Every year, around this time, Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn publishes his "Early Warnings" list, which looks at the offensive and defensive efficiency rankings of ranked teams, in an attempt to spot teams that may look good early on, but likely have some fatal flaw that will doom them in March. Last year, six teams made the list. Two of those missed the NCAA Tournament completely, the other four lost in the first weekend. As Winn notes:
Early Warning teams are red-flagged for yielding a relatively high amount of points per possession. The reason being: In the seven years that kenpom.com has charted efficiency data, no team that finished ranked outside the top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency has made the Final Four. And only two Elite Eight teams during that span ranked outside the top 50. A high defensive efficiency ranking isn't the only stat that defines an elite team -- but a team can't be elite without it.
I think you can see where this is going, and it's not good, because at the time Winn wrote that column, UConn ranked 66th in defensive efficiency.
Now, that does not, by any measure, mean UConn is doomed. First of all -- it's still early, and these numbers are fungible. After the fantastic effort against Harvard, UConn jumped to 49th in nation, so if Winn's column was written today, instead of last week, UConn wouldn't have made the list. Plus, as we've noted over and over again, this is a very young team. Usually that gets brought up in the context of, "Hey, don't get too excited because they're young and everything could fall apart the second Big East play starts," but it could just as easily mean, "Hey, they've only played 11 games together and as they move forward and adjust, their defense can improve." Plus, as Winn notes in his power rankings, it's not all bad for UConn (and the real shame is we live in a world where the 3-point shot exists):
To play Devil's Advocate against myself, there are some positive things about UConn's D: Led by Alex Oriakhi, they've controlled the interior, ranking second nationally in two-point field-goal defense (at 36.4 percent). They also rank third nationally in defensive free throw rate (22.7 percent). And they've added size to their front line with the addition of German 7-footer Enosch Wolf, who debuted against Coppin State on Dec. 20. Their problem has been guarding on the perimeter, as they've been allowing opponents to shoot 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks 301st nationally. If UConn's guards can start putting more pressure on opposing shooters, the Huskies may be able to contend in the Big East.
The point is this: the sky is obviously not falling and this is still a very good basketball team, but it's not a perfect one, and there might be some rude surprises in store in the Big East. I don't know if anyone actually believes UConn is one of the top four teams in the country -- I certainly don't, but it's good to keep things in perspective.