Did That Just Happen?
On March 7, the day before the Big East tournament started, a fellow reporter asked me, “Do you think there’s a chance, if they lose to DePaul, that they won’t even go to the NCAA tournament?”
I actually had to think for a moment before replying, “No, they’ve done enough already to get in.”
And they had. Still, that the Huskies being sent to the NIT – not to mention losing to DePaul – was even being considered tells you just what a rut they were in. Four losses in their prior five games, and virtually no momentum heading into the Big East tournament as the league’s ninth seed.
Nearly a month later, they’re national champions.
Unbelievable. I mean, seriously … did this just happen?
Granted, it was the Land of Misfit Toys this year in college basketball. All four Final Four participants were oddballs with amazing stories of their own. VCU, which had to win five games just to get to Houston as a First Four participant. Butler, the first team from Indiana ever to reach consecutive Final Fours. (I still can’t get over that one, considering the hoops tradition of that state).
Even Kentucky and its “problem child” coach, John Calipari, overcame youth and some early-season struggles to get on an impressive roll and find itself in Houston.
But UConn’s road may have been the most improbable, and not only because it won the whole thing. I mean, seriously: five wins in five days to win the toughest conference in America’s tournament? Nine wins in 19 days, overall, to get to Houston – six of them over Top 25 teams?
Once they got there, of course, there was no denying them. Kemba Walker was on a mission. Calhoun wasn't about to let Brad Stevens and Butler -- as classy and respectable as they are -- stand between him and his third national title. Look no further than the message on the whiteboard inside the Huskies' locker room.
"We Didn't Come Here to Win the Semi's" it says, in case you can't read it. Never found out who wrote it, but the fact that it could have been anyone -- Calhoun, Walker, another starter, a reserve, an assistant coach -- tells you the unified resolve of this team.
A merry band of freshmen, a couple of sophomores and one superstar, and they’re national champs? It just doesn’t make any sense.
And yet they did it. Truly amazing. National champions. And a month earlier, you had to pause for a moment to consider whether they were NIT-bound.