Any thoughts about No. 9 UConn peaking as they began their national title defense were squashed 27 seconds into their second-round game against No. 8 Iowa State when Royce White, all 6-7, 270 pounds of him, grabbed a rebound, dribbled the length of the court and dunked while three nearby Huskies defenders watched on in disbelief. Thirty-nine minutes and 33 seconds later, UConn had lost 77-64. Now not only is their 2012 NCAA Tournament over after one forgettable game, we may not see them again in the Big Dance until 2014.
But that's a conversation for another time. Right now, coach Jim Calhoun and his team will have the next seven months to think about their latest loss which served as a microcosm of their season.
Against the Cyclones, UConn looked equal parts indifferent and over-matched. They trailed by as many as 22 points in the first half thanks to a mix of mental lapses, poor shot selections and some of the worst defense you'd ever hope to see. Calhoun burned through timeouts every few minutes, always after a missed assignment that led to an easy Iowa State basket.
The scouting report coming into the game was simple: Iowa State was one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. The Huskies knew this (Calhoun couldn't stop talking about in the days leading up to the get-together) but it was hard to tell early on. The Cyclones' precision offense created numerous open looks, many of which were converted.
The Huskies' response at the other end? A lot of standing around before settling for a jump shot. This isn't to say that Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier should pass up open looks. But when you have UConn's size advantage in the front court, guess what? You have to get the ball inside. It rarely happened, and on the few occasions it did, Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond struggled to make lay-ups.
But maybe we shouldn't be frustrated by UConn's performance. This has been their M.O. all season. The talk of the Huskies as a bracket buster was more wishful thinking than rational analysis. It would've made for a good story, especially if they met Kentucky in the third round, but the reality was summed up nicely by Charles Barkley (of all people), who served as an analyst for CBS.
"I just thought Connecticut had too many distractions. I wish coach Calhoun the best, but you can tell that team never gelled, they never really got it going from a confidence and swagger standpoint that you think a defending champion would have."
"Kemba Walker was the man last year," he continued. "He was a fantastic college basketball player. But this team, from the beginning of the season to the end of the season ever came together."
No, no they didn't.
Instead, the Huskies become the first defending champion since 1996 to lose in their opening round, and only the second Calhoun-coached team to head for the bus after one NCAA Tournament game. And now that UConn has been so rudely ushered into the offseason, questions will turn to Calhoun's future in Storrs, as well as that of Lamb and Drummond.