|Kevin Ollie and UConn played beyond almost everybody's expectations in their upset over Michigan State. (US Presswire)|
UConn was relevant. At least for one game.
The Huskies vs. Michigan State on an Air Force Base in Germany. Normally, it would have been one of those games that drew everyone's attention. Two elite programs in a monumental setting.
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But that wasn't the case because few outside of the state of Connecticut really care about the Kevin Ollie-led Huskies in 2012-13. It's a team that has virtually no depth, a lackluster frontcourt and isn't even eligible to play in the NCAA tournament. But they already have a win over a ranked team -- and the season is just a day old.
Ollie's head coaching debut was certainly a quality opening act to his five-month or so audition for UConn athletic director Warde Manuel. Ollie and his undermanned Huskies knocked off Tom Izzo and a Spartans team that entered the game ranked in the Top 15.
UConn was led by its tough backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright while the Huskies frontcourt basically held its own against the Spartans. You can tell that these kids want to play for Ollie. Guys like Napier and Boatright have a chip on their shoulder. They know no one expects them to do much of anything this season -- and they want to prove they aren't the underachievers they showed last season and also want to prove Ollie is worthy of getting a long-term contract.
Last year's team had far more talent. Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb are both in the NBA. Alex Oriakhi left to play his final season in Missouri. But this year's group already has improved chemistry. These guys all know they are going to get long minutes and plenty of shots.
UConn doesn't have any NCAA tournament to play for this season, but the Huskies can still play for pride and for Ollie's job. They took a major step in each of those departments, over in another country, in front of plenty of military personnel.
But now the question becomes whether the Huskies can sustain it. Remember, this is just one win -- just as its only one loss for Michigan State.
While Tom Izzo won't overreact to the loss, one thing is clear: the Spartans desperately miss Draymond Green. We all knew that would be the case, but even more than his scoring and rebounding, it was his leadership and intensity. Keith Appling struggled to make his teammates better. The Spartans big men didn't dominate as should have been the case. There was no one who stepped up with the game on the line.
Izzo & Co. will improve and be there come March. UConn won't, but the Huskies made a statement on the first day of the college basketball season.
They will be different than they were a year ago. Less talented, likely more productive. Certainly more fun to watch.