UConn men’s basketball back in NCAA Tournament for first time since 2016

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Connecticut’s Isaiah Whaley, rear, and James Bouknight react during the second half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Creighton in the semifinals in the Big East men’s tournament Friday, March 12, 2021, in New York. The Huskies will be entering the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2016. Photo by Frank Franklin II/AP Photo.

After all the bracketology and all the projections, it’s finally official: UConn is back in March Madness. 

During Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show on CBS, it was revealed that UConn made the tournament as a No. 7 seed in the East Region and will face No. 10 seeded Maryland on Saturday in the first round. 

The Huskies got to watch as a group from their hotel in New York as their name was called on Selection Sunday for the first time since 2016. The mood in the room was happy to say the least. 

“We were lit, jumping around, congratulating each other, celebrating,” senior Tyler Polley said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been in the tournament, so everybody knows how much it means for UConn to be back in the tournament in March.” 

As happy as the team was as a whole, I’m not sure anyone was happier than James Bouknight. 

“This is something you dream about, man,” Bouknight said. “I can’t even explain this feeling … I’m just so happy. I’m happy for the seniors, I’m happy for the freshmen, I’m happy for Coach, I’m happy for the fans. I’m just happy. Right now, I’m just a happy person.” 

It was a dark few years for UConn men’s basketball, but under Dan Hurley’s leadership, the team has ascended back to NCAA Tournament-caliber, something good not only for UConn but for college basketball as a whole. 

“College basketball is even more exciting when UConn is relevant and really good and playing in March,” Hurley said. “It’s a university and state that just loves its basketball teams, men’s and women’s. It’s a beautiful moment to be back in it after five years.” 

Other Big East teams to make the tournament include Villanova, who is a No. 5 seed in the South Region, Creighton, who is a No. 5 seed in the West Region and the unlikely tournament champion Georgetown, who is a No. 12 seed in the same region as UConn. Georgetown shocked all Big East fans with a Cinderella run to the Big East title as the No. 8 seed after being selected dead last in the preseason poll. The upset-minded Hoyas will be a challenge for No. 5 seeded Colorado with the run they’ve been on recently. 

The one other team that the UConn players celebrated for when it was announced was Wichita State because their old teammate Alterique Gilbert, who spent the last four years at UConn, will also get to make his NCAA Tournament debut this week. 

“We were happy for Al, man,” Polley said. “He’s been through a whole lot, so just to see him succeed this season at Wichita State, it brings everybody here joy. We’re rooting for Al, we’re rooting for Wichita State. Hopefully they can advance and win games in the tournament. He deserves it.” 

Wichita State will play Drake in the First Four on Thursday for a chance to be the No. 11 seed in the West Region. 

The tournament kicks off on Thursday with the First Four, followed by the first round games on Friday and Saturday and the second round games on Sunday and Monday. The entire tournament is in Indiana this year due to COVID-19, with most of the games being played right in Indianapolis. UConn definitely plays on Saturday, but the time and the exact location has yet to be released. 

The Huskies will enter a bubble in Indiana early this week, where they will quarantine for a few days before going through their normal pregame routine in preparation for a good Maryland team that finished ninth in a stacked Big 10 this season. 

But neither the team nor the fans care about who UConn is playing. Only one thing matters today: It’s March, and the UConn Huskies are going dancing. 

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