For one thing, had the Huskies been seeded four, five or six, they might have played one of the dangerous 11, 12 or 13 seeds seeds that pulled upsets, such as Dayton, Harvard, Stephen F. Austin, North Dakota State, Tennessee and Mercer. As it was, UConn narrowly avoided an upset in the round of 64 by 10th-seeded St. Joseph's, winning in OT.
But best of all, UConn's placement has given the Huskies the chance to play the next best thing to a home game. Its next venue is Madison Square Garden, the scene of some of the program's greatest victories.
"We call the Garden our second home," Ryan Boatright said after UConn's 77-65 victory over Villanova on Saturday night. "Because when we go to the Garden, we take care of business."
Madison Square Garden has undergone a $1 billion renovation. The Huskies last played there in November, beating Boston College and Indiana to win the 2K Classic trophy.
"We're excited to have our home crowd right around the corner, especially the older guys with so many great memories of the Garden," senior Niels Giffey said.
Giffey, Tyler Olander and Shabazz Napier were freshmen when the Huskies won five games in five days to come from the No. 10 seed to win the Big East tournament in 2011. The next year, UConn won two games there before being eliminated by Syracuse.
Further back, UConn fans stormed the Garden floor in 1988 when the Huskies won the NIT, and the photo of Phil Gamble, Jeff King and Robert Ursery is iconic. UConn played holiday tournaments in the original MSG long before that. UConn won Big East Tournament titles there in 1990, '96,'98, '99, '04 and '11, the last highlighted by Kemba Walker's game-winning shot vs.Pittsburgh. In 2006, the Huskies lost the epic six OT game to Syracuse there.
What the Huskies missed most in changing leagues was the chance to play the tournament there, Napier said.
Playing in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden will be a new experience and potentially very beneficial for recruiting in New York City. Taliek Brown and Walker were New Yorkers. Three current Huskies, Terrence Samuel, Kentan Facey and Omar Calhoun, played at New York high schools.
"One reason Terrence played so well [against Villanova]," Giffey said, "was that he was trying to go home."
Samuel, who played at Brooklyn's South Shore, said, "It should be a great feeling playing in front of my friends and family, I get to see my mother, especially. My brothers, my high school coaches. We take care of business in the Garden, so we just try to keep that tradition going."
UConn will play Iowa State and be joined in New York by Michigan State and either Virginia or Memphis. UConn's allotment of tickets is sold out and none are likely to be available through the Garden. But as teams are eliminated, more seats could be available on the secondary market. As of Sunday night, there were about 1,700 tickets listed on Stubhub.com, ranging from $314.50 to $10,731.80.
Napier, who was in foul trouble, was helped off the court by trainer James Doran with four minutes to go against Villanova. He had been accidently kicked in the right shin. "The pain was excruciating," Napier said. "I couldn't put pressure on it. James is one of the best in the country, put some good Biofreeze on it. He told me to mentally stay strong." Napier returned and finished the game. … UConn is 4-0 in NCAA Tournament games in Buffalo, with wins over DePaul and Vermont in 2004, St. Joe's and Villanova this year. But the Huskies probably don't consider it a home away from home. … Neither Olander nor Calhoun played against Villanova but UConn's bench has outscored its opponent's reserves 26-5. … Samuel's 11 points were a career high, and so were Giffey's 11 rebounds.