Tuesday, October 30, 2007

This is why Duke sucks.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Know Your Enemy: Gonzaga

Gonzaga will be Uconn’s first test of the season on a December 1st meeting. The Zags had a tough time last year with the Heytvelt and Davis suspensions due to the famous mushroom incident. This team is an offensive juggernaut, ranking 19th in the NCAA last season at 78.5 a game. What they have in offensive prowess, they lack in defensive tenacity ranking in a paltry 204th in the country at 70.1 a game.

Led by Josh Heytvelt, 15.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a game. The job to stopping this power forward rests on Adrien and the role players to keep him from enforcing his will upon the boards. They must keep him under control.

Thabeet won’t be the only big man on the court. Gonzaga recruited Robert Sacre, a 7-footer, who should pose a threat down low. This will be Thabeet’s first real challenge of the year and should give us a good look at how Thabeet’s progression has come along.

The guards have their hands full keeping Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin under control. With the departure of Derek Raivio and his 18 points, 3.1 boards, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals, leaves a big hole to fill and these two talented players should step up.

The X-factor should be on junior college transfer Ira Brown, a 25 year old player, who played five years of minor league baseball, so he is a gifted athlete. He has average size but his strength and versatility should create mismatches.

This is as well rounded a team that Uconn will face this year, other than Georgetown, Indiana and Louisville. They have depth with role players, such as Micah Downs, a forward with 8.1 points a game and 3.7 boards and Abdullahi Kuso, a hard worker and battler underneath. They have talented freshmen in Austin Daye, a possible big time scorer and afore mentioned Robert Sacre.

This match-up will be strength against strength, Uconn’s defense versus the Zag’s offense. If their two strength’s negate each other, then the key to winning falls on the weaknesses of Uconn’s offense versus the Zag’s defense.

Dyson, Price and Robinson must have big time games and show improvement in their offensive outputs from last year. If Uconn scores 70 points, they should get the win, which they did only once in the last 11 games. Adrien will give you his double-double and Thabeet will anchor the inside and whatever he gives offensively will be a bonus.

This isn’t a David versus Goliath match-up and one wouldn’t be hallucinating if Uconn pulls off the upset. They need to play a great team defense and create easy buckets with offensive rebounds and the fast break. If they get that done, then they’ll get that first notch on their postseason resume.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Not So Fast

Even though Calhoun has Dyson tinkering around at point during practice, it doesn’t mean that A.J. is going to lose the job and here are my top reasons why.

1. Jerome is a shooting guard, has outstanding range and runs the baseline with speed. His best asset would be to run around screens and pop shots or drive to the rim.

2. 65 assists to 66 turnovers. Not the numbers a point guard should have. A.J.’s numbers are 113 assists to 63 turnovers.

4. Running the team of Jerome, Johnson, Robinson, Adrien and Thabeet leaves two of the unproven players of Robinson and Johnson on the floor together. Until they prove to be assertive and effective, play only one at a time.

5. This group combined for 269 turnovers with only 158 assists. They need a setup man.

6. Calhoun let Ben Gordon run the show and played big inside. This team can change from three guard system to a three forward system easily. That versatility will help the defense when traveling through The Big East.

7. A.J. is still a great talent. Calhoun is using this hard line with him hoping to light a fire under his ass.

8. Calhoun recruited a point guard. A.J. knows that his minutes could slip and should lay it all out.

9. Craig Austrie has improved. Calhoun has praised his back-up point-man and knows his 27 turnovers, a guard low on the team, has proven his worth. If the point is going any place it will go to Austrie not Dyson.

10. A.J. might not be the next super-fancy point guard out there but with improvement, he can lead this team through The Big Dance.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

It's Not Toughness They're Lacking

Calhoun is stressing toughness in his team. That wasn’t the knock against them last year. The toughness was there. Wiggins taking a hard fall and bruising his hip, Dyson chipping his tooth on the court and playing through it and the bruising playing style of Jeff Adrien. The toughness is there it’s the cashing in that they lack. They went to the free throw line 253 more times than their opponents but only made 104 more free throws in those games.

They’ve got to improve at the charity stripe if they are going to utilize the size advantage that they possess. Its been the Huskies Achilles heel for the past decade. They’ve won championships with a team with poor free throw shooting but those teams had the likes of Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor on them. Not that Jerome and Thabeet can’t match the talent of those two but they’re not there yet.

The poor free throw shooting goes right down the board starting with Adrien (59%), then Price (69%), Johnson (50%), Dyson (72%), Robinson (66%) and Thabeet (51%). The guards need to get their numbers into the mid-eighties, the forwards into the high seventies and the big men into the low seventies. No 60’s and definitely no 50’s.

So if Calhoun wants to have the toughest sons of a bitches out there, he better have them work on making it pay off.

Going Big?

During practice Calhoun put Dyson on the point and played around with a bigger line up. It’s an interesting look and Jerome did have 65 assists last year. Though the big team would help out in rebounding, the big size would slow the game down and Calhoun was stressing the run game which was lacking last year. There will be times when Uconn will be tested by size, Georgetown, Indiana and Providence come to mind, but a change in philosophy for the team doesn’t seem likely.

