Team of the 2000s: #6 – UConn

Posted by nvr1983 on August 13th, 2009


Ed. Note: Check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

As we mentioned in our earlier posts, when we were putting together our list of the top teams of the past decade it became pretty clear that there were definable clusters of teams meaning that a solid case could be made for moving a team up or down a few positions depending on how much weight you put on various elements of a program’s resume (overall excellence versus a big tournament run or 10 years of excellence versus 1 year of greatness). As we mentioned yesterday, now that we have moved into the top seven we have crossed into the truly elite programs.

#6 – UConn


Overview. In a little over two decades, Jim Calhoun has turned the Huskies from an also-ran into one of the premier programs in the country. In fact if the parameters of our decade were shifted just one year to include the 1999 season, the Huskies might end up in the top 3 with the inclusion of their 1999 title. Even without that title, the decade has been a solid one for Husky fans even if some of Calhoun’s teams haven’t lived up to expectations. The Huskies get the nod over UCLA because of the fact that they won a national title (and haven’t had a losing season), which makes up for the fact that they have 1 less Sweet 16 and Final 4 appearance than the Bruins. The thing that keeps the Huskies out of the group right above it is that they failed to make the NCAA tournament twice including one season where they didn’t even make the NIT (more on this in a bit).

okafor uconn

Pinnacle. This one is pretty simple. As much as we like to act like college basketball gurus, we aren’t going to try to outsmart ourselves here. The answer is the 2004 national championship. Even though the team did not live up to the preseason hype in terms of how it would rate all-time (“only” going 33-6), this team beat Duke and Georgia Tech in the Final 4 to claim Calhoun’s 2nd title.  While we normally would celebrate  a team  that wins a national title unconditionally, we have this weird feeling that a group featuring Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, and Charlie Villanueva should have been more special. Having said that, the group managed to pull it together at the right time winning its last nine games to capture the Big East and NCAA tournament titles. During the NCAA title run, they only had one truly competitive game, which happened in the national semifinal against Duke in a game that the Huskies won 79-78 following a spread-busting 3-point heave by Chris Duhon at the buzzer. All three of the previously mentioned Huskies from that team have gone on to have solid if not spectacular NBA careers.

Tailspin. There are actually more choices here than you would expect for a program of this caliber, but our pick is the 2006-07 season where the Huskies went 17-14, losing in the 1st round of the Big East tournament as the 12th seed. That’s right. The 12th seed in the Big East Tourney. This was one of the worst teams of the past 20 years for Calhoun. When you compound that with the fact that the previous year one of Calhoun’s most talented teams ever lost in the Elite 8 to George Mason it is enough to “top” two other low points in the program’s history: losing in the second round of the 2001 NIT to Detroit-Mercy and the Nate Miles scandal.

How Much More Does Calhoun Have in the Tank?

How Much More Does Calhoun Have in the Tank?

Outlook for the 2010s: Grade: B-. Speaking of that scandal, that is just about the last thing we heard about the Huskies other than their flop against Michigan State in the Final 4 (and Calhoun’s bicycling adventures). We don’t have that much faith in the NCAA following up on the outstanding work by Yahoo! Sports, but there is always the possibility that the NCAA may come to its senses and actually punish a program for once (ok, I didn’t expect this to happen to a midwestern titan as I was writing this post). As for more realistic threats, we are concerned about UConn’s ability to stay at this level in the next decade. Even though the Huskies have a solid incoming class, we aren’t that confindent in the program’s ability to succeed AC (After Calhoun). Although Calhoun hasn’t set a definitive retirement date, given his well-documented health concerns and his age (67 years old), we can’t imagine that he’ll be coaching all that much longer. When he retires, we doubt that UConn will be able to find somebody to replace him in terms of status and recruiting prowess on the sidelines in Storrs. Nothing against the good people in Storrs, but without Calhoun the program (and the area) would appear to lack the appealing factors a recruit would look for when deciding where they want to spend the next four (ok 1-2) years.

nvr1983 (1398 Posts)

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11 responses to “Team of the 2000s: #6 – UConn”

  1. Richard says:

    You may want to consider that many of UConn’s NBA players will be retiring in the next 10 years. Some will choose to coach. Calhoun’s salary is high enough that a quality replacement is likely. UConn isn’t Temple of UMass–the administration is commited to a quality product.

  2. Steve says:

    You fail to acknowledge with respect to the 04 team that one of the 6 losses came with an injured Okafor, then they went out and won the Big East tournament with him still injured. Another loss came on the home floor of a 30 win Pitt team, and a third came with magical officiating at UNC. Should have been more special? This was the best 2 seed in the history of the NCAA tournament, had one of the largest margins of victory for the first 4 rounds of the tournament, and as you stated there was only 1 game where the outcome was questionable beyond the 12:00 mark of the first half. This team was special and can stack itself next to the other championship teams of the 2000s, these guys would’ve made Joakim Noah and his corps of clowns look like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off.

