NEW YORK - Jim Calhoun generally scoffs at any comparisons between this year's Connecticut team and the one that won the 2011 national championship.
"That was a better team,'' the UConn coach said rather succinctly.
Still, what West Virginia faces in its Big East tournament opener today looks remarkably like the same Connecticut bunch that caught fire a year ago, if not necessarily in personnel than in situation.
Last year UConn was the ninth seed in the Big East tournament, beat DePaul after failing to earn a bye and then went on to win 10 more games in a row to capture both the league and national titles.
On Tuesday the ninth-seeded Huskies (19-12) beat DePaul 81-67 after failing to earn a bye. The next step in the process would be a win over No. 8 seed West Virginia (19-12) in a second-round game at noon. The game at Madison Square Garden will be televised by ESPN.
As both Calhoun and his players are quick to point out, however, there are significant differences between the situations. The biggest is the absence of Kemba Walker, who didn't single-handedly lift Connecticut to last year's postseason run but had a huge hand in it, especially as the Big East tournament MVP.
But Jeremy Lamb is still around and the surprise hero of last year's NCAA run is warming up again. In Tuesday's win over DePaul, Lamb had 25 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Don't call him this year's Kemba Walker, though.
"Well, no, I'm not trying to be Kemba. Of course everybody wants to lead their team to championships, but I'm just trying to do what's best for this team,'' Lamb said. "The whole team knows we've got five great players. [Ryan] Boatright, Shabazz [Napier], Roscoe [Smith] are stepping up. We've also got great big men. So it's a great team effort.''