Last November, with just two games under their belt, the UConn Huskies headed to Hawaii not knowing what type of team they had. Kemba Walker was the only constant on an outfit coming off a disappointing 2009-2010 season that ended with no NCAA bid and an NIT loss.
Three days and three wins later (over Wichita St., Michigan St. and Kentucky), the Huskies were Maui Invitational champs, 5-0 on the young season -- on their way to 10-0 and a No. 4 national ranking -- and setting the foundation for one of the most improbable championship runs in recent NCAA memory.
If traveling to exotic locales for Thanksgiving tournaments is a harbinger of inspired basketball, fans will be happy to know that the Huskies will again play their early-season schedule outside the continental United States. On Tuesday, UConn officially joined Harvard, Florida St., College of Charleston, Central Florida, UMass, Utah and UNC-Asheville in the "Battle 4 Atlantis."
According to the Hartford Courant's Mike Anthony, the NCAA granted the tournament exempt status, which means that it doesn't count against a team's 30-game regular-season schedule. Anthony adds that the tournament will be held November 23-27 on a temporary court in a ballroom at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
Last year, Michigan St. and Kentucky were top-15 teams heading to Maui (UConn was unranked). The very early 2011-2012 preseason rankings have the Huskies rated highest (No. 5), and only Florida St. and Harvard receive mention as "other programs to watch."
The Associated Press reports that each team will receive $2 million to put towards athletic scholarships.
In addition to last year's success in Maui, the Huskies have historically enjoyed tropic climes to start the season. UConn also won the Maui Invitational in 2005, and the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas in 2008. In 2005-2006, the Huskies were 30-4 and lost to George Mason in the Elite 8. Three years later they went 27-3 before losing to Michigan St. in the Final Four. And we all know what happened earlier this month.
The takeaway: solid performances in Thanksgiving tournaments portends good things for the end of the season.