The Connecticut Huskies have been
an easy team to nit-pick, even as Jim
Calhoun’s squad accumulated 25 victories and lost just twice in the first
four months of the season.
Watch them with a critical eye and,
often, fault (in no particular order) can be found with their focus, shot
selection, execution and half-court and transition defense.
So why do I consider the Huskies
the clear-cut favorites to come away with the program’s third national
championship in Indianapolis on April
It’s explained in three words:
Margin of error.
They’ve got gobs of it . . . much
more than any other team that will be anointed a threat to knock off the Huskies
at any point in the tournament’s three weeks.
Calhoun has, a) The most dominant
frontcourt in the country; 2) one of the three or four most dangerous jump
shooters (Rashad Anderson) anywhere;
3) the most efficient “pure” point guard (Marcus Williams) operating these days;
and, 4) more than enough depth to secure the team against any short-term foul or
And, of course, they have one of
the three or four most innately gifted players on the college level in sophomore
The Huskies are far from unbeatable
and any combination of those nit-picked issues could make things a lot more
precarious for them than they should be in the first couple of rounds of the
But if Calhoun is able to keep his
thumb down on those issues – and, with his depth, he can wield that big hammer
called “the bench” and whack any offenders with it – someone, even if that
someone goes by the name of Duke, Texas, Memphis or Villanova, will have to play
very, very well to knock them off.
BOUNCING AROUND THE
State will have to stumble to either
Northwestern (on the road Wednesday night) or Purdue (at home Sunday) to fumble
away at least a share of the Big Ten Conference’s regular-season
If the Buckeyes win out, senior
post Terence Dials should be the
conference’s Player of the Year and, even if they don’t, Thad Matta will be the runaway choice
for the Big Ten’s Coach of the Year honor.
That being said, a half-dozen teams
– the Buckeyes, Indiana, Illinois,
Wisconsin – appear fully capable
of winning the conference tournament next week in Conseco Fieldhouse in
The feeling here is that the
relative balance throughout the conference is more a sign of strength (from a
national perspective) rather than mediocrity.
Those same six clubs, with
favorable matchups (as much as that can be the case in the NCAA Tournament)
could win a couple of games apiece.
*On the subject of the Big Ten, I’m
not sure there is a more perplexing team, nationally, this season than the
Michigan State Spartans.
I don’t care how good the Big Ten
is (and it’s the second strongest conference, after the Big East) this
There’s no way that a Tom Izzo-coached team with Paul Davis, Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown in the lineup should be
.500 in conference.
*Gonzaga is going to have to step
up its half-court defense and, in some instances, its shot selection (other than
that of Adam Morrison, who is fully
welcomed to shoot anytime he darn well pleases), if it’s going to venture beyond
the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since
I’m fully on board with the concept
that playing conference opponents is almost always more difficult than playing
non-conference foes because of the familiarity edge with personnel and coaching
philosophies in-conference opponents have.
But there is no way that a Top
Five-ranked team in the country should be needing 37 second-half points by
Morrison to beat Loyola Marymount, and 34 points by Morrison and a last-second
shot by Pierre Marie
Altidor-Cespedes to beat the University of San Francisco in
*It’s too bad that Dick Bennett is stepping down
(apparently, for the last time following his “retirement” several seasons ago at
Wisconsin) from coaching duties
without the general basketball-watching population ever realizing he is truly
among the very elite in his profession.
His peers in the Big Ten and,
during the past three seasons at
State, in the Pacific 10 Conference
sure know it, though. No one – and I emphasize, no one – is more respected by those on
all levels of coaching.
*A source very close to Golden
State Warriors’ coach Mike Montgomery
– I repeat, very close – promises that, contrary to
how often his name is mentioned with any current or future openings, the former Montana and Stanford coach has
no intention of returning to the college level whenever his stint in the NBA
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at
email@example.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at