March and UConn. Those two five letter words go together like peanut butter and jelly. The UConn women’s basketball team has been the most historically dominant team in March, boasting 11 national championships and are in search of its 12th this upcoming tournament. Even with their ups, downs and injuries, the Huskies are looking better than ever at just the right time and I’ll be projecting their floor, ceiling and most realistic outcome for March Madness. I’ll also take a look at some players who will be critical for the team’s success and may serve as the difference between an early trip home and cutting down the nets.
This might actually be the toughest one to gauge. The team’s lows have come when it either wasn’t at full strength or early in the season, so we really haven’t gotten the opportunity to see what UConn looks like when things just aren’t clicking. With the amount of injuries its had throughout the year, everyone was able to step up and score when times were rough, leaving them with a plethora of options. Even when five players aren’t hitting shots, there are still four other high-caliber ones to lift the team. With that in mind, it seems unlikely the Huskies exit during the first weekend. The Huskies will almost certainly be a two seed, so having them lose to a 15 or a seven seed playing at home in Storrs is near-impossible. However, if the committee sticks them in Spokane, Washington for the Sweet 16 and they have to play a red hot ESPN projected three seed like Iowa, there are no guarantees. That’s why UConn’s floor is an exit in the Sweet 16.
The ceiling for the Huskies is the roof. Thanks to their aforementioned depth, they could beat anyone in the country. Just on Monday, they blew Villanova, a borderline top 25 team, out of the gym and Paige Bueckers scored just two points. They haven’t really been tested with the full strength of the team (since Bueckers returned), so it’s hard to know just how good they are. Because of that, we can’t definitively say they are not good enough to win the national title. Their depth prevents them from getting gassed and they are immune to off days. National Championship number 12 is not out of reach for this group.
Although they’re good enough to win the title, that doesn’t mean that they actually will. As a two seed, they will have to play a one seed to make it out of their region (barring an upset). Then if they win that game, they’d have to play another one seed in the Final Four and another one in the championship. They’re good enough to beat three consecutive one seeds, but there are no guarantees like there were back a few years ago when UConn beat everyone by 20+. That being said, a realistic pick for the team will be to lose in the Final Four as they have the previous four times.
The super stud is your prototypical Kemba Walker or Shabazz Napier type of character–lead guards who have a chip on their shoulder and carry the team to victory. Although this team has been too deep for any one player to shine like Bueckers did last year, here are my picks in that department to break out and define themselves.
Christyn Williams – Williams has been the most consistent player for the Huskies all year, so there is reason to believe that she is as likely to break out as anyone. Williams is averaging a team-high of 14.3 points and she’s scored as many as 31 earlier this year. If she can string together a nice chunk of 20-plus scoring games and emerge as that number one option for the Huskies, that would be tremendously beneficial and a great way to close out her career.
Paige Bueckers – This one is a bit more obvious. Bueckers, who averaged 20 points and 5.7 assists last year, has not been herself ever since injuring her knee back in December. She dropped 34 in a close win over Arkansas and eclipsed 19 twice in her next three games before missing over two months. In her five performances since returning, she started just one and hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in a game. If Bueckers can find the same spark that she had in 2021 and shake off the rust, then the Huskies will win the national title and she will be MOP.
DARKHORSE IMPACT PLAYER
Caroline Ducharme – Although Williams and Bueckers are obvious picks as impact players, one player who is a darkhorse for such a role is freshman Caroline Ducharme. After hardly getting minutes in the beginning of the season, the injuries of her teammates forced her to be thrust into a key role at a critical time. Instead of folding under the pressure, Ducharme flourished. During an important eight-game stretch, the guard averaged 19 points, demonstrating her incredible scoring touch. Since the return of her teammates, she has ended up in a much more limited role, but a big night early in the tournament could force head coach Geno Auriemma to give her extended minutes and produce as she did in late December and January.
Nika Muhl – Exclusively looking at a stat sheet, a few glances at Muhl will have you wondering why in the world she’s starting, yet alone getting significant minutes. The sophomore is averaging just 4.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals, none of which are remarkable numbers. Looking past the numbers though, Muhl just has a different impact on the game. Even without getting a ton of steals, she disrupts the game and other team’s offensive gameplan. She only takes 1.6 shots per game, typically deferring to finding her open teammates. There is not a player in the country who wouldn’t want to have Muhl on their team, making her the perfect glue guy.