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Posted at 01:38 PM ET, 02/29/2012

NCAA tournament 2012: Connecticut needs a run to earn at-large berth


U-Conn. associate head coach George Blaney, left, has led the team during Jim Calhoun’s medical leave of absence. Calhoun could return this weekend to coach the Huskies in their regular season finale against Pittsburgh. (Fred Beckham - AP)

The defending national champion Connecticut Huskies are sinking and sinking fast. After squandering a 14-point lead and losing, 72-70, at Providence on Tuesday, it is clear that the they have some work to do in order to return to the NCAA tournament.

The Huskies (17-12, 7-10 Big East) played their eighth straight game without Coach Jim Calhoun, who underwent surgery Monday to address a spinal condition. During Calhoun’s current absence, the Huskies have won just three games and have watched their NCAA tournament hopes fade.

Calhoun could return Saturday for U-Conn.’s regular season finale against Pittsburgh.

It’s important to remember that the Huskies finished 9-9 in the Big East last season before storming through the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament en route to Calhoun’s third national title. But it’s more important to remember that you’ll find no Kemba Walker on this year’s team to carry the Huskies.

When looking at U-Conn.’s tournament profile, the first thing that jumps out is that they have played the nation’s toughest schedule. They have a handful of victories over potential tournament teams: Florida State, Harvard, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, South Florida, West Virginia and North Carolina-Asheville.

They have played just three games against the bottom of the barrel, teams ranked 200 or worse in the RPI. But the Huskies have an 8-10 record against top 100 teams, which is a concern. And Tuesday’s loss was their worst of the season.

The Huskies need to beat Pittsburgh. They also need to likely win at least two games in the Big East tournament to feel decent about their at-large tournament hopes. Getting Calhoun back is one thing, but getting a player named Kemba back is what they really need.

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By  |  01:38 PM ET, 02/29/2012

 
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