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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.