UConn fortunate it didn't get a date with Kentucky
The UConn Huskies season is over. Thankfully. Jim Calhoun walked off the court Thursday night after a loss to Iowa State -- which may have been a blessing in disguise.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., -- Jim Calhoun didn't really want the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. He may have thought he did, but a season-ending loss to Iowa State was the proper medication for his back, his body and his sanity.
Calhoun and the Huskies were fortunate because the 13-point loss to Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones Thursday night paled in comparison to what could, no, what would have taken place two days later against Kentucky.
Calhoun's three-game suspension by the NCAA was embarrassing. So, too, were the losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers in early-January. How about the fact that this Huskies team, one blessed with a couple of lottery picks and a potentially a handful of guys who will receive an NBA paycheck at one point in their career, dropped 14 games this season. But a shellacking at the hands of John Calipari in what could be the final NCAA tournament game of his career? That would have exceeded everything that went down this season in Storrs.
It was the matchup we all wanted, or maybe the one we all thought we wanted. Kentucky vs. UConn in the rematch -- with the lottery picks, the hatred and the hype.
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It sounded as if it was the ultimate round of 32 matchup. CBS would lock it in the premiere time slot Saturday and the nation would watch with anticipation and intrigue. But we all forgot this was the 2012 UConn Huskies, not the 2011 Kemba model that ran with efficiency -- especially when the gas tank started to dwindle towards empty. This year's version sputters and starts back up again, but never truly ran smoothly.
"I'm not sure what was wrong," UConn sophomore point guard Shabazz Napier said about this season following the loss.
"No idea," shrugged teammate Jeremy Lamb.
Honestly, this wasn't all that surprising if you've been paying attention to what's gone on in Storrs this season. UConn lost Kemba Walker. He was Jim Calhoun's everything -- his leader, his scorer, heart and soul, toughness.
So, now instead of John Calipari vs. Calhoun and Anthony Davis against Andre Drummond, we get The Mayor vs. Cal and Davis pitted against Royce White. It's not sexy, but it'll be far more entertaining because the Cyclones actually have a shot of competing with the mighty 'Cats.
Those of us who saw the Huskies enough this season understood this team -- one still loaded with potential and talent -- wasn't going to give the Kentucky Wildcats a run. Not in Louisville, not in Storrs, not even in Calhoun's backyard.
As Calhoun walked off the court, it was difficult not to question his decision to return this season -- and whether he'll come back for 2012-13.
"We're talking about tonight's game," he said after the loss. "We're not talking about me. … I'm going to get on the plane tomorrow, go home, and do what I usually do, and meet up with the team Monday. So, as far as my own personal thing, I don't think it has any relevance here."
Calhoun had the opportunity to walk away on top, after a national championship last April in Houston, but elected to come back. And for what? This?
His team has been a train wreck all year long, he missed a total of 11 games (eight due to back issues) - and it may only get worse.
The school still has an appeal left, but all signs point to the fact that UConn won't even be eligible to participate in next year's NCAA tournament after falling short on the APR (Academic Progress Report). Jeremy Lamb was non-committal whether he'd be back next season while talented freshman Andre Drummond told CBSSports.com that "as of now, I'm pretty sure I'm coming back." But that's what most kids say immediately after their season ends.
I love Drummond. He's one of the nicest kids I've ever come across over the years, but that's part of the problem. When he fouled out with 47 seconds left and the Huskies down 74-61, he took a seat on the bench and laughed. I'm not sure what it was about, but he laughed -- and he wasn't the only one smiling on the bench and in the locker room after the loss. Drummond is too laid-back and it's difficult to tell whether he truly loves to play basketball. He finished with two points and three rebounds in 26 minutes in the loss to Iowa State. That's the same guy that sits in the second spot, behind Anthony Davis, in many NBA mock drafts. Those in Storrs celebrated when Drummond, an in-state product, opted to leave prep school early and come to UConn. Now a case can be made for the fact that this team could have won more games without him.
Lamb went for 19, but he's also too passive, shows no emotion and tends to drift in and out of the game. Talent wasn't lacking, but chemistry sure as heck was. These guys played hard at times, but rarely appeared to play together.
It won't be a shock if Alex Oriakhi doesn't return for his senior season. He spent much of the year in Calhoun's doghouse and would likely be able to get a waiver to play immediately somewhere else if he opts to transfer.
"I definitely have to think about everything," Oriakhi said. "The program's probably going to take a hit. It's definitely not looking pretty."
Much like Saturday's game against likely would have turned out.
Who knows if highly touted freshman DeAndre Daniels returns. He logged two minutes on Thursday night and didn't even get in the stat sheet in two of the previous four games. Roscoe Smith and Napier both said they intend to come back, but nothing would surprise me. The UConn program could be in disarray soon, much like Arizona and Indiana were a few years ago.
It'll take time.
When the soon-to-be 70-year-old Calhoun walked off the court, no one knew whether it was his last game. But it sure could have been the final time he coaches in the NCAA tournament.
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