Published April 01. 2014 4:00AM
This fifth trip to the Final Four for the University of Connecticut's men's basketball program is the most improbable to date.
The Huskies arrive in the championship round only one-year removed from NCAA tournament ineligibility caused by academic performance problems that predated the current cast of players. The penalty last year depleted the lineup as star players fled, transferring or entering the NBA early.
The team is headed by a coach - former Husky player Kevin Ollie - in only his second year.
UConn also had to adjust to a new league this season - the American Athletic Conference - which, based on the poor seeding its teams received in the tourney, got little respect from the NCAA selection committee. It penciled in the Huskies at a lowly seventh.
All of which makes this surprise run to the Final Four particularly sweet and praisworthy.
Over the weekend, Madison Square Garden was transformed into a home court for UConn as state residents made the commute to see UConn defeat higher seeds Iowa State on Friday and Michigan State Sunday.
The Sunday contest was indicative of the team's up-and-down season - leading by 9 in the first few minutes, falling behind by 9 in the first few minutes of the second half, then rallying for the win.
Once again, senior guard Shabazz Napier led the way with 25 points, but also making a major contribution was junior guard Ryan Boatright, scoring 11 despite a poor shooting night and serving as an absolute pest on defense.
It is a season that rewarded the loyalty of those players who stuck it out through the difficulties of last year's tournament banishment. This is one cool group. They collectively hit 41 of the 44 free throws they took in the weekend's two games, many coming in pressure time.
Given the odds the team has overcome so far, no one should be shocked if it finishes with a national title, as happened in three of the program's other Final Four appearances.