UConn hopes to follow the example of these improbable NCAA Tournament teams

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Note: This story was originally published on February 10.

(WTNH)–UConn thrashed South Florida on Wednesday night, setting a school record for made threes (16) and making the final look like a women’s score (97-51). Ultimately though, that game will probably only serve to add a few clips to the team’s season-ending highlight reel.

The Huskies (11-12, 6-5/AAC) are still nowhere near the NCAA Tournament bubble, and on Tuesday, ESPN.com’s Eamon Brennan officially declared them 2016-17’s most disappointing team. It’s hard to argue.

You’d have to scroll back pretty far on UConn’s Wikipedia page to find another group of Huskies with seemingly less to play for at this point in the season.

Still, unlike in any other sport, college hoops offers one last glimmer of hope as the calendar turns to March. The AAC Tournament is in Hartford this year, and as unlikely as it sounds, if UConn makes a 2011-esque run through the field, it can find its way into the bracket.

Here are a couple of examples the Huskies can try to follow:

Xavier guard Dedrick Finn (12) is congratulated by teammate Lionel Chalmers (0) after he made a three pointer against Duke in their NCAA Atlanta regional final at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Sunday, March 28, 2004. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
2004 Xavier admittedly had more experience, but the Musketeers didn’t look like a tournament team when they started out 2-5 in the Atlantic 10. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

2004 Xavier Musketeers.

Low Point: 10-9, 2-5/Atlantic-10

Final Record: 26-11 (10-6), advanced to Elite Eight

This talented, experienced Xavier bunch had a lot more in the tank than the current Huskies do, but they also battled injuries and limped to a 10-9 start (2-5 in the Atlantic 10) to the ’04 season. After a 74-67 loss at Dayton on Jan. 31, ‘X’ reeled off 16 of its next 17 games, hammered previously undefeated St. Joe’s (and Jameer Nelson!) in the A-10 tournament, and ran all the way to the Elite Eight before falling, 66-63, to Duke. Not surprisingly, a couple of questionable calls down the stretch did them in.

This squad had better college players than UConn does (though the Huskies might have as much raw talent). It was also a senior-laiden group, with guards Romain Sato and Lionel Chalmers leading the way. It’d be beyond stunning if these Huskies suddenly gelled into a group that compared to those Musketeers.

Seton Hall's Donald Copeland (10) puts in two of his 15 points in front of Pittsburgh's Levance Fields in the second half of Seton Hall's 65-61 upset victory in the Big East basketball game in Pittsburgh on Friday, March 3, 2006. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Donald Copeland (16.1 ppg) was one of the only reasons Seton Hall reached the NCAA’s in ’06. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

2006 Seton Hall Pirates.

Low Point: 9-6, 1-3/Big East

Final Record: 18-12 (9-7), lost to Wichita State in first round, 86-66.

At times during the ’06 season, Seton Hall looked like one of the worst power-conference teams in the country. They were destroyed, 93-40, in the second game of the season at Duke, and embarassed again, 99-57, by then-No. 1 UConn (ahh, the good old days). The Pirates also lost twice to cellar-dwelling Rutgers, dropped a home game to Northwestern, and lost to St. John’s and DePaul. They even bowed out in the first round of the Big East tournament.

So how did Seton Hall (18-11, 9-7) reach the NCAA’s? Wins over Pittsburgh, Syracuse, NC State, and West Virginia, all of whom were ranked in the Top 15 at one point in the season, earned them a bid. Obviously, UConn won’t have anywhere near the opportunity for quality wins that Seton Hall had, so the Huskies will have to take a slightly different path.

Georgia's Corey Butler (23) reacts at the end of a 66-57 win over Arkansas in their 2008 Southeastern Conference basketball tournament championship game at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Sunday, March 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Georgia’s improbable run through perhaps the most memorable SEC tournament of all-time earned them a 14-seed in the NCAA’s. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

2008 Georgia Bulldogs.

Low Point: 13-16, 4-12/SEC

Final Record: 17-17 (4-12), lost to Xavier in first round, 73-61.

’08 Georgia might very well be the worst power-conference team ever to reach the NCAA’s, and the Bulldogs got there after making perhaps the most improbable conference tournament run of all-time. UGA was the 6-seed in the SEC East, but upset No. 3 Ole Miss on a banked-in three with 0.4 seconds left in the first round. After their second-round game was postponed due to a tornado that hit the Georgia Dome (seriously), the Bulldogs proceeded to upset Kentucky, 60-56, and Mississippi State, 64-60, on the same day in rival Georgia Tech’s gym. They then finished off the incredible run with a 66-57 upset of Arkansas.

Georgia was given a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and represented themselves well in a 73-61 loss to No. 3 Xavier.

Georgia's Shon Coleman, left, and D.A. Layne embrace during the final moments of their 75-70 victory over Georgia Tech Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2000, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Georgia’s Shon Coleman, left, and D.A. Layne embrace during the final moments of their 75-70 victory over Georgia Tech Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2000, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

2001 Georgia Bulldogs.

Low Point:
7-7, 0-1/SEC

Final Record: 16-15, (9-7), lost to Missouri in first round, 70-68.

Interestingly enough, ’01 Georgia is another relevant comparison, as those Bulldogs staggered through a 16-14 regular season and reached the NCAA’s primarily thanks to the nation’s toughest schedule and their No. 19 ranking in the RPI. UConn’s path to the NCAA’s would obviously be much different, as the Huskies currently have an RPI of 141. Still, 1991 Villanova is the only at-large team to reach the NCAA Tournament with as many losses as the ’01 Bulldogs.

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Florida State was 5-10 in the ACC late in the ’98 season but still managed an NCAA berth. (AP Photo)

1998 Florida State Seminoles. 

Low Point: 16-12, 5-10/ACC

Final Record: 19-15 (6-10), lost to Valparaiso, 83-77, in second round

After a 12-2 start, FSU proceeded to lose 10 of its next 14 games, including a 103-55 humiliation at the hands of North Carolina. When the ‘Noles dropped their ACC Tournament opener to North Carolina State, 65-63, on March 5, it sure looked like they were headed to the NIT.

But the selection committee didn’t see it that way, prioritizing FSU’s tough schedule and giving them one of the last invites to the Dance, a 12-seed in the Midwest Region. The ‘Noles went on to upset 5th-seeded TCU, 96-87, before falling to all-time Cinderella Valparaiso in the round of 32.

Will UConn come up with a similarly improbable NCAA Tournament run? Probably not. But none of these teams looked likely to make the field at one point in their seasons, either.

Keep the faith, Huskies fans.

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