Can the UConn men handle the burden of the program's history?
There is this curious intersection many teams with historical connotation encounter, the time when the dormancy is over and they've awakened the echoes.
It is here the UConn Huskies sit, their championships of seasons past meeting the hope and wonder of the present. Ah, but all with a caveat: What happens when history doesn't correspond to the present? What happens when the current group of players wear this historic uniform, but whose accomplishments as a team are, shall we say, modest by comparison?
Maybe that's why UConn coach Dan Hurley was almost Calhoun-esque in his postgame comments Saturday, following the win over The Program Formerly Known As Georgetown. The Huskies are hot. They are suddenly awash in hosannas. Their starving fan base hyperventilates.
Hurley could have basked. Instead, he perhaps saw the mouse trap as everyone else craves the cheese.
"We've got to have good preparation and not drink the Kool-Aid. Because now we've gone from 'this team is a bubble team' to now all of a sudden 'a Final Four sleeper,'" the coach said.
"We have a chip on our shoulder. People haven't praised a lot of our season. We've had a lot of detractors. And I love that. We're going to have a chip on our shoulder and a real edge to us over the next couple weeks. That's our mentality.
"All of a sudden we're a sexy pick to make a big run here in March, where no one thought we were any good not too long ago."
Hype is great for fans and media. Not so much for coaches, whose job is to view every ice cube as a potential sinker of Titanic. So while the fans and media blubber all week about the old days, the Garden and THE HUSKES ARE BACK, BABY, Hurley might get a little ornery.
That's because he knows. This group has never experienced 4 Penn Plaza and the Big East Tournament. It has never played an NCAA tournament game collectively. Now there is no safety net, otherwise known as the next game on the schedule. Two one-and-done tournaments await.
And there is no evidence to suggest they're ready. There is none to say they're not. There is a hot streak, though. There is injury riddled Villanova, perhaps turning the glimmer of a possible league title into a full spotlight. There is hope. Hype. And yet the fragility and finality only March delivers.
The fans are giddy. As my old friend Mark Carroll, a big Central Connecticut fan, mused Sunday on Twitter, "you think it's tough dealing with COVID? Try dealing with UConn fans the next couple of weeks."
Indeed. The punchy fan base might have the Huskies as a 10-point favorite over Gonzaga at the moment. Even Hurley lapsed into some hyperbole recently, when he said,
"Look, this is like being the quarterback at Notre Dame or playing quarterback at Alabama. When you're the point guard at UConn, you have tremendous responsibility."
Whoa. It's doubtful that Joe Average Sports Fan would go, "Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, Ken Stabler, Joe Namath ... and R.J. Cole." It's fodder for the classic, "which doesn't belong and why" skit from Imus In The Morning.
But then, if you can't live a little in March, what's the point, right?
It's all going to be fascinating. We've seen this Connecticut team deal with adversity, surviving James Bouknight's injury. Now we'll see whether the Huskies can deal with success.
They head to the big, bad city this week as the hottest team in the Big East. One of the hottest in the country. They also have very little postseason pedigree, all while wearing the uniform of a program with banners, banners, everywhere.
Will they continue to wear Hurley's metaphorical chip? Or will they shrivel under the expectations?
We've waited a while to be relevant again in March around here. Relevant they are. And with it comes the burden of the UConn uniform. Can't wait.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro
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