It is now commonplace in the sporting world to hear the term “big win” or “demoralizing loss” used to describe a regular season game immediately following its conclusion. But we never hear someone say “this loss will be a rallying point for team X” following a game. And this makes sense, as no one can tell what effect a loss or a win will have on a team until that squad is in action again. Yet there are many examples of teams who just need to hit rock bottom before rebounding, and there are two very good examples of this in college basketball right now.
The surprise Connecticut Huskies — who are ranked No. 17 in the latest polls — brought a 6-1 record into their Dec. 28 contest against St. Bonaventure. And while the Huskies were not viewed as a top-25 team then, and never figured to be, when they laid an egg and fell to the Bonnies 88-70, the Connecticut media had a field day, wondering just how bad the Huskies would be following such a “demoralizing” loss.
Just how much of a downer was the loss? Well, the Huskies have won eight of their nine contests since that date, with their only loss coming by a 2-point margin to a No. 6 ranked Oklahoma squad. Connecticut’s wins in this span are quite impressive, including a 1-point squeaker over the Miami Hurricanes and the recent 100-98 overtime thriller versus Arizona.
The Huskies have certainly rebounded quite well from the loss that was supposed to drive a stake into the team. They are now positioned solidly in the top 25 and have the mental toughness required for March Madness success. Jim Calhoun’s squad used the game as its motivation for the rest of the season, and so far, it seems to be working.
On a somewhat lesser scale, Bob Knight’s Texas Tech squad falls into a similar boat. The Red Raiders went into their first contest with Oklahoma two weeks ago with only one loss, but were blown out, 98-72. Immediately after the loss, the whispers began that Texas Tech’s solid season may have begun its downslide.
But using that poor performance — and what was sure to be a fuming Knight — as motivation, the Techies have since defeated two top-10 teams, Oklahoma State and the same Sooner squad that mopped the floor with them earlier in the season. In fact, Oklahoma didn’t even come close the second time around, with Texas Tech cruising to a 92-79 win.
The lesson: It is impossible for anyone to say, with any conviction, what kind of impact any one game will have on a team. An awful loss may actually turn a season around; what seems to be a huge win may lead to complacency that ruins a team’s year. Sometimes a regular season gut-check is just what a team needs to go from a middle of the pack squad to a legitimate contender come March.
Game to Watch: Speak of the Devil. This Saturday, it’s the aforementioned Huskies visiting South Florida to take on the Miami Hurricanes. The ‘Canes will surely be out for blood, after being bitten by UConn earlier in the season. UConn will look to continue its hot streak, and a win over Miami puts an undefeated Big East season well within their grasp.