So here we are. After a roller coaster ride of a regular season, with a few ups and plenty of downs, UConn finds itself needing four straight wins to qualify for the NCAA tournament, starting tonight against the 11-seeded South Florida Bulls in Hartford.
One week ago after the Huskies' trouncing of top-seed SMU, it looked like UConn was headed for a shot at the 3-seed in the AAC tournament, and a first round bye. Now, after a gut wrenching loss to Memphis on senior night and a miserable team performance in Philadelphia against Temple, UConn gets its third match-up against USF to open the tournament.
The previous two games resulted in easy wins for UConn, but beating a team three times in college basketball is never an easy feat. Fortunately for the Huskies, USF will be without their leading scorer and leading rebounder due to a suspension and an undisclosed medical issue. This leaves the Bulls with seven players who will see minutes and just one player averaging double figures this season.
USF does not shoot the three point shot very well, but does have a play-making point guard averaging 5.3 assists in Anthony Collins. UConn is going to need to stop him. Ryan Boatright has played elite defense on the opponent's best perimeter player this season, especially in the XL center where he held Nic Moore of SMU and Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard of Tulsa to some of their worst games of the season. If Boatright can bring that same intensity to the defensive end as he has all season on this floor, then UConn should cruise to a victory.
With the Huskies missing the opportunity for a bye, the team has a chance to gain some momentum with its match-up with the Bulls tonight. Much like the 2011 season when UConn used a blow out of DePaul to spark its remarkable run, these Huskies could use South Florida to find the confidence they need to win this tournament. We have seen what Rodney Purvis can do in this building with his confidence boiling, we have seen Amida Brimah score 40 points in this building, and we have seen Daniel Hamilton completely take over a game here at the XL Center (re: last 8 minutes against SMU).
It's now or never for our beloved Huskies. This team is ready to show the state its grit and determination by starting off this AAC tournament by blowing out USF. Ryan Boatright is going to contain Anthony Collins, Amida Brimah will control the paint, and Daniel Hamilton will show why no one can match-up with him offensively when he is playing with an edge. Kevin Ollie builds his teams for March, and Ryan Boatright is down to his final few games in a Husky uniform, I don't think they'll go down easy.
Prediction: UConn 75, USF 57