College basketball season is officially back, and this week we are debating what a lot of UConn fans are wondering: Whether the men’s team will make the NCAA tournament, aka March Madness. UConn has not been in the tournament since 2016, but seems to have higher expectations this year with a good mix of young talent and returning experience. Our two college basketball experts break down UConn’s chances.
Danny Barletta: As much as I would love to see UConn in the tournament, I just don’t see it happening this year. I definitely expect the team to have a better year than last year, and I certainly believe a 20-win season is attainable. I’m just not sure that will be enough to get them into the dance. Historically, only three and occasionally four AAC teams make the tournament, and I’m not sure UConn is one of the top-four teams in The American. Right now they are in the middle-of-the-pack range where they could finish anywhere from fourth to seventh in the conference depending on how the season goes. Another thing that will be key to their chances are quality nonconference wins. The Huskies definitely have the opportunity to get those with games against Florida and Villanova, but I don’t know if the team has what it takes to beat those teams this year. Without key nonconference wins, it will be tough for UConn to make the tournament unless the team makes a run in the conference tournament, which will be a challenge with teams like Memphis and Cincinnati at the top.
Tamir March: This is the year that UConn breaks their unacceptable three-year absence from the NCAA tournament. You mention how the American conference is potentially a hindrance to our tournament aspirations. While it is not a Power Five conference, the AAC is one of growing respect. Last year a record seven teams made postseason play, with four of those in the NCAA tournament. I believe that Connecticut will be, at worst, the fourth-best team in the conference this year for several key reasons. The first being, that they are going to come into conference play battle tested. The Huskies have a far better out of conference schedule this year with the potential to play five quality Power Five opponents. Come tournament time, we all know how important strength of schedule comes into play with the bubble teams. The Charleston Classic will be vital; after they beat Buffalo in the first round, the Huskies likely face a matchup with future Big East foe and potential fellow bubble team Xavier. Beating one of Xavier, Florida and Villanova will show the committee that UConn is fully capable of competing with the country’s best.
Danny Barletta: The big difference is you believe at worst, UConn is the fourth best team in the conference. I believe that is the best case scenario. I think if everything goes right for the Huskies this year, they are only the fourth best team in the conference with an outside shot of getting in the tournament. Memphis has the potential to be a top-10 team in the country all season long. Cincinnati is the safest bet in the conference to be really good with its proven talent. Houston lost some pieces, but still looks like a clear-cut tournament team. Even at their best, this year’s Huskies won’t be on the same level as those three teams. Anything can happen once March rolls around, which is why I think the fate of this UConn team depends on a deep run in the AAC tournament, something it hasn’t been able to do since 2016. Those nonconference games are key as well, and you’re right that if they win even one of those marquee games, they prove to the committee that they belong with the best. However, the key word is “if.” It’s certainly possible that UConn makes the tournament this year, but I personally think it’s unlikely given how much has to go right for them to do so.
Tamir March: Besides the competitive out of conference schedule, the AAC provides UConn with the opportunity for some high quality wins. You allude to how good Memphis and Cincinnati are, which really boosts the quality of the conference. Memphis has the best recruiting class in the country and Cincinnati returns the best player in the AAC in Jarron Cumberland. The silver lining is that both of those teams have glaring concerns. Memphis is relying almost completely on freshmen to carry them every single night, which is hard to manage especially for such an inexperienced coach in Penny Hardaway. Cincinnati just lost Mick Cronin, who was so successful for the Bearcats over the last decade-plus. Here’s where UConn holds an advantage over the top two teams, without mentioning the rest of the conference. Dan Hurley has proven how fast he can turn around programs in his previous stints at Wagner and URI. From year one to two, Wagner went from a .443 winning percentage to a staggering .806. Similarly URI went from a dreadful .276 to .438. As bad as UConn appeared to be last year, it was Hurley’s best first year he’s ever had. UConn returns most of their production from last year, really only losing Jalen Adams. Former highly touted recruits Alterique Gilbert and Christian Vital combine for an experienced, scary backcourt. Josh Carlton was perhaps the most improved player, let alone big in the AAC and I predict that he’s going to make an all conference team come year end. UConn has the talent, size, experience and most importantly coaching to make its return to the NCAA tournament.
Danny Barletta is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @dbars_12.
Tamir March is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.