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Postgame Talk: UConn's struggles continue at Cincinnati

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Another brutal loss for the Huskies has them on the ropes. Is UConn still capable of reaching the NCAA tournament? What needs to improve? Our experts talk answer these questions and more.

At 11-8, UConn is getting dangerously close to needing to win the conference tournament to reach the NCAA tournament.
At 11-8, UConn is getting dangerously close to needing to win the conference tournament to reach the NCAA tournament.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

UConn is on the ropes now.

The Huskies fell to 11-8 Thursday night with a loss to Cincinnati at the Fifth Third Arena. With 11 games left, UConn lacks a quality win – the best two coming against Dayton and Florida – and a slew of bad losses.

Many UConn fans now believe that the only route for UConn to take to the NCAA tournament is to win the American Athletic Conference tournament, which is in Hartford this year.

The Huskies' performance this season has led to comparisons to older UConn teams. Our friends at the Twitter account "We take the stairs" had an interesting take on this year's team, which is led by senior star Ryan Boatright.

As usual, Tim Fontenault, Matt Gionfriddo and Elan-Paolo DeCarlo had a lot to say about Thursday's game, the season, the comparisons and what UConn needs to do to salvage the season.

Tim Fontenault: Well, here we are. UConn is 11-8 19 games into the season. Running the table seems a daunting task, especially with Tulsa and two each against SMU and Memphis still to come.

And considering the way UConn played Thursday, one or two losses the rest of the way would be a success. That was horrendous. The Huskies are a better shooting team than they demonstrated. Even against the fifth best defense in the nation, a 32.8 percent shooting performance is inexcusable.

That wasn’t even the worst part of the game, neither were the 17 turnovers. UConn grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. That’s a potential for a minimum of 34 points on the follow up. They scored nine second-chance points. Can’t have that.

Matt Gionfriddo: Realistically, running the table or even losing just once seems rough, but then again, we are in the AAC so we could potentially beat anyone. It will be interesting to see how we match up with SMU and Memphis the first time around.

Last night was just so rough. I was really really impressed with Cincinnati's defense. Obviously we didn't play well offensively, but they did a great job of extending their zone out really far on our guards while still being able to not allow anything in the middle. And then they just made someone besides Boat beat us and we just couldn't get it done.

BUT, Boatright's shooting at the end of the game was absurd.

Elan-Paolo DeCarlo: Last night was unbelievably frustrating to watch. Between our inert offense, Bob Knight's belligerent ramblings and Troy Caupain's insufferableness, it was just an awful experience.

Looking forward, UConn is in trouble. Losses to Cincy, Duke, Texas and West Virginia, all teams likely to make the tournament, bodes poorly for their tournament hopes. UConn lacks a truly signature win and there really isn't one available on their schedule remaining.

Last night, Kevin Ollie coached desperately, which was necessary. Subbing out Brimah and Facey within the first two minutes for Nolan and Lubin, starting Terrence Samuel in the second half, Ollie was trying everything. Nothing really worked. I don't know how to fix it, or if it even can be fixed.

Gionfriddo: I know it seems far-fetched, but if we win out or lose once to either Tulsa or SMU heading into the conference tournament, then we have a good shot of making the NCAA Tournament. If we were to do that, that would mean either sweeping SMU or beating them once along with Tulsa which would have to be considered quality wins.

And then, let's say we don't finish strong. The AAC Tournament is in Hartford!!!! I know people have been upset and frustrated with this team's play during the season, but to write off the Huskies completely seems mind-boggling to me. Scrolling through twitter and other social media websites was really really tough to look through last night. I may think a little differently, but honestly, just get us into the Tournament , that's it. If that means winning three games in Hartford in the AAC Tournament, then so be it. But, by no means can you write off a Kevin Ollie coached team until they are literally out of it.

Fontenault: I don’t disagree with you, Matt. All we need to do is look at the 2010-11 season. Four losses in five games to end the regular season, finished conference play 9-9, put together nine wins to win the Big East and national title.

With the tournament in Hartford, UConn has to be, at worst, a favorite to finish as runner-up. The crowd will know the deal. Everyone will be pushing the Huskies toward the NCAA tournament. They can get there, and if they do, well, I use the phrase "built for March" a lot.

But I think we need to accept that this is a young team, and not even having Boatright on the court can solve their issues. Success will come with age.

Our friend, Thomas Chandler, threw up an interesting post on Twitter Friday morning. It was the 1992-93 roster. That year’s team went 15-11 in the regular season. It could have been much worse. At 9-8, they strung together six wins (including a win at No. 17 Pittsburgh). At 15-8, they lost three in a row to end the season before losing to Providence in the Big East tournament and Jackson State in the NIT at Gampel.

The lone senior on that team: Scott Burrell, a man who finished 17th on the all-time scoring list. Cup Cormier and Oliver Macklin were juniors on that team.