  3. nvr1983 says:

    I was aware of the Okafor injury. I’m not saying the 2004 team wasn’t very good, but I think the expectation coming into the season was that they could be special like the 1999 team was (a very under-appreciated team at the time and possibly even to this day). I think you would agree that 2004 couldn’t touch the 1999 team in terms of their overall season despite the fact that the 2004 team probably had superior talent (Hamilton/Moore/El-Amin vs. Okafor/Gordon/Villanueva).

    Also your argument about their wins in the first 4 rounds of the tournament is interesting because the bracket completely opened up to them after Stanford lost to Alabama in the 2nd round. In fact, the Huskies didn’t even face a ranked team in the tournament until they met Duke.

    As for how they stack up with the other championship teams of the decade, I think you are greatly underestimating that Noah team. I would probably put the Okafor team in the middle of the pack for their performance throughout the entire season. You can cite those 3 games, but I’m sure if you go through other championship seasons you will find several instances of injuries/tough opponents/questionable officiating.

  4. jtruman37 says:

    I think UConn is still an attractive job, AC. I’ve worried an awful lot about who gets that job once Calhoun retires. I think it’s safe to say that none of the Coaches Calhoun has groomed is up to the task. So they will need to look elsewhere for the right guy. But UConn is in the Northeast corridor w/ a pipeline to NYC talent. That will not go away simply b/c Calhoun has retired. It is also a school that lives on ESPN. Provided they get the right coach to come in, that shouldn’t change. It is one of the biggest schools, in terms of program, & needs a tough minded guy who is dug in on the recruiting scene. Candidate #1, in my mind, would be Rick Barnes. Barnes has a Big East history, is a firey guy, a young-ish guy, & he gets great recruits to commit to a football school. He’s been on top of my list for some time.

    Also, Duke is ranked ahead of UConn..? Seriously..? The Devils have been harmless outside of the ACC for years. I don’t even know what K is doing down there anymore. He can’t, or doesn’t recruit bigs. In fact, I’d say it’s convenient that he is sticking to the Team USA gig. B/c he sure isn’t going to win on the college level anytime soon. Let’s all stop drinking the Kool-Aid, please.

  5. nvr1983 says:

    I guess I’ll go ahead and address jtruman37 and the Scout board, who rtmsf has told me are up in arms over some of the stuff here (a lot of it not even addressing the ranking).

    (1) Location: I’ve been to Storrs. I guess I can’t really call it central Connecticut, but it’s not really any more “eastern” than Indiana is if you are looking at the US map.
    (2) Idioms: Ok. I messed up a phrase. I fixed it. Get over it.
    (3) Ranking that 2004 team all-time. I addressed this before, but I’ll go over it again. I’m not saying that they weren’t a special team. Since you are so anal about my word usage, you should note the modifying “more”. A team with that much talent should have played at a higher level and definitely shouldn’t have even been in danger of being a #2 seed. I think we can all agree that they had a very easy path to the title that year only playing 2 ranked teams: a Chris Duhon-led (stop laughing) Duke team and a solid, but by no means excellent Georgia Tech team. You could make a strong case that this year’s UNC team had just as dominant of a NCAA tournament run without even having that one close game and might have even had a more challenging draw.
    (4) Why isn’t UConn in the next level? We’ll start to get into this in the subsequent posts, but I think the simplest way to explain it is that UConn didn’t make the tournament twice. That’s what keeps them a step below some of the other 1 title teams.
    (5) If UConn is such an appealing place, why were they so awful before Calhoun arrived? I’m not saying that they can’t continue to be an excellent program, but the AD will need to find a top-notch candidate to do so. I’m not sure why a guy like Barnes would want to leave Texas. Barnes has never had a problem recruiting. His problem is more about in-game coaching and I don’t think anything in Storrs will solve that issue.

  6. tallguy says:

    “Barnes has a Big East history”

    Barnes hated his time in the Big East…he’s a Southern boy, and won’t be leaving Texas for any program in the foreseeable future. Honestly, I can’t think of a program he’d leave Texas for…

  7. rtmsf says:

    I agree with this. He’s in an ideal situation at UT where he gets top-rate facilities and recruits w/o the pressure of being at a basketball school. They’re thrilled with his performance there, and will probably do whatever it takes to keep him happy.

  8. jtruman37 says:

    I don’t think it’s relevant to bring up what UConn looked like before Calhoun arrived. That was 20-some odd years ago. Clearly he built the program. But the program is on TV all the time. Maybe Barnes hated his time in the Big East. Maybe he wouldn’t leave Texas. But the Big East is a major player on the national scene. More so than the Big 12. THe Big 12 is a football conference. I can accept most of what’s been said since my post. The fact that the Huskies missed the tournament twice is a valid point. The post about Barnes enjoying not having the pressure of a basketball school.., these guys thrive on pressure. I would have to think being the top show in town would be an attraction to them, not a deterrent. So that I don’t agree w/. Maybe his Southern roots would keep him where he is, but it doesn’t make him any less attractive as a coach.

