Monday, February 6, 2012

What to make of the UConn collapse

We all thought that UConn was on the verge of turning their season around.

After a disastrous performance against Georgetown in DC on Wednesday and the loss of their head coach to spinal stenosis of Friday, UConn came out and looked motivated against Seton Hall on Saturday. Some of their underlying issues were still evident -- Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier were still struggling to shoot the ball and UConn still didn't run any semblance of an offense -- but there was some effort and some fight that showed through. Between that performance and the way that they handled the press conference after the games, saying all the right things about team unity, and there was reason to be hopeful about the rest of the season.

So much for that.

Louisville trucked UConn on Monday night, taking home an 80-59 win in front of a national TV audience. And the game wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated. With five minutes left in the first half, UConn had a 21-18 lead despite struggling offensively. By the end of the half, they were down 29-24. Four minutes into the second half, and Louisville had pushed their lead to 40-28. And that's when the Cardinals went on their run. By the time UConn finally put up a fight, they were down 67-38.

All told, in a 20 minute stretch spanning from the five minute mark in the first half to the five minute mark in the second half, Louisville outscored the Huskies 49-17. And while much of the credit must be given to Louisville, its impossible to ignore the fact that UConn simply rolled over and took it, without a shred of fight or a glimmer of pride.

I've already gone in depth on what is wrong with UConn, but the question that must be asked now is whether or not this is fixable. Because what happened tonight was not only embarrassing for the UConn program, it was a disastrous sign for the direction of the program. UConn not only played terribly, they looked completely apathetic towards the outcome. Once Louisville put their run on the Huskies, the Huskies put their tails between their legs and quit.

How do you fix that?

How do you make a team that looks like they just want their season to end care about what happens?

If the NCAA Tournament started today, UConn would have a solid case for an at-large bid. But the tournament doesn't start tomorrow. The Huskies still have to play seven more regular season games and the Big East Tournament. At the rate things are going, UConn will be lucky to get an NIT bid.

It raises the question: if this continues for the Huskies, if their season completely goes up in smoke, where do they rank in terms of all-time disappointments? The first one that comes to mind is the 2009-2010 North Carolina team that went from top five in the country in the preseason to a .500 record and an NIT trip. Ironically enough, that team was also coming off of a national title. The same season, Texas climbed all the way to the top of the polls with a roster stocked with NBA talent before plummeting and losing in the 8-9 games in the tournament. The 2009 Notre Dame team that went from top ten to the NIT and the 2011 Baylor team that, coming off of an Elite 8 run, finished below .500 in the Big 12 also must be in that conversation.

And, I think it goes without saying, that conversation is not one you want to be a part of.

As impressive as this win was for Louisville, and as refreshing as it must be to get back into a rhythm like that, this game was all about UConn. This may end up being the defining moment in a collapse for the ages.

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