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On expectations, narratives, and surprise Big East championships

It's like they're all shaking hands with Bill Clinton. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
It's like they're all shaking hands with Bill Clinton. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Getty Images

I wanted to briefly touch on something Justin wrote in his wrap-up post, because I think that one sentence kind of crystalized everything I've felt for the last 24 hours. First here's J-Dawg:

Even though the 2008-09 team was by far my favorite team in sports history, I'm hard-pressed, two years later, to recall a specific event that truly defined that season, that feeling.

I think the difference between that Final Four run and this Big East tournament run, and your feelings about it, depend on your perspective and what you value you most in your sports-watching.

The 2008-09 team (also my favorite team in any sport) had an epic feel to it. Not only were they an awesome, well-rounded team with interesting personalities and compelling stories, but it felt like their run was the conclusion of a heroic journey.

That team basically arose from the ashes of George Mason and the NBA exodus that followed. They were highly-touted, but lord were they woeful to start. With a team made up entirely of eight freshmen and five sophomores, they were more or less on their own for a year and a half with no veteran leadership, and even Jim Calhoun seemed to have no idea how to reach them.

Then they kind of clicked in 2007-08, winning 10 straight, finishing fourth in the Big East and earning a top-4 seed in the NCAAs. You could see Hasheem Thabeet get better every game, you could see A.J. Price slowly work out of the funk caused by two years of injuries and suspensions. You could look at the individual pieces and see the trajectory and see where it COULD end up.

It's not like getting to the Final Four in 2009 was inevitable or destiny or anything, but it seemed...right. Even before the season, the narrative was going that way (which is why the 24-9 team that lost to San Diego was given a No. 2 preseason ranking that year, and why we were all thinking national title in November of that year).

At least for me, as a person who is drawn to storybook finishes, it seemed like the only fitting conclusion for that group of players. (And, not incidentally, it meant more to me because UConn lost to George Mason my freshman year, and looked to be on course to redeem themselves in my senior year.)

This team had a similar, if accelerated, redemption story, as everyone in the world has noted. They were left for dead by certain idiots as recently as eight days ago, and came from out of nowhere to pull off one of the greatest feats in college basketball history.

There was no grand logic about this. It really did come from nowhere.

And so for many UConn fans I've talked to and read, this Big East championship run means as much, if not more, than any non-national title season. This was no culmination: this was a surprise, and further proof that when you have a player like Kemba Walker, all things are possible.

I won't be so cynical and say that this is basically the same UConn team that played Notre Dame on March 5, only with a little more luck at the end of games. Given the way they played at the end of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (having the last shot at the end of regulation Thursday, and being up 3 with 10 seconds left the other two times), it would have been unlucky if they didn't win any of the three.

I will say that UConn remains a very vulnerable team - vulnerable to Kemba not getting the calls he got in MSG (the calls he didn't get for most of the Big East season), vulnerable to teams with above-average post players, and vulnerable to shooting slumps in a halfcourt game (which is why it is so important for Kemba to get to the line).

And just because they emerged from the Big East crucible with four hard-fought, legendary wins over ranked teams - wins that required toughness, strength and incredible stamina - does not mean that they are earmarked for anything when the national tournament begins this week. UConn could conceivably turn back into the team they were throughout a poor February. Or they could do something even more amazing.

What I will say is this: anything is possible, and I have no idea where this narrative is going. That's a level of intrigue and excitement we didn't have two years ago, and that's why the tangible, unexpected results of this week mean so so much to Husky Nation.