So much happy. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh's offense is everything that UConn's is not.
It's measured, it's consistent, it's efficient. One of the most efficient in the country, in fact, ranking No. 5 in the NCAA in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Instead of relying on a go-to superstar, it excels at spreading the ball around, sitting No. 3 nationally in assist percentage while boasting three players averaging over 11 points per game. And while it turns it over more than most (its 18.5 TO% puts it outside the top 75 nationally), it rates inside the top 50 in effective field goal percentage (No. 40), free-throw rate (47) and OR% (2).
It's a well-oiled machine, a veteran-drive team that relies on executing an offensive gameplan rather than overwhelming its opponents with talent.
But the Huskies thrive amidst chaos.
There are plays in place (at least, I think they are), but UConn's offensive philosophy is as basic as it gets: let talented players make plays. Recruiting the best athletes they can find, the Huskies essentially ball up all of the size, speed and talent they can find and whip it at you as fast as they can.
Sometimes it misses the mark. With a young, still-developing core outside of Kemba Walker, the Huskies struggle with some of the finer phases of any attack: efficiency from the field (48.5 eFG%, No. 199 in the country), 3-point shooting (33.7 3P%, No. 201) and post play (Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu average a combined ~14 ppg).
But when it hits, it's hard to stop. (Even with its many flaws, the Huskies still rank 29th in AdjOE.)
The Panthers executed at an outstanding clip (63.3 eFG%, and 77 pct. from behind the arc alone), but UConn still bounced back and ultimately brought down the Big East's best by doing what it does best: creating mayhem.
Primarily using a smaller lineup with Oriakhi as the de facto 5, the Huskies put the pressure on defensively, generating 20 points off of 11 Pitt turnovers. They pushed the pace, scoring 12 points off of fast breaks. And they took advantage of the Panthers' unwillingness to stick to the zone by forcing their way into the lane, corralling seven more rebounds and almost 45 percent of offensive rebounds and shockingly scoring 12 more points in the paint.
Pitt did almost everything right on offense. The Huskies, a team playing in their third noon game in as many days, simply ran it into the ground with its wad o' talent.
Which was never more evident than in the game's final two possessions.
After all 6-7 of Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel somehow saved an errant Walker shot attempt, pulling down a clutch-as-they-come rebound amongst the Pitt redwoods, with 18 seconds left, he called a timeout, allowing UConn to draw up a final game-winning play. But with one shot to sink the nation's No. 3 team, Jim Calhoun simply let his best player work his magic.
And Walker did just that. Taking advantage of a poor switching scheme on a pick-and-pop that left loafing 6-11 center Gary McGhee isolated at the top of the key, the junior made a few fancy crossover moves before springing backward and shooting the deciding bucket over a falling McGhee as time expired.
Most NBA enthusiasts, including myself, would normally poo-poo Cal's call, as the perils of relying on a "closer" rather than a set play in crunch time are well-documented. But that last play -- letting its best player simply beat an overmatched defender -- is UConn basketball.
It's infuriating when it's off. It's euphoric when it's on. Either way, it's always chaotic.
Someone told me this weekend that the key to creating reality TV drama is to cast two types of people: those who are calm in the midst of chaos, and those who create chaos in the midst of calm. In just three days, the Huskies are two wins and a Snooki away from an unlikely smash hit.
After a less-than-stellar opening-round blowout, I halfheartedly made a case for the Huskies turning five years of MSG mayhem into a miracle. But in order to create the latter, it needs the former.
The Huskies struggled at the end of the season, losing four of five heading into the Big East tournament, as a worn-down Walker could no longer shoulder one of the most sizeable offensive burden's in the country, especially after Louisville's matchup zone created the blueprint for bringing their attack to a halt.
But the tournament that had for five years been a source of despair is exactly what they needed to turn things around. Playing in a conference likely to send 11 teams to the Dance, it's hard to hide in a full season; flaws will ultimately show themselves.
However, a one-and-done format is a perfect fit for these Huskies. They're young and spry, so they don't seem to be daunted by the increased activity in such a confined amount of time (yet, at least). Although teams all know each other at this point, there's less time to create an elaborate scheme against them. An always-hounding defense keeps them close in games, allowing their talent the extra opportunities they so desperately need. They have one the best players in the county, one that seems to thrive under the bright lights.
And most importantly, it's just one game (at a time). Put UConn in a series against a team like Pitt and it'll lose seven out of 10 times. But in one 40-minute session, anything can happen.
And that's exactly where the Huskies want to be.