UConn's 16-game winning streak came to an end Friday afternoon, as the Huskies blew a 17-point lead and lost to the Central Florida Fightin' Jordan Progenys, 68-63, in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis. UConn falls to 5-1 overall, loses for the first time since last season's regular-season finale against Notre Dame, and loses in a tournament game for the first time since the 2010 Big East Tournament.
Good on UCF for taking the game from a UConn team that hasn't been overwhelmingly good early in the season. As if we needed any further reminders, this isn't Kemba Walker's team anymore.
Depending on your own personal level of optimism, today's loss was either a painful way of helping this young group grow up, a warning sign for the future, or completely irrelevant because the construction of the Huskies' roster will look very different 24 hours from now.
If you're in the first group, you'll note that Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi played a splendid first 30 minutes of the game, completely controlling the Knights on both ends of the floor. The two combined for 16 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks in the first half, and were crucial to the Huskies racking up a 50-33 lead with just over 12 minutes to play. You'll also note that, even as UConn limped to a an 11-points-in-12-minutes finish and their first loss of the season, it came against the zone, a typical Jim Calhoun bugaboo. They'll work on that, for sure, and hopefully come time for the Big East schedule, the offense won't be reduced to "everyone taking 18-footers early in the shot clock". In this camp, this game will be looked back on as an anomaly by mid-January, and order will be restored perhaps as soon as tomorrow.
If you're in the second group, you'll posit that Jeremy Lamb was fairly disastrous on both sides of the ball (5-16 from the field, 2-9 from 3; getting beat by Marcus Jordan on drives to the hoop time after time), that the Huskies shot 2-18 from 3, that Shabazz Napier turned the ball over 7 times, that when they absolutely needed a bucket, there was no one who could take charge, impose his will and get to the basket effectively (Drummond scored UConn's only two field goals of the last 7:38, both on putbacks). You'll make the case that even with the frontcourt playing a bit better, the Huskies are about as good as Jerebazz Lambpier is on any given day (today: 7-for-23, 2-13 on 3s, 10 TOs). These also fall under the "growing pains" category, but consider that this is not a very good UCF team - they lost to Florida State by 23 a few weeks ago - and it could seem like there's quite a gap between UConn and the upper tier of the Big East.
And if you're in the third group, everything that has happened up to this very moment is irrelevant, because UConn has been an incomplete team since Nov. 10. That changes tomorrow, when Ryan Boatright becomes eligible. By all accounts, Boatright should be able to step in right away to give Jim Calhoun some options with the backcourt. You could make the case that Napier and Lamb have had to carry too much of the load, and Boatright taking 15-20 minutes from them (and getting Lamb off the point guard hook, where he is not as effective) should be helpful. If you're in this camp, you would've hoped UConn could get through its Charmin soft first six games (UCF's the top-ranked KenPom team they've faced, at 102).
I think all three camps have their merits. This WILL be a different team with Boatright; it WILL be a different team with another five weeks of playing together. And it's also kind of frightening that a team like UCF managed to run UConn off the court for the last 12 minutes with an exceedingly simple gameplan. (The loser of the Florida State-Harvard game is almost certainly better than UCF.)
I am still very confident that this will be a championship-caliber team come March; I was also pretty sure that the Huskies were wildly overrated at No. 4 in the polls this early in the season. We now officially know that the second part is true; beginning tomorrow, we'll hopefully start to see progress towards the first part.