With only five Division I games on today’s schedule, we focus on #1.
#1 Connecticut Huskies (28-0) at Southern Methodist (16-10)
8 p.m. EST
Moody Coliseum – Dallas, TX
We can start by getting this part out of the way: Massey predicts UConn to beat SMU by 41 points with 100% confidence in a victory.
The outcome of this game is hardly in doubt. And it will probably serve as yet another showcase of UConn’s considerable talent, which includes a pair of 2014 Nancy Lieberman Award finalists in senior Bria Hartley and sophomore Moriah Jefferson.
The backcourt duo is averaging 9.5 assists per game for UConn’s dominant offense, with Hartley’s efficiency as a scorer adding to the offense and Jefferson’s 5% steal rate (17th in the nation) fronting the nation’s top-rated defense. For Hartley, she’s also now one of just four players in the nation to be named to five major awards lists available to guards this season, according to Cal Athletics. On Saturday, Hartley and center Stefanie Dolson will be honored on Senior Day and inducted into the Huskies of Honor.
Long story short, the Huskies are loaded this season and we haven’t yet even mentioned top player of the year contender Breanna Stewart. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something of interest here: the Huskies, undefeated though they may be, have a depth problem on paper and are still trying to figure some things out before embarking upon yet another tournament run this March.
With Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis still out with mono, 5-foot-8 freshman guard Saniya Chong has needed to assume a larger role as a starter. Just last week, there was concern about Chong playing tentative. Now she’s starting to come around, as described at The Day.
The Huskies remain shorthanded with junior All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis sidelined for at least one more week while she recovers from mononucleosis, but 5-foot-8 freshman guard Saniya Chong has played well in her place, starting the last two games and earning AAC Rookie of the Week honors on Monday after averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds in a two games last week. She had 17 points and 10 rebounds in UConn’s 83-35 win over Central Florida in Hartford and had eight assists and just one turnover in the two games.
The amazing thing about UConn is how they’re able to perform at such a high level while having to deal with missing players throughout the season – as Graham Hays of espnW described in a piece last week, the depth issues haven’t hurt them and, as of right now, there’s little evidence to show that depth will be a major problem going forward.
So we should expect the Huskies to repeat as champions, barring a spate of bad luck, with the primary challenger – or at least the game we all probably want to see – being Notre Dame. The bigger question being bandied about is whether they’ll be taking the crown as the top overall seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. And reasonable people can certainly disagree on that, without trying to fall back on the eye test.
This is a good thing? MT @SethDavisHoops: People underestimate how much the “eye test” matters to people on the committee.
— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) February 21, 2014
The ratings are mixed on who’s number one right now:
The reasoning for UConn not getting that number one seed is simple: Notre Dame has played against stronger competition and thus deserves that top seed overall. UConn is forced to bide time preparing for games they can reasonably expect to win by 40.
The opposing reasoning: these two teams have three shared opponents (Duke, Maryland, and Penn State) that are top-20 teams by any of the aforementioned standards. UConn’s margin of victory against those opponents is 19.3. Notre Dame’s is 11.5. And that 8 points is significant – UConn has just obliterated anyone in their path (including Duke with Chelsea Gray), Baylor being the only real challenger. They have the nation’s top-rated offense (1.18 points per possession) and defense (0.66 points per possession) not because they’re playing a weak schedule but because, thus far, they’ve overwhelmed anyone on their schedule.
We can certainly imagine ways that Notre Dame could beat UConn – they both play a beautiful brand of basketball and it’s clear that the former Big East counterparts could have a competitive game – but that’s not the question at hand. In dealing with the matter of which team has established themselves as the top overall seed, trying to use UConn’s schedule against them when they’ve blown out the rest of the top 10 (except for South Carolina and Tennessee) becomes a sort of abstract discussion the deeper we delve into their basketball performance.
Ultimately, we really need to see Notre Dame and UConn play each other to determine for certain who’s the top team in the nation – that’s what the tournament is ultimately for. But it would be rather irrational not to consider UConn the favorite, which makes it difficult to argue that they shouldn’t be the tournament’s top seed.