who broke the record this year for most points scored in a NCAA conference tournament, is a 2011 First Team All-American and is up for NCAA player of the year. Walker is the only relevant remaining player from the team that made it to the Final Four two years ago. After hitting the game winner in overtime against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinal of this year's Big East Tournament, Kemba said, "God has a plan for us." What that plan is will be determined mainly by whether or not Kemba is the dominate player throughout the tournament. There were times during the season when Kemba's shooting was ice cold and his tendency to ball-hog was apparent, but if he drives to the net, dishes the ball at the right time, plays hard-nosed defense like he did in the Big East Tournament and most importantly, swishes clutch shots in high pressure situations like he did all year, the Huskies will be dancing like it's 1999.
Role play- Guys like forward Jeremy Lamb and center Alex Oriakhi need to continue to step up and help offensively and defensively. If Oriakhi continues to succeed at getting offensive rebounds and put backs like he did in the Big East Tournament, it will take significant weight off of Walker's need to score every time he drives to the hole. Walker will obviously draw a double or even triple team, so guys are going to have to be ready to make open shots.
Hall of Fame coach, Jim Calhoun is a master at the chess game of noticing what strategy the opposing team is implementing and what strategy to counteract with. His ability to recognize player matchups and combinations is incredible. No other coach knows when to put guys in or leave them out better than he does.
Overcoming the zone - UConn has had a tough time scoring against the zone defense this year. The Huskies will have to set more screens, create better ball movement and rotation if they are going to succeed against the zone. Creating isolation for Walker against a zone has generally not worked well, but if the Huskies can get a mismatch out of it through a pick and roll or a screen, Walker should be able to take advantage of it like he did by hitting a buzzer beater against Pittsburgh in the Quarterfinal of the Big East Tournament.
Maturity - Three of Connecticut's five starting players are freshman and overall, the team has seven freshman. Although UConn is young, the team has shown maturity beyond its years, but they have also shown glimpses of poor decision making. Often times Napier and Lamb have gone for steals at inopportune moments when they should have been playing conservative defense. The team has yet to show freshman jitters and is one of the top free-throw shooting teams in the Big East.
Luck - It plays a role in everyone's life. Let's just cross our fingers and hope that "God's plan" incorporates UConn winning the big dance. I suppose if a team wants something badly enough luck can become more likely through sheer will to win. How much does this team want it?