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If you will allow me to retort: UConn is one of the best teams in the country

Nick Fasulo, our basketball-blogging-brother from SB Nation's Searching for Billy Edelin has an interesting post up this morning advising UConn fans to pump the brakes on our rapidly accelerating bandwagon. I can see why someone would want to argue that UConn isn't as good as they appear -- UConn came out of nowhere and the season is still very, very young, but the facts simply don't back it up.

Fasulo starts by analogizing Kemba Walker and this year's team to something we're all too familiar with: Denard Robinson and Michigan football. Both started out super-hot, led by a stud offensive player that came out of nowhere to steal the national spotlight. On the surface, this analogy is appealing, but if you look deeper, you realize that it's essentially saying apples and oranges taste the same because they're both round fruit. 

Yes, Michigan got off to a hot start, but they did it against a whole pile of nobodies. I know this because one of Michigan's better wins was against UConn, and trust me, UConn is a cupcake. As soon as they hit real competition, the wheels came off for Michigan. Now, if UConn's quick start came solely against Stony Brook, Vermont and their like, then sure, calling us the Michigan of basketball would be fair. But if UConn's start came against those schools, I wouldn't be calling the Huskies one of the best teams in the country. Instead, UConn's start came against, real, legitimate competition. 

Wichita St. is the preseason favorite to win the Missouri Valley, Michigan St. has as much talent as anyone in the country, and as much as we slam Calipari around here, there is more potential on that roster than I care to admit. Those teams were all highly-touted (so was Washington by the way, who hung tight with both MSU and UK), and UConn either matched them or, in Kentucky's case, obliterated them. If you want to dial back expectations for UConn, you better be ready to pull those four teams down to UConn's level, because the Huskies proved they belong.

That isn't the only place the Michigan analogy breaks down.

Michigan's problem this year has been their abysmal defense. Robinson is a prodigious talent, but he has nothing around him. The Walker to Robinson analogy fits for the offense thus far, but UConn is averaging 7.2 steals and 6.4 blocks per game. Their defensive rebounding percentage is a solid, if unspectacular 67.5 and they are holding their opponents to a 96.6 offensive efficiency rating. 

Walker's getting help too. Alex Oriakhi has developed into an impressive post player and Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, Jeremy Lamb and Niels Giffey have all brought something to the table. Napier is the only one of those four who has been on in every game this season, but if two or three out of the four are playing well (and that has happened in every game), UConn is fine.

After the Michigan analogy, Fasulo lists four recent teams that came out of nowhere, had a hot start and then fell off the face of the Earth. First of all, correlation does not equal causation. If it did, I'd win this argument in a second by pointing to the 2006 Florida team, last year's Syracuse squad and the fact that oranges still do not taste like apples.

Here are Fasulo's four teams:

  • Last year's Florida team, which got off to a quick 8-0 start. Seven of those wins were against nobodies. They do get credit for a win over Michigan St. (in a game where MSU has 22 turnovers and shot 2-10 from behind the arc). The main difference between UConn and Florida is that the Gators were led by a freshman, and I mean no offense to Kenny Boynton, but he's no Kemba Walker. After that 8--0 start, they played Syracuse and Richmond (which, when added to the MSU game, gives them matchups with three-teams roughly equivalent to what UConn faced). They lost both games.
  • Next up are the 2007-08 Texas A&M Aggies who started 15-1 before falling off a cliff and finishing 8-8 in conference play. Anyone care to guess how many of those 15 wins came against ranked teams? Zero.
  • Then we have Clemson's 2006-07 squad, which was 17-0 before playing their first ranked squad. Clemson's next two games were against ranked teams. After 19 games they were 17-2. You get the idea.
  • Finally, there is last year's Texas squad, who opened up 17-0 and climbed to No. 1 before losing to Kansas St. and UConn in the same week. Of those 17 wins, 15 were against unranked teams, and one of the ranked wins was against North Carolina, so that barely counts.

If you want a team that mirrors this year's Michigan team, the answer isn't UConn, the answer is any one of Fasulo's four examples, because they, like Michigan, played no one before getting exposed. In the course of three days, UConn collected more high-quality wins than those four teams did combined. 

This is a long season, and I'm the Huskies will lose games during it. However, UConn showed in Maui that they are the real deal. Through five games the Huskies have played as tough a schedule as anyone and looked better in each successive game. This team is the real deal, write them off at your own peril.