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Turning Point

The next four days are a huge test for the Huskies. Can they afford to go through this stretch without a win?

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The college basketball season is 16 games old ... more than half the season.

So, here's a question for ya: what can you say you really, honestly, truly know about UConn men's basketball team?

Are they really good?

Are they just mediocre?

Do they have great players?

Do they have overhyped players?

Be honest, is there an easy answer to any of those questions?

Can they go deep into March?

Are they pretenders to the crown?

It's an odd thing, to be this far into the year and not feel like you have a really great grasp of your favorite team's ceiling. Right now shouldn't be about finding an identity but, instead, fine tuning some issues to be that well-oiled American machine come March.

But UConn's whacky, weird year doesn't allow for that. It's a hell of a lot more confusing.

That's why the next two games are so important. If nothing else, they'll bring a little bit of clarity to the situation.

Though Cincinnati current sits at the top of the Conference standings, Memphis and Louisville are widely regarded as the cream of the AAC crop. Memphis has, in fact, been more impressive than the defending champion Cardinals, beating them in Louisville last week. Yet both are viewed as bonafide contenders to play well and deep come tournament time.

UConn hasn't exactly embarrassed themselves either. In fact, they have as many losses (3) as both Memphis and Louisville and actually have more victories over ranked opponents than the Cardinals who, despite still being ranked in the top 20, haven't beaten anyone with a number currently next to their name.

Yet UConn has limped into the second full week of January. After beating Florida at Gampel (thank you Shabazz and DeAndre), the Huskies have alternated between playing bad and blah. They lost to an okay Stanford team, beat a mediocre team in Washington, then Texas two-stepped their way out of the top 25 by losing to Houston and SMU. The game against the Mustangs was especially difficult to handle since SMU appeared to control the Huskies from the first tip, answering every challenge, easily handling every run at their lead.

Since then, UConn has beaten a very good Harvard team and a bad UCF squad.

That leads us to the next four days.

UConn currently has an RPI of 25 and 13 wins on the season. It would take a really ugly final stretch to knock them out of the Tournament in March. But you can make the case that the Huskies only legit, no-questions-asked quality wins on the season are home victories against Florida and Harvard. Was UConn's win against the Gators a sign that they truly are capable of going head-to-head with the best in the game, or did they just catch Florida on the right night, early in the season?

These next two games will help answer that question.

No, these aren't must-wins. I think we'd all be content with a hard-fought split. From a resume-building standpoint, walking out of Memphis with a victory Thursday night probably does more than beating Louisville Saturday at home. Road wins always look great when preening for a spot in the Big Dance. But, from a personal standpoint ... there isn't anything left from the heady days of the Big East and, because of that, a chance to smack Pitino and his ugly-ass pinstripe suits in the mouth one more time in Storrs would be great.

However you slice it, however, UConn waking up on Sunday having gone 1-1, and playing well in both games, would be welcome. A 2-0 run would be amazing. And 0-2 debacle would be just that.

Again, it wouldn't devastate their season. They still play both teams once more, have Cincinnati twice, and have a likely Tournament-bound SMU at home. They have chances to continue building their resume.

But what about their confidence?

What about our confidence, as fans?

If UConn loses its next two games, all the concerns expressed over the last month will seem to have been justified. The game against Florida will seem like an outlier. The fact that UConn has needed to hold on for wins against the likes of Boston College and Maryland will seem more like an omen than an aberration.

This is the litmus test. These next two games will tell us not only where UConn is right now, but where they can go.

We still don't know where UConn belongs in the pecking order of college basketball. The Florida win would say they belong at the top. The shoddy play of the last month would demand expectations to be drastically lowered.

What team will show up against the Tigers and Cardinals? The one that wants to play for 40 minutes or the one going through the motions in the middle of games? Which Amida Brimah is attending the game? The beast that manhandled UCF, or the one relegated to the bench by bad fouls and bad rebounding?

UConn needs to play well the next two games. They need it to continue building their resume, to thrust themselves back into the national discussion, and for their confidence.

No, it's not a must-win. But it's a must split. At the very least, it's a must show up.

All I know is, by the time UConn finishes its 17th and 18th games of the season, we'll have a much better idea of who, exactly, they are.