The only two times in the last decade that UConn has done that were in 2005-2006 and 2008-2009. The '05-'06 season resulted in a trip to the Elite Eight, and the '08-'09 squad reached the Final Four. That's not bad company for this year's team to join, considering they were picked to finish 10th in the Big East.
Right now, Ohio State tops the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and the AP Poll as the highest ranked team in the country, with Kansas and Syracuse close behind. Those three teams combine for just one loss, and seem worthy of their rankings.
The Huskies on the other hand have two losses and sit at No. 8 in both polls. They are also 4-2 in the Big East. But even though they are not quite at the "best in the country" level, a win on Saturday might mean that no team in the nation has proven more.
Think about what this team, one that relies heavily on freshmen, sophomores, and Kemba Walker, will have accomplished. They will have:
- Won the Maui Invitational with wins on three consecutive days, two of them against teams then-ranked in the top 10
- Won a total of three games against top-10 teams
- Beaten No. 12 Texas on the road, in overtime
- Gone at least 5-1 in games decided by five points or less, including at least 2-0 in overtime
- Rebounded from a discouraging start to Big East play to win their next five games
- Defeated every out of conference team they have faced
UConn has played six ranked teams this season, the same number as Ohio State, Kansas, and Syracuse combined.
Is is worth mentioning again that UConn was picked 10th in the Big East?
But looking ahead again to Saturday, a game against Tennessee is anything but a guaranteed win. Though the Volunteers have struggled mightily in the last month, they still boast impressive victories against Villanova, and at a Pittsburgh team that beat UConn by 15. They are led by the backcourt duo of Scotty Hopson and Cameron Tatum, with forward Tobias Harris averaging 15.6 points per game up front.
And even if UConn can defeat Tennessee, the road does not get any easier, and it is still far too early to be thinking about NCAA Tournament seeding. The Huskies can only afford to focus on the present. A tough road game at Marquette, followed by home contests against Louisville and Syracuse loom, as the always brutal Big East will not do the Huskies any favors.
Through the last ten weeks, UConn has continued to prove doubters wrong. The Huskies started the season unranked, then stormed through Maui to burst into the national polls. Then, after stumbling out of the gate in the Big East, many thought Maui was a fluke. How could a team that relies so much on one player, be any good? So everyone else stepped up. Alex Oriakhi re-gained his offensive prowess, while freshmen Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Jeremy Lamb have all shined at one point. Heck, even Charles Okwandu has had his moments.
More obstacles certainly follow for a team that has enjoyed a great start to the season. Have the Huskies been perfect? No, far from it. But can you reasonably have asked any more from this group so far? Absolutely not.