UConn; Living with the #1 Ranking

By default, Connecticut wakes up as the number one team in America every day this week. That's not to say the Huskies haven't "earned" the distinction, but it's one they have no interest in on January 26th. Head Coach Jim Calhoun was asked about the possibility of being labeled the nation's best prior to the win against Louisville and answered that he wished to be number one on the first Wednesday of April.

Sure being number one is nice, and the typically temporary accolade means the name "Connecticut" will be on the tips of everyone's tongue for at least a week --- but it also means the large bull's eye on the back their jerseys has just been super sized. Ahhh…the number one ranking….to embrace or not to embrace?

The Huskies finished last week with two quality road wins against Syracuse and Louisville and the victories came in two very different ways. One was total domination. The other needed to be grinded out in the half court.

Against Syracuse, UConn looked like the total dominator it can be and displayed every ounce of talent it has. The Huskies were up by 20 at the half in the Carrier Dome, and though their attention wavered in this one, they were clearly the dominant team (88-80). At the defensive end it was a UConn block party as the nation's number one shot blocking team collected 16 against the Orange. On offense, Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone was picked apart, and UConn ran at will resulting in over 52 percent shooting. The two-time national champs were scary good in this one and provoked ESPN announcer Dick Vitale to sing their praises.

Saturday, against a young and undermanned Louisville team, UConn struggled to find its rhythm but eventually came out with a 13-point win (71-58). Calhoun's team never got the running game going and seemed to dismiss the notion of scoring on the interior against a fired up Louisville team. The Cardinals packed-in zone led to the Huskies settling for the jump shot too often in this one.

Marcus Williams, Craig Austrie and Rudy Gay combined for 26 shots and made only ten. Conversely, Hilton Armstrong, who's proved he deserves the ball in the paint, took only two shots. Armstrong entered the Syracuse game averaging 15.5 points over his last six games but only had two vs. the ‘Cuse and six at Freedom Hall. The Huskies can't afford to forget about their senior big man. The frontcourt duo of Josh Boone and Jeff Adrien only attempted nine shots from the floor between them.

But the Huskies returned to their bread-and-butter late in this one to put the game away. With the score 40-39 in UConn's favor -- it was a dunk from Armstrong, an offensive rebound and dunk from Adrien, two free throws from Boone and suddenly the Huskies had a seven-point cushion (46-39). UConn's big men accounted for 12 of the last 31 points scored – a much more balanced offensive attack.

Balance in a word explains why this team has what it takes to come out of Indy with another trophy. With one of the nation's best point guards at the helm (Marcus Williams), one of the nation's best shooters (Rashad Anderson), and one of the nation's best frontcourts it's tough to find a reason not to say the Huskies are number one. They've won games grinding it out in the half court and they've won displaying their deadly transition game. So though they may not embrace their new label, as they sit atop of college basketball, the Huskies can take solace in the fact that they have won 16 games in a variety of ways and possess as many weapons as any arsenal in the country.

Though they've looked terrific at times, there's still room to grow —mostly in the mental toughness and concentration department. This was an area the 2004 team struggled with for a majority of the season causing critics to write them off. That just makes Jim Calhoun lick his chops. There's no doubt the Huskies have performed better over the years when playing with a chip on their shoulder. Remember, Calhoun is a master at getting his teams to peak in February and March.

The best is yet to come from this crop of Huskies – a scary thought for the rest of college basketball.


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