For the second time in a little over two weeks the cavalry in the form of Shabazz Napier rode to UConn’s rescue in overtime lifting the Huskies to the 73-66 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats Thursday night. The victory kept the Huskies in sixth place in the BIG EAST conference standings, moved them three games over the .500 and left them two games behind first place Syracuse.
As the top tier BIG EAST team’s fight to capture the regular season crown, jostle for conference tournament seeding and strengthen their cases for seeding in the NCAA tournament, UConn’s overtime win would have been big in any other season. But, this is not any other season. With a post season ban in place for the Huskies (18-7 8-5), their season ends for good on March, 9 regardless of where they finish in the standings.
With the post season ban in place for first year head coach Kevin Ollie’s squad, the regular season has been the post season with the only tangible goal this season capturing the BIG EAST regular season crown. Taking the title this season would have special meaning to Huskies nation as it would cap a great two plus decade run in a conference that will look very different once the 2013-2014 season tips off.
Sitting in sixth place with five games to play, UConn would essentially have to run the table for a shot at the conference crown. With games at DePaul (tonight), Cincinnati and South Florida and home games against Georgetown and Providence rounding out the season, the task isn’t impossible. With the exception of Georgetown, UConn has already knocked off the other four remaining teams, and host the Hoya’s Wednesday night in Storrs.
Even if by some chance the Huskies run the table they will probably end up on the outside looking in as Syracuse (22-4), Georgetown (20-4) and Marquette (19-6) all sit at 10-3 in conference play. All three also have five games remaining and though it’s possible that all three go 3-2 or worse down the stretch, it’s highly unlikely.
Of the three, ‘Cuse has the toughest road with two games against Georgetown, a trip to Marquette and host both Louisville and DePaul. Georgetown has the home and home with the Orange, a trip to Storrs and games with Rutgers and Villanova. Marquette’s road is the easiest, if there is such a thing in conference play, of the three with trips to ‘Nova, Rutgers and St John’s and home dates with Syracuse and Notre Dame. Even a 3-2 finish by the Golden Eagles would give Marquette the top stop by virtue of the win over the Huskies in overtime on New Year’s Day.
Also lurking in the shadows are both Louisville (21-5, 9-4) and Notre Dame (21-6, 9-5) looking to take their respective shots at the title.
For all intents and purposes UConn’s season probably ended last Saturday with a crushing home defeat to Villanova. The loss was especially bitter coming on the heels of a huge win over Syracuse three days earlier. The high’s and low’s of conference play.
When it’s all said and done Ollie should have a 20+ win season under his belt, certainly a feather in any rookie coach’s cap, and finish with a winning record in the final season of what will have once been one of the best basketball conferences in NCAA history.