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UConn Just Got A Shortcut On Their Road To Perfection

The University of Connecticut Huskies are good at the basketball. After beating Oregon handily Monday night, UConn’s win streak now stands at 111 games and they’re headed back to the Final Four. Since we’ve pretty much run out of sports comparisons for a streak this epic, note that UConn now has one win for every year of Bilbo Baggins’s life when he finally gave up the One Ring and left the Shire (and they barely look 50!).

More importantly, UConn’s road to a fifth straight championship got a lot less interesting than it was before the Elite Eight. Rival Notre Dame is gone, beaten by Stanford. And so is Baylor, the other powerhouse in the tournament, following an amazing upset by Mississippi State. Bulldogs point guard Morgan William had the game of her life, hitting six of eight 3-pointers, while gathering 41 points and 7 assists with no turnovers to help down the Lady Bears.

But let’s face it: Baylor losing has likely ruined any suspense left in this tournament. There’s still a chance that the Huskies will get upset by one of their two remaining opponents, but it’s not likely. Stanford, whom UConn could face in the finals, is the last team to beat them — 862 days ago. South Carolina, the Huskies’ other potential title opponent, played them close in February, losing by only 11. But Baylor looked like it might have had the best chance of beating UConn of any team in years.

And Mississippi State, whom UConn will face next in the Final Four, let’s see … these teams faced each other in the Sweet 16 last year, and it went like so:

This is the proverbial 60-point game that wasn’t even that close. UConn led 61-12 at the half and scored more points in the first 12 minutes and 14 seconds than Mississippi State would score in the whole game. But here’s the important part: This year’s Bulldogs squad is almost exactly the same team. All but one of the players Mississippi State put on the floor against Baylor (including all five starters) played in last year’s ignominious UConn defeat.

UConn, of course, is a different team. Having lost three top players to the top three slots in the WNBA draft, they’ve declined precipitously from a year ago. And by “precipitously,” I mean like so:

UConn has been slightly less efficient on both offense and defense. As a result, the Huskies have beaten their opponents by only 45 points per 100 possessions this season, down from around 55 points per 100 last season. So if Mississippi State was close to 10 points worse than the Huskies last year, it might be within striking distance now. But 60 points worse than the Huskies …

Regardless, FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness prediction model (which does not account for “oh my God, did you see how badly they got crushed last year?”) gives UConn an 87 percent chance of beating Mississippi State and an 85 percent chance of beating whoever they play after that. Good luck.

Check out our March Madness predictions.

Benjamin Morris researches and writes about sports and other topics for FiveThirtyEight.

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