It is not difficult to figure out how Connecticut could play so poorly against Cincinnati on Saturday and then come back to trounce potential No. 1 seed Villanova on the road.
It comes down to two words: Talent and effort.
Big East teams have them from numbers one to 16. Yes, that’s right. There is talent on Rutgers -- Mike Rosario could play for any team. The Scarlet Knights performed well when they beat Georgetown in what has always been a tough home court, The RAC.
Louisville has plenty of players coveted by other teams. The Cardinals were listless and played poorly in a road loss at St. John’s. So what did the Cardinals do? They turned around and won at Syracuse with a roster that played up to its potential in a win at the Carrier Dome Sunday.
We shouldn’t be surprised. This happens in every conference in the country, relative to the competition. Do you think San Francisco was as talented as Gonzaga? Not at all, but the Dons on that particular night, played with more purpose, poise and had a home-court edge to will them to a victory. The Dons don’t have a Gonzaga-like roster but they do have players more than capable to compete in the WCC.
Connecticut didn’t make shots, free throws or rebound against Cincinnati. But more than anything they didn’t play with any passion against the Bearcats and it showed. Calhoun had every right to be embarrassed. So a 84-75 win over Villanova Monday night shouldn’t come as a total shock. Kemba Walker made shots against the Wildcats he didn’t make against the Bearcats. This is a Connecticut team that did beat Texas and the Huskies are more than capable. Can the Huskies win out at Rutgers, West Virginia, Louisville, at Notre Dame and then at South Florida in the final five games? Sure, but they could also lose every one of those games.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said Saturday that the Big East creates a ton of bubble teams because of the way everyone beats everyone up. He’s right. A few Big East coaches told me Monday night that teams like Connecticut and Louisville are two of the 34 best teams. They wanted to toss in teams like Marquette, Cincinnati and maybe even Notre Dame, South Florida and Seton Hall. You see, they rightfully look at how difficult it is for them to win these games in the conference. And it is. But the system is subjective. One coach said he watched the Saint Mary’s-Portland game Saturday night and didn’t feel he was watching a Big East-caliber game. He wasn’t. It wasn’t. But that’s not the point.
If the chore is to pick the 34 best at-large teams, and it is, you still have to be subjective. You can look and say a team is one of the best you’ve seen, but hasn’t been able to stay above let’s say .500 in its power six conference. Or you can select a team that finished with a much stronger record in a lesser conference that has more road wins or neutral court wins. This happens every season.
Connecticut certainly has two wins that others may not have in beating Texas and Villanova. But there is more work to do to get a bid. A 5-8 Big East record and 15-11 overall is incomplete. Can the Huskies still earn a bid? Or course. That's because Big East teams have more chances to earn bids than most conferences.
If they can win the necessary games in late February and early March then they will get into the field. It’s that simple. They have enough talent if they apply themselves consistently.