Men’s Basketball: No. 20 Huskies are Big East Tournament bound 

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The UConn men’s basketball team captures an electric win against Xavier during an afternoon game on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT. Former Huskies James Bouknight and Christian Vital were in attendance, as well as Tik-Tok famous dad Marc D’Amelio. The Huskies victory gave them their 10th Big East win of the season, while also extending their current win-streak to three straight victories. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk/The Daily Campus

It’s officially the most wonderful time of the year for Huskies fans, as the UConn men’s basketball team is off to Madison Square Garden to play in its first Big East Tournament  since leaving the conference back in 2013.  

“There’s no way to explain to [our players] what the intensity of the game Thursday night is going to be, what the energy in the crowd is going to feel like,” said head coach Dan Hurley. “The electricity is different than any game that they will have played in since they’ve been here.” 

Since returning to the Big East, Connecticut has enjoyed two consecutive third place finishes in the competitive Power Six basketball conference. This year, while initially projected by the league to finish in second behind only Villanova, the regular season was still a success by any metric, especially after losing all-conference guard James Bouknight to the NBA Draft this offseason. 

The Huskies’ depth was surely put to the test this year, as players like Adama Sanogo and Tyrese Martin struggled with injuries early on. Losses to Michigan State and West Virginia came with key, big men out with injuries, giving the Huskies some valuable experience for the rest of the season.  

In terms of the team’s quality wins, the double-overtime win over Auburn in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament turned out to be a huge resume builder, as the Tigers absolutely ran the SEC this year in dominating fashion. In Big East play, the team took care of business against the bottom half of the league, sweeping squads like Butler, Georgetown, St. John’s and DePaul. A sweep of NCAA Tournament-lock Marquette was massive for its resume, as was a big home win over powerhouse Villanova in late February. The player’s efforts, capped by a huge Senior Night victory against DePaul, earned them the No. 3 seed in the Big East Tournament. 

With such a high seed, UConn earned a bye in the first round, which is set for Wednesday night. They first play on Thursday at 9:30 p.m., against either Seton Hall or Georgetown. Since the defending champion Hoyas haven’t won a single contest dating back to December 2021, it’s a safe bet that the Pirates will be meeting the Huskies in the quarterfinals. This should be an intense matchup yet again, as both contests between the schools this year resulted in one and two possession finishes. 

If Connecticut makes it past its first round, it doesn’t get any easier. Next up is the winner of St. John’s vs. DePaul or Villanova, and if history is any metric, the nationally ranked Wildcats will be the Huskies’ opponent at 9:00 p.m. on Friday. Sure, Villanova handed the Huskies their only double-digit loss of the season in early February, but UConn was able to get its revenge later in the month, picking up its first win over the Wildcats since 2014. Time will tell if the monkey is truly off the Huskies’ backs. 

Assuming a win there, UConn could have a number of opponents, with the most likely being No. 1 Providence, No. 4 Creighton or No. 5 Marquette.  

One major difference between this year’s team and last is that this team has a real shot at winning the tournament. It’s obviously not going to be easy, as it never is in the Big East, but take a look at the facts. Historically, the Huskies travel well to the World’s Most Famous Arena, and some fans consider it their third home court behind Gampel and the XL Center.  

In terms of competition, UConn has beaten every team in the conference except for two, Providence and Creighton. With that being said, Providence was able to squeak by with a win at the XL Center back in December with UConn missing Sanogo due to injury. It’s a fair assessment to say that the Huskies could have won that game with Sanogo’s presence, and even PC coach Ed Cooley said as much in his postgame presser. Are they a good team? Absolutely. But they are still a beatable team.  

The Creighton losses seemed to happen at inopportune times. In both matchups, the Huskies were coming off of five game-winning streaks, while the Bluejays were coming off of a loss. Creighton always had more to play for as a rebuilding team that stayed around the bubble all year, while UConn had its at-large tournament bid locked up from the jump. If they meet again in the finals, expect the Huskies to be in a winnable game. 

“If not number one, then top two,” said guard RJ Cole on the Big East Tournament. “Probably regular season champions was first, and we didn’t get that, so now Big East [Tournament] champions is the next one on that list. Hopefully we can cross it off.” 

Tip-off against Seton Hall or Georgetown is set for 9:30 p.m. on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York. The games will be broadcast live on FS1 with the title game on FOX. 

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