But the sophomore class: Donyell Marshall, Brian Fair, Kevin Ollie, Donny Marshall, Jeff Calhoun. The freshmen class was Eric Hayward, Rudy Johnson, Travis Knight and Natambu Washington. They all had a successful ride in Storrs.

I never expected much from this year, but there are reasons to be excited. They can certainly make the tournament, but if not, there is still excitement about the future.

DeCarlo: I'm all for cautious optimism, but as of this point in the season, my mindset is focused primarily on a great showing at the conference tournament. Played in Hartford, that is the best chance UConn has of getting a bid to the dance.

On a smaller scale, do we want to just chalk up last night to being beaten by a solid team on the road? Cincy always plays UConn tough, and a season sweep would have been an ambitious effort. What really troubles me is how soft this team looks and the lack of communication they had. It seems like this is a team that gets along when things go well, but put a little adversity in front of them, they fold. Nothing stood out more than Rodney Purvis pushing Caupain then later in the game, getting flattened by a blindside screen.

Gionfriddo: Yeah, I mean you just never know in college basketball. Teams just need to get hot at the right time or have the right match-ups, and then it's chaos.

Next year can be something special, and I think a lot of fans should expect success. Recruiting does not seem like an issue at all even though some people feel this way (which is also mind-boggling). Even though we lose Boatright, everyone will be a year older and then the addition of Jalen Adams and Steve Enoch will certainly help. The future is still bright in Storrs and no one should think otherwise.

But, as of now, I guess we are on to Houston.

We just really got punched in the mouth at the start and Cincinnati did not let up much the rest of way, especially on defense.  I think we can chalk it up as a loss to a good team (really good on defense) on the road.  Winning at Cincy has never been easy either, as we lost to them last year on the road, even with Shabazz and Tyler Olander.  On top of that, the Bearcats are playing some of their best basketball of the year, now winners of four straight including a blowout over Temple and now soundly beating us.  I just don't think we were as ready as we thought we would be in a hostile environment.

Fontenault: Yea, and UConn has a chance to get two more recruits (keep in mind they’re still alive in the Diamond Stone sweepstakes). Next year will be solid.

I agree with you, Elan. I always expected to lose that game. To me, it’s just a matter of how they lost. UConn and Cincinnati are rivals, and their games reflect that. Only twice has a team swept the season series when they play twice in conference (UConn also won twice in 2011, once during the NCAA tournament). The rest of the time, they split. Regardless of how good one or the other is, I always expect the home team to win in this rivalry.

Gionfriddo: Do either of you guys wish that Daniel Hamilton just kind of let loose last night? He only shot one 2-pointer while shooting seven 3-pointers, and towards the end of the game, I wish he just kind of played with no restrictions. Before Boat went off, there was no offense anywhere, and I think Hamilton could have been more of a factor. Obviously, he's just a freshman so he may not be comfortable doing it, but it would have been nice to see him go for it, especially with Purvis and Calhoun not contributing much.

Fontenault: I want to see Hamilton go off regardless of the situation. He loves that Ollie gives him the option to play freely, and he needs to take advantage of that. Someone other than Boat needs to be able to carry the offense. There were a couple of times when I thought he could change the game last night, but he didn’t.

Maybe some of that is age. Maybe it is a result of Cincinnati’s incredible defense. But I want to see more from Hamilton.

Gionfriddo: I agree. For us to be a real threat offensively, we need two guys out of Purvis, Calhoun or Hamilton to put up points. Boat is going to get his and Brimah is going to score off dunks, but we just need to be able to look to other guys. It's been the story of the season so far: Who's going to step up besides Boatright? I think Hamilton has the most natural ability to be that scorer, he just needs to go for it.

DeCarlo: I don't know if I want to see Daniel just let loose like that. He's not a great shooter, and at times, he's not even a good one. He needs to be more aggressive, but he's not ready to be a primary scorer yet. I think he's best as a playmaker in the high post, either as a scorer or a passer. That's where I think this team should turn, to a small ball lineup. When Brimah and Facey play together, that's not enough offensive punch from the front court. Putting Hamilton at the 4, next to either Brimah or Facey will punch up the lineup. And because he's an exceptional rebounder, UConn can get away with that.

Fontenault: I like that. Maybe that’s something they’ll try against Houston. UConn needs to get a win down in Texas, obviously. I keep thinking back to last year’s game and saying, "That can’t happen again."

Gionfriddo: I see where that lineup can be effective offensively, I just felt like in a game like last nights, Hamilton can at least try to be a scorer. Doesn't mean he needs to shoot a ton of shots, just get into the lane and then either shoot your runner or give the lob to Brimah. We are at a point in the season where need guys to step up in scoring, and if Purvis and Calhoun aren't going to be consistent, then I don't see why Hamilton can't be an option.  He is a scorer and that's what we need.

But yes, Houston is 0-8 in conference and if we lose then I just don't know.