UConn ‘manifested’ tournament home-court advantage

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UConn coach Dan Hurley discusses his team’s NCAA tournament journey so far and how he gets his players to buy into his tough coaching. (1:57)
How Dan Hurley has gotten his players to buy in at UConn (1:57)
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BOSTON — In a quest for back-to-back national titles, UConn coach Dan Hurley saw a competitive advantage for the Huskies soon after they cut down the nets in Houston last year.
Way back then, he saw UConn’s potential path back to the Final Four only requiring bus trips. And with the Huskies handling business in the first two rounds of the men’s NCAA tournament in Brooklyn against No. 16 Stetson and No. 9 Northwestern, Hurley said his team has earned an expected home-court advantage in Boston this weekend.
“We hope the crowd can be a Storrs North for us,” Hurley said, referencing the school’s home in Connecticut. “Maybe feel a little bit like [Madison Square Garden] does for us when we play there [in] the Big East tournament and during the Big East regular season, too.”
He estimated that 60% of the crowd could be wearing UConn blue when the top-seeded Huskies play No. 5 San Diego State in a rematch of last year’s national title game. UConn is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and has been considered the best team in the sport for a vast majority of this season.
UConn (33-3) enters the Sweet 16 on a nine-game win streak, which includes the Big East tournament championship. The Huskies have just one loss — a blowout at Creighton — since Dec. 21. That caliber of play built up the home-court advantage.
“We’ve earned that by the season that we’ve had,” Hurley said. “This wasn’t some gift by the committee to try to make it as easy as possible for us. We’ve earned our position. We’ve manifested Brooklyn to Boston since, really, April, since last year when we won the championship.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard over that time period to earn the opportunity to play in front of hopefully a 60% UConn type of crowd.”
Hurley acknowledged Wednesday that the best team doesn’t always win the NCAA tournament. That’s why he’s worked to develop a “bulletproof” team, which includes a top-10 offense and top-10 defense, according to KenPom’s efficiency metrics. That gives the team the flexibility to win in different ways.
“When I talk about bulletproof, we’re vulnerable,” he said. “This is not a best-of-five or best-of-seven. You have one off night, you know, where everything falls apart — you could be the best team in the country and not win the tournament.”
That formula helped UConn overcome a 3-for-22 shooting performance against Northwestern in the round of 32.
UConn coach Dan Hurley, acknowledging that the best team doesn’t always win the NCAA tournament, has worked to develop a “bulletproof” team that includes a top-10 offense and top-10 defense, giving the Huskies the flexibility to win in different ways. Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports
“We shot the ball horribly, but we were bulletproof the other night because of our defense and our passing, our ability to score rim 2s,” he said. “We can win a lot of different types of games.”
UConn is a balanced team, led by guard Tristen Newton, who averages 15.3 points. He’s one of five Huskies to average double-digit scoring, including 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan, who is averaging 12.8 PPG and 7.4 RPG and is considered a likely top-10 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
While Hurley is bullish on his team, he did bring up, unprompted, the “bizarre” notion floating around talking heads about UConn being able to beat NBA teams, calling it “crazy talk.” He summed up this edition of the Huskies by saying the pieces fit better than perhaps last year’s national title team.
“We do have several players on this team that are going to play in the NBA, are going to be drafted in the NBA, are going to be drafted in the lottery in the NBA,” Hurley said. “You can’t deny when you watch this team play that it’s a fun team to watch because the ball moves, and we share it, and we play for each other. You can see the culture. You can see the energy. You can see the commitment to defense. You can see the personalities up and down the organization.”

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