Williams' play is the key for a UConn run
Andy Katz likes UConn to win the national title -- as long as Marcus Williams plays like the nation's best point guard.
Why will Connecticut win this year's national title?
Well, for starters, the Huskies have the most talent. They have high-quality depth. They have a manageable bracket. They have a coach who's been there before.
Most important, though, they have a point guard who could be the most critical player for any team in the NCAA Tournament. And if Marcus Williams plays like the best player in the field, the Huskies will be cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.
Is that too strong a statement? No, it's the truth. Just ask Williams' coach.
The Huskies have a collection of impressive individuals, but Williams is the one who makes that collection work in concert, getting his teammates the ball in the right spots.
"If he plays well, then we've got a chance to win it," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said Monday. "If Marcus were to sprain an ankle in the first 10 minutes against Albany, then we'll struggle but we would probably win. After that, it's 50-50 if we'll win a game or not."
If it sounds like Calhoun is putting too much pressure on Williams, he's not. The Huskies have become too reliant on Williams at the point.
Although Williams was suspended for the first semester for his role in the attempted sale of stolen laptops, the Huskies won the Maui Invitational en route to an 11-0 start, all while trying to develop freshmen point guards Craig Austrie and Rob Garrison. However, now with Williams fully back in the flow, Garrison has dropped out of the rotation (drawing a DNP in seven straight games), while Austrie has been used sparingly, playing fewer than 10 minutes in five of the last six games.
"[The lack of a second point guard] is clearly our Achilles' heel on this team," Calhoun said. "When Marcus wasn't distributing the ball as well [like in the overtime loss to Syracuse on Thursday in New York], we struggle. There is no more important player in the tournament."
Calhoun has studied the bracket and knows if the Huskies face UAB and its pressure defense in the second round, he'll need more ballhandlers. The Sweet 16 could have another up-tempo team like Washington or Illinois, which explains why Calhoun said the Huskies started getting Austrie and Garrison ready during Sunday's practice.
The assumption is that the Huskies are loaded at every position. They are -- except for the point. Brown and Anderson can rotate at shooting guard. Rudy Gay, whom Calhoun has been all over at times for erratic play, works in with those two. The Huskies also have a glut of interior players in Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, Jeff Adrien and Ed Nelson.
Think about the depth there -- the scoring, the shot-blocking, the offensive rebounding and the overall size.
Still, for Calhoun, it all comes back to Williams.
"No one is as close to being [as] important as Marcus," Calhoun said. "If we had another [point guard], we'd be unstoppable. That's why we've got to get more out of Craig and Rob. No one is as important as Marcus."
"[J.J.] Redick is probably the second most important player," Calhoun said. "We can win the national championship if Marcus plays well."
Calhoun said he wants to find minutes to rest Williams, but can he afford to? With Williams on the floor, the Huskies are able to overcome off nights from some of their other starters.
"Just look that Josh Boone went 1-for-11 [against Syracuse] and we still had a three-point lead against them late," Calhoun said.
The Huskies took a ton of flak for even clearing Williams after his role in the sale of stolen laptops earned him a semester's banishment. There were plenty of critics who said that wasn't even enough, but the university made the call to bring him back for the second semester -- and, like it or not, that decision has put the Huskies in position to win the national title.
The preseason chatter was all about Rudy Gay and his potential to be Big East Player of the Year. The end-of-season reality, though, is that Williams is the key. If the nation's most irreplaceable player is on, the Huskies have the best point guard in the country -- and the impetus to win their third national title.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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