Can anyone catch UConn?
It’s the question teams ask themselves year after year.
After a shocking loss in the 2016-17 NCAA Tournament, it’s likely a question that no one will have an answer to.
On March 31, Mississippi State upset the Huskies in the Final Four with a 66-64 overtime victory to end UConn’s 111-game win streak.
Now? They are a team with a chip on their shoulder, led by one of the most prolific coaches to ever walk the baseline. Oh, and they went and added the top recruit in the country.
UConn returns a quadruple threat. They have the two best players in the conference in Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson, who each averaged over 20 points a contest last season. And don’t forget that they also return Gabby Williams, one of the toughest players in the game who can put up a double-double on any night, and Kia Nurse.
The addition of Megan Walker just makes them even scarier than they previously were. Walker was the top recruit in the nation last year, and led Virginia’s Monacan High School to three straight titles. Walker has the innate ability to manufacture shots for herself, as well as impeccable court vision. If you didn’t already know her name, you would be wise to learn it fast.
Considering their newfound motivation, it’s no wonder that the Huskies were voted preseason No. 1 in the AAC conference poll, USA Today poll, and the AP poll. It’s also not surprising that Collier was chosen as the preseason Player of the Year. In fact, the preseason AAC First Team was made up of three Huskies in Collier, Samuelson and Williams.
But nothing is guaranteed, and the Huskies learned that lesson the hard way. So what about a potential upset threat? Your best bet is USF. Were it not for UConn, they would be the conference favorite. They will be led by junior Kitija Laksa, a preseason AAC First Team selection. They also return a first-team selection from last year in Maria Jespersen.
The next most likely teams to challenge the Huskies are Temple and UCF.
The Owls return only one starter in Alliya Butts, who hit a team-high 88 three’s last season. UCF will rely on Aliyah Gregory, a 5-10 junior guard who earned first-team honors last year while leading the Knights in scoring with 16.6 points per game.
But the bottom line remains the simple fact that for another year, the title is UConn’s to lose. Now that they have faced some serious adversity, don’t expect them to take their eyes off the ultimate prize for a moment this year.
Mississippi State’s Final Four celebration has been playing over and over again in their heads, and that is the scariest thing about them.