UConn resembling '05 UNC national champs
The parallels are starting to take shape: Connecticut is looking a lot like North Carolina, circa 2005.
Remember the adjectives used to describe the Heels? They were viewed as the most talented team in the country. They had senior leadership, studs in the junior class who could go to the NBA, and an underclassman who could be a top-three pick.
Well, UConn has senior leadership, led by Hilton Armstrong and Rashad Anderson (and sometimes Denham Brown); a star in the junior class, Marcus Williams (plus Josh Boone, who was billed as such but hasn't lived up to it yet); and an underclassman who has the potential to be one of the best players in the country, Rudy Gay.
"I definitely see the comparison," said Villanova coach Jay Wright, who played both UConn and North Carolina last season, and whose fourth-ranked Wildcats (20-2, 10-1 Big East) beat the top-ranked Huskies 69-64 Monday night. "Both teams had key senior leadership and I can see the parallel between Rudy Gay and Marvin Williams and the impact that each has. I had never really thought about this before, but I definitely see it."
The similarities are there schedule-wise, as well. Both teams won the Maui Invitational. Both teams suffered early conference losses. Both teams had early issues with point-guard availability (UNC lost its season opener at Santa Clara without the injured Raymond Felton; UConn was without Williams, who was suspended for the first semester due to his role in the theft of laptop computers).
That all brings us to this point of the season. Last year, the Tar Heels lost at Duke at this point in the ACC season and then didn't lose again until they fell to Georgia Tech in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. This year, the Huskies are facing their toughest road stops of the season, beginning Monday at Villanova and then Saturday at West Virginia.
It's not farfetched to think the Huskies could drop one (or both) games this week. Or that they could get knocked out in the Big East semis. Or that they could win it all in April, just like the Heels.
Do the Huskies see a similarity?
"Definitely," Gay said. "They had seniors and juniors that led them, and a lot of young guys that played big roles."
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said you could draw the parallel "to some degree." But he added, "You've got to play the games to find that out. In hindsight, if we play poorly the next two games on the road, then ..."
Then maybe the comparison won't work. But the Huskies don't plan on slacking off this week.
"I don't expect us to play poorly, although I could feel entirely different a week from now," Calhoun said. "What we do know is that this team is a lot better; we've gotten better. Everyone has improved, and that makes us able to play a lot of different ways in February and March."
Gay is one of the main reasons for Calhoun's optimism. In the last four games, Gay has been steady, scoring 22 points against Pitt, 19 at Indiana, 22 against Syracuse and 18 at Seton Hall.
UConn (22-2, 9-2 Big East) had won 11 straight since losing at Marquette in its Big East opener. Saturday's game at Seton Hall game was the first of three straight on the road for the Huskies.
"These games will show where we'll be in April," Gay said. "In the first one [against Seton Hall], they tried to out-tough us and we learned a lot about ourselves by not retaliating. We're very confident. We're just playing off each other."
The Huskies will face a mismatch issue against the Wildcats, with Boone or Armstrong possibly guarding someone like Randy Foye when the Wildcats go with four guards. The Wildcats will have similar issues guarding the taller Huskies.
"These are two giant tests," Calhoun said. "I told our guys at a team meeting that we're 22-1 and 9-1, but we still have more tests. We've got to keep proving it and proving it."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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