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The UConn Fast Break - 3/4/2022
UConn's glorious return to MSG for the BET is less than a week away!
Welcome to this week’s Fast Break, and thank you for being a subscriber. This. Is. March.
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Dreams of MSG
When the whole “American Athletic Conference” thing happened, one of the most tragic elements was the shift of the men’s conference tournament. Going from the absolute madness of Madison Square Garden to the quiet sorrow of Memphis, Orlando, and Hartford was about as painful an experience as UConn fans had during an era filled with struggles.
When the news broke that UConn would be leaving The American for the Big East, fans were ecstatic, for many reasons. The league is a better fit, was likely to be a boon for recruiting (it has), and road games became infinitely more accessible for the UConn fan diaspora — not many of us in Tulsa or Texas. But a bunch of us are strewn about across Rhode Island, New Jersey, Philly, and DC.
Before UConn left the league, the next three conference tournaments were slated for Dickey’s Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. The move to the Big East meant a return to Madison Square Garden, where generations of Husky fans have great memories, and an accessible fan experience.
There is NOTHING like the buzz of going to a UConn game at MSG from Connecticut. If you take the Metro North train you’ll see more Husky fans hopping on with each stop. You might even hear the “U-C-O-N-N” or “UConn! Huskies!” chants. It’s really amazing. And it’s back.
It’s worth noting that the women’s hoops tournament stayed fun, even though it was a futile exercise for the visiting American Athletic Conference teams. UConn did not lose a single game in league play and few games were even within single-digits, but it was definitely a good scene at Mohegan every year. It’s great to see the Big East following that lead. Lower-seed games start today and UConn will play its first game tomorrow at 12 p.m.
Last year, the return to MSG happened under COVID restrictions, so capacity was limited. This year, it’s back, and (hopefully) it’s on. The men’s hoops team is better than it has been in years and has as good a chance as anyone to win the conference tournament title. Action starts March 9 and goes through March 12, with Selection Sunday for both teams on Sunday, in a new twist.
Easy win over Georgetown - Though the Hoyas brought the final score to within 10 points in garbage time, the Huskies had a strong outing on the road.
Masks, vaccine no longer required at events - Citing an improvement in case figures, UConn has lifted vaccine or test requirements to attend athletic events, while face coverings also are no longer mandatory.
Could Jordan Hawkins be an X-Factor in March? - The freshman guard is streaky, but if he gets hot, he has proven to be a pivotal player for the Huskies.
Where can UConn finish in the Big East? - With just one last day of games, UConn will be either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the Big East Tournament.
UConn moves up to No. 18 in AP Poll - While it’s probable UConn drops in Monday’s poll, they moved up three spots this week after victories against Villanova and Georgetown.
Nika Muhl named Big East Defensive Player of the Year - UConn players have won nine of the last 10 conference defensive player of the year awards, all different players.
Pummeled Providence - UConn closed the regular season with a 57-point drubbing of the Friars on Sunday.
Chasing Perfection - This week’s episode of the podcast previews the Big East Tournament, which is set to get underway on Friday.
Swept by No. 15 Northeastern - Mike Cavanaugh’s side forced Devon Levi to make 60 saves on Friday and 40 more on Saturday, but came away with zero points on the weekend.
Outside the NCAA Tournament picture - After the weekend sweep against Northeastern, UConn has fallen from the last team out to the fifth team out.
Hockey East apologizes for botched call - Carter Turnbull’s go-ahead goal in the third period of Saturday’s game against No. 15 Northeastern was wiped out due to goaltender interference.
Huskies sweep North Florida - Though the Sunday game took extras, UConn came home with the sweep and is 5-1 on the young season.
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It went down to the wire for baseball on Sunday, as it took extra innings for the Huskies to earn the sweep. With runners on the corners and two outs, captain Erik Stock took the first pitch he saw in between the third baseman and shortstop to bring home the go-ahead run in the 10th inning.
Stock, who was the Big East player of the week, is hitting .458 in this young season.
On February 27, 2016, during UConn’s second season as members of Hockey East, the Huskies traveled to New Hampshire on the final day of the regular season. With a victory, the team would host the best-of-three opening round of the Hockey East Tournament.
The Huskies dug themselves a three-goal hole heading into the third period, trailing 4-1. However, Joey Ferriss and Spencer Naas each scored a goal to cut the lead to one in the early goings of the final period. Ferriss struck again with the extra skater to force an extra session with 1:03 remaining in regulation.
At the 3:08 mark of overtime, sophomore Corey Ronan buried the program’s most dramatic goal to date to make UConn a host in the Hockey East Tournament.
UConn, Great Pic
Women’s basketball celebrated Senior Day on Sunday against Providence. Here are Ian Bethune’s best shots from the ceremony, including the whole team walking out Dorka Juhasz.
Although the men’s hockey team crept into the NCAA Tournament bracket as an at-large team following a series split with then-No. 10 UMass Feb. 18-19, it seems as though the program’s first-ever bid will need to come by winning the Hockey East Tournament. College Hockey News’ PairWise Probability Matrix gives the Huskies a 0.7 percent chance to secure an at-large bid with four of the six conference tournaments dropping the puck this weekend. While missing the 16-team field seems like a letdown, especially given the sweep at the hands of Northeastern, this season still represents progress for the program.
UConn is at No. 20 in the PairWise and according to the Probability Matrix, cannot finish below No. 26, which is the first time that Mike Cavanaugh’s team will have finished in the top half of the country in the rankings. The Huskies also achieved its highest-ever ranking in the USCHO Poll, checking in at No. 19 following its split against the Minutemen. UConn has a chance to finish in the top three in Hockey East for the first time, while a series win at home against Vermont would likely assure the Huskies placement in the top four, which would be a tie for the program’s best with last season’s fourth-place finish.
For some, the rise from Hockey East bottomfeeder to NCAA Tournament contender has been too slow, with the program spending its eighth season in the conference this year. Those critics point to a poor postseason record (0-9, including missing the tournament in 2018-19) and poor play in key moments, such as following the disallowed go-ahead goal from Carter Turnbull in the third period of Saturday’s game against Northeastern. However, UConn has among the worst facilities in Hockey East, is the only school in the league to play any significant total of games off-campus, and is by far the newest Division I program in the league, having made the jump in the 1998-99 season.
Cavanaugh has been steadily building and while it has been slower than UMass’ meteoric rise under Greg Carvel, UConn had a lot more up against them than the Minutemen did. NCAA Tournament or not, the Huskies have made incremental improvements year after year under Cavanaugh’s leadership and with the new practice facility and arena coming in the near future, those improvements could accelerate with improved institutional support and new facilities on the way.
Even if the progress has been too slow for some, it’s clear that the program is moving in the right direction, no matter how the 2021-22 season ends.
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