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UConn could be most talented ‘last four in’ team in history

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Let’s play a modified version of blind resume for a moment.

Suppose you’re a No. 4 or No. 5 caliber NCAA Tournament team.

You’re Wichita State, an upstart mid-major that’s playing their best basketball at the right time.

You’re elated  that you’ve shot up the dozens of bracketology boards.

You’re a real team! A Regional Final contender!

On Selection Sunday, a few hours before the brackets are released, a tipster comes up to you, head coach Gregg Marshall, and says he knows who the Shockers have been paired with for their first round NCAA Tournament game. He can’t reveal the opponent’s name, but can say they possess the following characteristics:

  • Two five-star recruits.
  • Four four-star recruits.
  • Two NBA lottery picks.
  • Winner of three national championships since 1999.

If you’re Gregg Marshall, you’d probably respond with something like, “OK, Mister, that smells a lot like UConn!…Wait, I thought we were going to be a five seed?”

As confounding as it may sound, this is the type of pairing we could see on Selection Sunday.

The UConn Huskies are bad; bad in the dysfunctional sense. From playing uninspired basketball down in Bahamas, to getting laughed out of the KFC Yum Center a month ago, to not even really getting one correct answer during ESPN College Gameday’s “Know Your Teammate” segment, the Huskies have looked like anything but a defending national champion.

Following tonight’s loss at Providence, in which they blew a 10-point second half lead, the Huskies are now truly on the wrong side of the bubble. Because of their name, we’ve given this team a number of chances to redeem themselves by calling every next game in February the “must win” game.

Saturday, their regular season finale at home to Pittsburgh, is a “can’t lose.”  I can promise you that there is zero wiggle room available.

But let’s say that UConn does make the tournament. With a losing record in the Big East, no impressive non-conference victories outside of Florida State to speak of, and only two wins against top 25 teams, the best at-large berth they could earn would be an 11 or 12 seed.

While the First Four has created two extra at-large spots, it’s still the bottom of the barrel for non automatic qualifiers. A place where teams put on a front about their excitement to be part of the Big Dance all while knowing they and have plenty to prove.

This land would be uncharted territory for such a successful program, but that’s where the Huskies may find themselves two weeks from now: matched-up against a higher seeded team that possesses far less talent.

How would a team like Wichita State feel?

Surely they would tell the media they embrace the challenge, but deep down they would have to be ticked that the tournament committee did them no favors.

This was a pre-season top 10 team! And with good reason!

A team like the Shockers could conceivably play a team like the Huskies, a complete flip of the script when it comes to early round NCAA Tournament match-ups.

The Huskies may lack fight, but they’ll be a challenging knock-out if they hear their name called on March 11th.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.