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An optimist looks to the future

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Judging by the comments, I ruffled a few feathers Tuesday by discussing a certain game that, as we all know, never happened. Anyway, I figured I could make some amends by putting on my trademark rose-colored glasses and peering into UConn's future, as I alluded to before TheOpenThread for the Nova game. 

I know it may be hard to believe right now, as we're all still basking in the glory of UConn's upset of Villanova, but if you go back to the weekend, after the disaster against Cincy, the future of the program looked very, very bleak, at least to some. Take for instance, The Day's Mike DiMauro, who published a column entitled "UConn coaching staff needs to bring in more talented players." I do not want to attack DiMauro specifically, his opinion was not exactly unique among the UConn faithful, but it needs to be said: Yes, this year is bad, but no, UConn is not falling off the face of the earth.

To start, please indulge me in a little exercise: Close your eyes and imagine it is 1998. UConn has just been eliminated in the Elite 8, again, and people are starting to worry that one day their gravestones might read "He never saw UConn make a Final Four." Now, if I promised you that in the next four years you'll miss the NCAA tournament twice but make the Final Four, would you take the deal?. If you say no, you're lying.

Is UConn perfect? No, of course not, this is a very frustrating season, but lets not forget where we were last April.

Yes, the team is down this year, but its not because it  doesn't have UConn-caliber players. It does, they're just not ready yet -- UConn's problem is not that Dyson and Sticks aren't "basketball players" (and I will admit, they are athletes first), but the problem is that  that they don't have anyone to give them the ball consistently and don't have any useful big men to clean up their mistakes. The college game has changed, and while fundamentals are great, you cannot win titles without elite athletes. Yes, you need a few "basketball" guys to help those athletes along, but you still need the guys who are bigger, stronger and faster than their opponents. 

So UConn's real problem is that the team is still young and rebuilding from losing a lot last year. If sophomore point guards and freshman big men were good enough to carry a team, they wouldn't stick around long enough to become senior point guards and junior big men. Something tells me a UConn team with a senior Kemba Walker and Oriakhi and Majok as juniors will be contending quite a bit more than this team. Yes, UConn is down this year, yes, they were overrated earlier and the season, but this is not the end of the world. It is just what happens when you go to the Final Four and lose three starters. (By the way, two of the players tat DiMauro's labels as exemplary left the program 10 months ago as Seniors. Adrien did not lead the team as a frosh, Price was mediocre as best as a rusty sophomore -- give the current crop time).

This might be a somewhat different argument, but you might also hear a lot about how one-and-done players are ruining the game of college basketball and hurting UConn. It is not true. The one-and-done culture actually helps UConn. In the decade since UConn won its first title do you know how many teams led by a one-and-done have won the title? One. Syracuse, in 2003. Having an awesome freshman is great for the John Calipari special (go to Final Four, flame out, have F4 appearance stripped by the NCAA). I'll take the national titles that come with actually building a team over time.

A couple of commenters, gxpanos in particular, have been looking to 2012 as the real year UConn should be focusing on. They are right. I've been harder than anyone on Ater Majok this year, but it is pretty clear that he has potential and I like the idea of what he'll look like with two or three years or experience and coaching under his belt. The same goes for Alex Oriakhi

With all of that said, there is the separate issue of Calhoun's future. All the reports I have seen indicate that despite the health problems, he'll be around for a few more years at least, and that comforts me. I have no doubt that given time, Calhoun can take this squad far. The real concern, and the one that I suspect drives a lot of the criticism the team got over the last six weeks, is what to do when Calhoun leaves. I do not want to be Jeff Hathaway when it comes time for that coaching search, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it, hopefully several years down the road. For now, all things considered, I feel pretty good about the next few years.