Husky Basketball and Preseason Polls

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Preseason polls are coming out.  Portentous pundits are punditing passionately.  The Huskies are not in the top 25.  Well, no, that’s not entirely true.  They’re ranked 4th.  But is that realistic?

In his beautiful West Hartford, Connecticut home last week, I listened to a long-time resident talk about Hartford’s economic demise.

What insight might someone from Seattle have that could give Hartford new direction? he asked.  Seattle, in contrast, seemed so dynamic.

Microsoft.  Amazon.  Boeing.  UW Medicine.

Four-hundred-year-old Hartford, the Connecticut state capital; home of the nation’s oldest art museum, oldest newspaper and oldest public park; in the latter 19th century the wealthiest city in the nation; where once all blood transfusions involved the color blue; seemed moribund.

During the day, the streets were relatively inactive; at night they were nearly empty.  Demographic changes during the past 40 years had been dramatic.  Did I have any ideas?  Aware that Hartford was at one end of the Hartford – Springfield “Knowledge Corridor” (32 universities), I suggested a coordinated private/public sector medical and technological research enticement effort along the corridor, bringing to Hartford two dynamic Seattle economy drivers.

He wasn’t convinced.  Weighing evolving Hartford demographic characteristics, he thought industries where people worked with their hands should be considered.  I told him Hartford was not Bangladesh.  He nodded with an air of despair.

Earlier, upon arriving at a cold and wet Bradley Field, Hartford’s airport, I decided I needed a ball cap, and went into an airport gift shop.  Lotsa ball caps.  With multiple versions of the same logo.

Quite a collection.

My wife looked at the cap I selected, smiled and remarked, “Well, it’s better than ‘ex-con’.”  Clever yet again, love.  “What’s that animal with it’s tongue sticking out?” she teased.

“A close relative,” I said.

While Hartford times have been slowly and unfavorably changin’, there is one thing Hartford, the whole state of Connecticut, has going for it.

“UConn.”

Not so much academically.  It’s a good school but, for example, they don’t have a medical research budget approaching $1 billion like the west coast Huskies.  For mental health therapy, they have something that works effectively, however: a basketball team that well-serves the state emotional equilibrium during difficult times.

For example, the biggest event in Connecticut this year occurred on April 17th, 2011 when the City of Hartford held a parade, beginning and ending at the state capitol building, for the UConn national champions.  Interestingly, at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, this was never supposed to happen.

In the Preseason Coaches Poll on October 20, 2010, Pittsburgh (Pitt) was forecast to win the Big East regular season crown. Twelve coaches selected Pittsburgh to finish first.  Villanova was given second place, and Syracuse third, followed by Georgetown, West Virginia and St. John’s.

UConn, an NIT participant the previous season, was voted to finish 10th, just ahead of Seton Hall.

Within a few weeks after the start of the season, everyone who closely follows college basketball, even opposing Big East coaches, knew who Kemba Walker was, and by the end of the November 25th Maui Invitational Tournament against Kentucky, won by UConn 84 – 67, most also knew who Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel were.

It wasn’t an entirely smooth ride, however.  After performing admirably in subsequent games, on February 10th UConn got frostbite in Madison Square Garden, losing to St. Johns 89 – 72, shooting 36.9% while Dwight Hardy and St. Johns shot 48.4%.

For UConn, the temperature stayed below freezing.  Shivering, groping in the dark, UConn lost additional games to Marquette, Louisville, West Virginia and Notre Dame (10th place could still be theirs) but managed to find the thermostat in time for the Big East Tournament.

They turned it up as high as they could.

On May 12th, UConn won their fifth game in five days, defeating Louisville, led by Seattle’s Peyton Siva, 69 – 66 for the Big East championship.  During the five-game stretch, exhausted Kemba Walker did everything except sell tickets, scoring 130 points, 46 more than the previous tournament record.

One trophy down.

Connecticut squeaked by Arizona (as did Washington to win the Pac-10 championship) and Kentucky into the NCAA semifinal game, and on April 4th, beat Butler for the national championship.  At age 68, Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun became the oldest coach to win the NCAA championship, joining John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight in winning three NCAA titles.

Those Big East coaches who, during the preseason, had voted UConn to finish 10th within the Big East conference, began to reconsider as seldom-seen crowds lined the Hanford parade route from and to the state capitol building.

Fast forward to the present.

Before having played a game, the east coast Huskies are presently considered the 4th best team in the nation while the west coast Huskies in dynamic Seattle, although not picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12, believe they have enough talent to go very deep into the season.  Is that possible?  They’re not even ranked in the top 25.  And Washington doesn’t have Kemba Walker.  But, for that matter, neither does 4th-ranked UConn.

The obvious moral to be taken from the above discussion: preseason polls are, at best, guesses and, at worst, a sham.  Don’t pay much attention to them.

Pay attention to what the two fastest husky players, 6’ 5” C.J. Wilcox and 6’ 5” Tony Wroten, do on the court together, what the entire, talented west coast Husky squad does as they bring it together.  That should be worth your attention.

And who knows where it all might lead?