East Carolina: 9-12 (2-6 American)
Preview: There's something a tad bit refreshing about playing basketball with the simple goal of getting better. Watching UConn's loss at Houston on Sunday, it wasn't just the realization that an 11-9 record with just 10 games remaining will not be enough to receive an at-large birth in the NCAA tournament that depressed me, but it was the fact that this team right now simply doesn't compare to other teams we will see in the tournament come March. UConn's inability to score can be laughable at times and it makes winning games nearly impossible. They are playing their worst basketball of the season and it may finally be too late to turn this season into any semblance of a successful one...
The AAC tournament is in Hartford and all it takes is one great week of basketball against above-average (at best) competition. The Huskies' goal over their final 10 games of the season? Just get better. It isn't even about wins and losses. It is about getting their confidence up, getting UConn's defense back to that elite level we have seen at times this year, and it is about getting players not named Ryan Boatright to contribute offensively. UConn has a 10-game season much like the entire 2013 season when the Huskies were barred from post-season play.
Kevin Ollie knows how college basketball works. He was on Jim Calhoun's staff in for that magical run in 2011 and he crafted one of his own last year behind the "nobody believes in us" mantra that seems to work so well in sports. Yes, Ollie's team looked years away from a Final Four run, but for Husky nation to give up hope on UConn's 2015 basketball team is naive and short-sighted.
This 10-game season starts tonight at gampel against East Carolina. It will be very interesting to note what kind of crowd we see at the on-campus arena during such trying times. Attendance has been great this year and unwavering support from UConn fans is exactly what this team needs. East Carolina, despite coming off a home upset over Cincinnati, has already suffered losses to UNC-Asheville, Florida Atlantic, UNC Wilmington, and Hawaii... bottom line, it's been a tough season for the Pirates. They are fairly reliable on the three point shot with two players already attempting over 100 on the season, and as a team they make about one-third of their attempts behind the arc. The Pirates don't have a player averaging over six rebounds per game and only have three players averaging double figures led by the 6-foot-3 Terry Whisnant at 13.7 points per game.
Over this last road trip in Cincinnati and Houston, the trio of Rodney Purvis, Omar Calhoun, and Daniel Hamilton are a combined 12-49 from the field. 24 PERCENT! The Huskies transition defense has been spotty, they have defended the three point shot all that well, and Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey haven't been able to avoid foul trouble, but without a doubt the cold shooting of Purvis, Calhoun, and Hamilton is UConn's biggest ailment that needs to be fixed by March 11th, the first day of the AAC tournament. Hopefully one or two (or three?!) of these guys can start to get going tonight against the Pirates. Win or lose, the one thing I expect to see over these last 10 games of the regular season is a better team than the one we saw in Houston.
Prediction: UConn 64 East Carolina 55