    The TV contracts, the proximity to ESPN, the proximity to NYC & Boston & Philly.., UConn is an attractive job with or without Calhoun. Because of Calhoun, no question, but I think they should have no trouble luring a top flight coach. My hope is for Rick Barnes. We shall see. Hopefully not too soon, but we shall see. Billy Donovan would be acceptable. I also like Lorenzo Romar. He’s been doing a great job recruiting for the “other” Huskies.

  9. rtmsf says:

    Sorry, Jtruman, but if you believe that Billy Donovan would turn down Kentucky twice but still consider UConn, not sure what planet you’re coming from there.

    Certainly the job is very different than what it was 20+ years ago, but it’s still not a traditional powerhouse CBB school. One bad hire AC and UConn could end up like St. John’s.

    Barnes doesn’t make a lot of sense, b/c he has a perfect situation there. Romar is a solid choice – does he have any ties to the NE?

  10. jtruman37 says:

    Hahaha, maybe so about Donovan. All the same, what I think Calhoun does best is bring some kids along, ala Hilton Armstrong, Boone, Okafor, etc. Guys that aren’t recruited at the top of their classes, guys who are allowed to mature, & mix them w/ the stars you’re only going to keep for a year or two. I like that formula. Plus I like the attention they pay to the post. That’s actually a new development.

    If you looked at the teams leading up to, & culminating in the ’99 team, UConn was always based around a guard/wing. When they were good, obviously, not when they still stunk. But Ray Allen was a focus before Hamilton. Chris Smith, Tate George, & so on. Even post ’99, Caron Butler was the center of the teams he led. Really it was Okafor being the force that he was, & largely unheralded too, that opened the eyes of more bigs, on a national level, & allowed Calhoun to target guys that might not have considered UConn 5-10 years earlier. So the ’04 title team was built very differently than the teams leading up to, & culminating in the ’99 title team. Since Okafor arrived in Storrs, UConn has led the nation in blocked shots every year (I think 8yrs running..?). So they are doing it differently now, which I also think speaks to Calhoun’s versatility as a coach.

    I know we’re not debating Calhoun as a coach, but your crazy if you don’t think the Huskies are a national powerhouse. They don’t have banners from the 70’s & 80’s, but some of those teams you might be thinking of (Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, Duke even) have all been terrible, at times, since UConn has established itself. I’m not saying they are a more, or as storied a program, but they certainly competing on the same stage as the rest of the big boys.

    Plus, I will say it again, I doubt anyone is on TV more. & if you don’t think that matters to recruits, you’re not giving it enough credence. A couple of CBS games, maybe an ABC or two, & probably 8+ ESPN games (not including the Big East tournament). A coach would see this too. It has also been a place where city kids can get away. The school is in the middle of nowhere, true, but not like Lawrence, Kansas. You can get to NYC in a couple of hours. Boston in even less. Providence. My point is it’s not Nova Scotia, it’s just somewhat rural. & the campus has upwards of 30,000 undergrads, so it is big enough.

    The St Johns reference is funny. I don’t think it’s remotely accurate b/c of the points I’m raising, but I know what you’re trying to say. The worst thing the Huskies could do is hand the job to a Calhoun protege. The guy is singular. None of the coaches in his tree do it like he does, so I say look elsewhere. Find a singular guy. I did like Leonard Hamilton, too, but he is actually not young, himself, & really, I’d have liked to see him do more w/ FSU, or have gotten a better job by now.

    I don’t know about Romar’s ties to the Northeast, but I also don’t know about his ties to the Pac NW, so I’m not sure that matters terribly. UConn recruits globally & has gotten at least a couple of kids out of Seattle. It also doesn’t hurt that they seem to meet UW in the tournament quite often. So maybe that works out.

    In any case, I still think the UConn job sells itself. There is a lot to like about the situation. The location, the national exposure, the recent history of success, both in the NCAA & in turning kids into NBA players. & I don’t just mean guys like Butler, or Gay, that were going to be in the NBA eventually anyway, but the players that are groomed into professionals. Those guys win titles. So what UConn needs, AC, is for a guy to be hitting his stride, in the locker room & on the recruiting trail, when Calhoun decides to hang up his whistle & all will be fine. The end of an era, for sure, but..

  11. rtmsf says:

    JTruman – awesome response, and I hope we see you around here more often b/c it’s clear you’re a passionate fan who belongs at RTC bringing ideas to bear.

    I absolutely hear what you’re saying, but the bottom line is this. UConn needs an A+ hire post-Calhoun to make the program more than Jim Calhoun. Otherwise, ten years will pass and the program will get left behind. Even grade A programs historically can get left behind if they make a bad hire or two (see: Matt Doherty, Billy Gillispie and Steve Lavin for examples). The question is who will be the guy or guys AC, and nobody knows who is on that list.

    There’s a lot to like currently, but the SJU reference was that there’s even more to like about NYC, and yet that program hasn’t really been relevant in twenty years. There has to be more than what’s currently interesting. It all comes down to the next guy, and hopefully for UConn fans, it’ll be better than Norm Roberts. I suspect it will be, but there’s no way to make sure until it happens.

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