For the Huskies' (20-13), the NCAA Tournament officially begins at 9:20 p.m. ET Thursday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Pegged as the No. 9 seed in South Region, they'll face No. 8 Iowa State (22-10) out of the Big 12. And as far as coach Jim Calhoun is concerned, the 2012 tournament has absolutely nothing to do with the team's run to a national title a year ago.
"We're not defending anything, nor did we ever think we were," he said via TheDay.com. "We wanted to do some other things. Some of those things have been accomplished and obviously some of those things haven't been. The most single important thing was to get an opportunity and that's all you really need and ask in life. We got an opportunity last year and took great advantage of it."
A nine seed means that the road ahead will be a difficult one. A year ago, after ripping off five wins in five days to claim the Big East Tourney title, the Huskies earned a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance. No such luck this time around, which means that should UConn get past Iowa State, they'll face the No. 1 team in the tournament: Kentucky.
But first things first: taking care of the Cyclones, who are coached by former ISU player and NBA veteran Fred "The Mayor" Hoiberg, who has gotten ISU to the Big Dance for the first time since 2005, thanks in large part to their ability to shoot the three. So while UConn's mission is simple in theory, the reality is less so: limit the Cyclones' perimeter chances.
Iowa State attempted 738 threes during the season -- that's 23 (!) a game -- and made 38 percent of them. These numbers concern Calhoun, especially since the Huskies haven't defended the three particularly well this season. (Opponents converted 34 percent while the Huskies were at 33 percent. By the way: Iowa State attempted 200 more threes than UConn in 2011-12.)
"They shoot the heck out of the basketball. … We haven’t played a team yet that shoots 36 3-pointers, and averages 24 a game,” he said. “They shoot at 39 percent. We don’t take 37 three’s in two weeks. “We will have to chase them off the arc.”
The biggest threats: guards Scott Christopherson (12.5 points per game, 45 percent from 3) and Chris Allen (11.8 ppg, 38 percent from 3). But it's not like the Cyclones just gather around the arc and hoist shots for 40 minutes. They have an inside presence too; Royce White, a 6-8, 270-pound transfer from Minnesota averages 13.1 points and 9.2 rebounds a game.
Iowa State doesn't sound intimidated by their draw. “You have two of the most storied teams in NCAA history (in UConn and Kentucky) — if we’re lucky enough,” Hoiberg said, via the Des Moines Register. “It’s a tough draw, but hey, we’re up to the challenge.”
And while the experience may be old hat for the Huskies, they're not taking anything for granted.
"It doesn't get old," Calhoun said. "I can't wait. … There's nothing more exciting. This is the best time of year, and I treat it that way. These kids, down the stretch, came around to earn this. … It wasn't by a wide margin. We had to win some games and we did. We showed them that we deserve to get in."