UConn's season on the line at AAC Tournament
The XL Center has been a field (or court) of dreams for the UConn men the last two seasons. Now, more than ever, Kevin Ollie’s Huskies need to come through at their home-away-from-home.
The scenario is quite clear: UConn needs to sweep through the AAC Tournament, which is slated to begin Thursday in Hartford, to earn an NCAA Tournament berth. One loss and it’s off to the NIT.
UConn’s quest to earn a title defense begins Thursday night against South Florida.
On the surface, the odds are, understandably, not in the Huskies’ favor - especially after a 17-13 regular season that ended with consecutive losses against Memphis and Temple.
But, there is still hope. SMU (24-6, 15-3 AAC), the regular season champion, is the favorite to capture the tournament. Despite its sixth place finish, UConn is the second favorite, according to Vegas.
The reason? The XL Center.
The Huskies went 6-1 in Hartford this season, with impressive victories over Cincinnati, Tulsa, and SMU. Their lone loss came in overtime to Temple. In that game, Ryan Boatright missed the second half due to injury.
UConn hasn’t lost a game Boatright finished at XL since Dec. 18, 2013, a 53-51 defeat to Stanford. Over the past two seasons, the Huskies are 12-2 in Hartford.
If UConn is to win this tournament, it will need to win four straight games for the first time this season. The inconsistencies on display all season, especially offensively, will need to be overcome.
Daniel Hamilton needs to shoot in rhythm, and not pass up open looks. The Rodney Purvis seen against SMU on March 1 (28 points) needs to re-emerge. Amida Brimah needs to stay out of foul trouble. The bench needs to show a pulse.
All obvious observations.
The Huskies should prevail on Thursday over South Florida, a team they’ve handled since the inception of the AAC last season.
That would set up a late Friday night battle against Cincinnati. Tickets are dirt cheap on the secondary market, and UConn fans may start to sense a special run may be on its hands. Considering the 9:30 p.m. start time, the easily available tickets, and an old Big East rival as the opponent, you can bet on a wild crowd.
And at that point, if UConn wins, all bets are off. The XL Center, of all places, has been a house of horrors for visiting teams.