In advance of Villanova's date with UConn on Saturday night, we caught up with ex-blogging friend (okay, we're still friends) UConnAman of the aptly named The UConn Blog to see what the Huskies have been up to in the months after our very public breakup. Many thanks to Aman, and you can catch the return half of this Q&A over in their neck of the woods.
VU Hoops: So this is weird. It's like seeing an ex a year later. Are you guys with a hotter conference, similar conference, or uglier conference now?
The UConn Blog: We're with an uglier conference, for sure. We were lucky though to have 8 games in our conference slate against ranked opponents with home and away games against Louisville, Cinci, Memphis and SMU so it wasn't all that bad. But playing those same home and aways with the likes of USF and UCF had me pining for Seton Hall and Providence.
Just to clarify, we miss the old Big East. This does not mean we'd want to be in your Zombie Big East. You're with an uglier conference too :)
But god, how awesome the Big East used to be... it's really quite sad that football interests tore apart the best basketball conference in the country. I'd like to take this opportunity to mention that Duke lost, which is basically a win for everyone else in big time college basketball.
VU Hoops: Kemba Walker comparisons have started to surface in regards to Shabazz Napier. How far can he take the Huskies?
The UConn Blog: The Kemba Walker comparisons are apt to a certain degree. He's a point guard who is the heart and soul of the team and has multiple times willed his team to victory in the moments that matter most. They are in fact very different players and Shabazz is a shade less talented than Kemba- Napier is a fringe NBA prospect.
The most optimistic of UConn fans think we can win it all because of those comparisons, but realistically this teams ceiling is limited to the Final Four where we'd be playing some pretty stiff competition and may even run into the Louisville team that seems to have our number. I think this team can beat anyone on any given day, and if some unexpected team makes the Final Four who knows, but a championship run is hard for me to fathom right now. We are weak and inexperienced down low and at some point that will be our downfall.
VU Hoops: How has the Kevin Ollie reign gone so far?
The UConn Blog: Extraordinary. Last year was a huge test for Ollie. He inherited a roster which lost two starters to the NBA lottery and two more to transfer thanks to (bogus) NCAA sanctions (I guess we should have just made up classes for our players to do well in, right UNC?) which held them out of the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. That team beat Michigan State in the season opener and won 20 games on the season, including impressive wins against Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Syracuse when they had no postseason to play for. Pretty impressive work on the motivation front.
This year expectations were high since Ollie was returning the top seven scorers and all the starters from last years team. Finishing fourth in the AAC is certainly not what we imagined, but we made the conference tournament finals and ended the regular season ranked. Ollie has been recruiting quite well so we feel pretty optimistic about the future.
Kevin Ollie is an extremely passionate coach who the players love and he has the unrelenting respect of the entire basketball world. He was Jim Calhoun's hand-picked successor and has received public endorsements from Rick Pitino, Kevin Durant, Larry Brown and more. This is his first shot at the NCAA tournament so it's really his first opportunity to write his story but I can safely say that there isn't a single UConn fan calling for Ollie to step down or questioning his ability to fill the huge shoes of Jim Calhoun. That is quite a feat when you consider all that Calhoun accomplished while here.
VU Hoops: Who wins in a UFC fight - Niels Giffey or Tyler Olander?
The UConn Blog: Haha, good one. Olander has the height, weight and reach advantage but Giffey has the speed, heart and wildcard factor. Olander is a little soft (Giffey, who is 3 inches shorter, is a better rebounder) and doesn't really have the killer instinct so I'll take Giffey.
VU Hoops: Would you drop football and come back to the Big East if the invite was on the table?
The UConn Blog: While this whole conference re-alignment was happening, people threw out the idea of joining the Catholic 7 and
Will it happen? No effing way. If it were my decision? Still no. Unfortunately, football makes the world go 'round and in college sports the pigskin is king. We're doing everything we can do get an invite to a P5 conference, and I feel optimistic about our chances next time conference re-alignment happens.
VU Hoops: What happens Saturday night?
The UConn Blog: I think a more battle tested UConn team comes ready to play. They will be super duper motivated to vanquish their former conference rival and earn the opportunity to play at MSG that was so unceremoniously robbed from us last year. I think Villanova is a pretty good team, but they lack impressive wins outside of Kansas which was in November. It'll be a good game, but I think UConn and Shabazz Napier's undying will to win will prevail.