By Jon Rothstein
» More Columns
He pumped his fist in the air and showed signs of exhilaration, celebrating the fact that his team lived to play another day in the treacherous water that is known as the Big East Tournament.
Jim Calhoun knew this wasn’t the prettiest win of the season for UConn — but it may have been the most critical.
Yesterday’s 71-67 overtime triumph over West Virginia sets up a date with top seeded Syracuse today at noon at Madison Square Garden in a battle that should have the World’s Most Famous Arena buzzing like it’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
“Along with Kentucky, they’re the best team in America,” Calhoun said of the Orange.
For Calhoun, this is just another chapter. For this particular UConn team, it’s the start of what Calhoun hopes is another deep run in March.
The Huskies are likely in the NCAA Tournament after the win over West Virginia, another addition to a resume that includes the toughest schedule in the country — but don’t confuse this group with the one we saw 12 months ago.
Last year the Huskies rode the broad shoulders of Kemba Walker to five victories in five days at the Big East Tournament and eventually used that momentum to win the school’s third national title.
That run is over and done with. This one has yet to be written.
“What happened last year has absolutely no bearing on this team,” Calhoun said. “People have said we’re the defending national champions and I tell them we’re not defending anything. The trophy from last year is in Storrs, Connecticut. This team has its own script to write.”
And there’s no better time to start that than today against the Orange.
Syracuse has given Jim Boeheim his greatest regular season ever with a 30-1 record. The team hasn’t lost with sophomore center Fab Melo in the lineup.
They’re a team that has six or seven people that can be an assassin on any given night — but the UConn team they’ll face today is different than the one that lost to the Orange a few weeks ago at Gampel Pavilion. These Huskies have yet to lose since Calhoun came back to the bench last Saturday against Pitt.
“We’ve learned how to dig deeper,” Huskies guard Shabazz Napier said.
And that’s just what they’ll have to do to beat Syracuse, a team that calls Madison Square Garden its home away from home.
Not many people expect UConn to beat the Orange today, just like no one expected the Huskies to beat top seeded Pitt last year in the same game, at the same time, on the same day, in the same tournament.
Is history repeating itself? Not at all.
New team. New season. New story.
You don’t believe me?
Just ask Jim Calhoun.
Can the Huskies make some noise this March? Leave a comment below.