Price limped out of practice with a hurt ankle. He has shown improvement, shooting the ball better and getting everyone involved. This team is going to need Price in a big way. If he finds his outside range, it should open up the entry passes to the big men down low. To many times last year teams played off the outside shots and clogged the passing lanes. Hopefully the injury isn’t serious.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Big East Power Rankings

1. Georgetown. Losing Jeff Green and his 14.3 points per game, 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists will hurt the Hoyas but they still have a veteran group led by Roy Hibbert. Until they are dethroned, they deserve top billing. With two promising freshman point guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright and two solid starters Jessie Sapp and Jonathan Wallace, the front court looks solid. For this team to reach the Final Four again, they will need Patrick Ewing Jr. and Vernon Macklin to step up and contribute more.

2. Louisville. With almost every starter returning except Brandon Jenkins, the Louisville Cardinals look primed to take the crown from Georgetown. Not many teams can match their forwards of Juan Palacios and Terrence Williams but for this team to move into the top spot, they need Derrick Caracter to stay healthy.

3. Marquette. Dominic James is by far the best guard in The Big East and with all his running mates returning, it wouldn’t be surprising if they take the top spot when all is said and done. They are solid at the forward position but lack a strong inside presence which could come back and haunt them. The X factor on this team is Wesley Matthews. If he can put together a solid year then this team will take the next step forward.

4.Connecticut. With every player returning, this team should be much improved. Jerome Dyson should mature and Thabeet should anchor a already solid defensive unit. The key to their success will be a consistent field goal percentage and making free throws.

5. Pittsburgh. They are ranked higher in national rankings than Connecticut but they lost to much last year. With the losses of Aaron Gray, Antonio Graves and Levon Kendall, Pittsburgh needs to rely on Levance Fields, Dejaun Blair, Mike Cook and Ronald Ramon to carry this team. They lack a legitimate post player and it could hurt in rebounding.

6. Syracuse. They have a heralded incoming class but they are still unproven and with only Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins the only returning starters, Syracuse might have a few early bumps in the road. Donte Green will make an immediate impact but it is to early to give him the "Melo" status. They will be dangerous come February.

7. Providence. They have good size and speed and only lost Herbert Hill. Sharaud Curry and Weyinimi Efejuku are the real deal and should help solidify the back court while Geoff McDermott will hold down the middle. Watch out for Dwain Williams. He is an emerging star.

8. Villanova. They lost to much last year with the departures of Curtis Sumpter, Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan but with Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham making a name for themselves last year, this team should find a way into The Big Dance. Corey Fisher should help with the scoring load and they are going to need all the help they can get.

9. West Virginia. Losing Frank Young might hurt this team more then imagined. With the extra burden placed on Darris Nichols and Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff to produce might be to much. But the one determining factor is the lack of size other then Jamie Smalligan, a 7-footer who likes to shoot threes. They came in 15th in rebounding margin last year and if they don't strike gold with incoming freshman John Flowers then this team will struggle.

10. Seton Hall. With Eugene Harvey and Brian Laing returning, this team looks poised to move up the rankings but with such a small team, the burden of holding the front court down falls on the shoulders of freshman Mike Davis. If he is what I think he is then this team should create a few upsets this year.

11. Cincinnati. Deonta Vaughn should get some help Alvin Mitchell and Jamual Warren. Incoming freshman Anthony McClain should make an immediate difference in their defense which was poor last year. If their freshman contribute then they should be respectable.

12. Notre Dame. With Russell Carter leaving, Notre Dame will rely on Rob Kurz and Luke Harangody to score more and if freshman Kyle Mcalarney steps up then this team should bounce back. But there are to many ifs.

13. St. Johns. There are to many questions on this team to move them up the rankings, like where is the scoring coming from? With to much talent leaving, the load will fall on Eugene Lawrences and Anthony Mason’s shoulders. No one knows what to expect from this team or what Justin Burrell will do.

14. De Paul. Losing Wilson Chandler and Sammy Mejia will hurt De Paul to much though Draelon Burns is a solid player. There are to many missing parts to make this team a legitimate threat.

15. South Florida. Kentrell Gransberry is a beast, averaging a double-double last year, but they just don’t have enough fire power to compete.

16. Rutgers. They have a promising freshman in Corey Chandler but the only way Rutgers will get out of The Big East cellar is if JR Inman steps up and carries this team.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lil Wayne, Big Problem

All eyes will be on Jerome Dyson this year. He came on during the second half of the year and should be the go to player when the game is on the line. A little word to the wise to the person in control of the sound system at Gampel or the Civic Center, don’t play Lil Wayne. Jerome came in dead last in the 5k Husky Run. And the Culprit? Listening to Lil Wayne songs on his Ipod. This team will only go as far as Jerome wants to take them. He needs to be up front and vocal this year.

Another sign that things aren’t starting well for the team. Doug Wiggins is still serving his already three week suspension from the team locker room for a “pattern of behavior”. He does seem sorry saying, “It was just dumb, stupid stuff, little stuff that never should have happened in the first place. I'm grateful that I still get an opportunity to come to practice and still be with the team.”

Marcus Johnson injured himself during First Night. It doesn’t look that serious but is going to put him out of several practices. If Marcus is having trouble dunking then its going to be a long year for him. On another injury update, Mandeldove looks healed up and ready to go.

With practice starting up and First Night now behind them, this team needs to gel, work extremely hard on consistent jump shooting and work on the fast break. This isn’t the Lil East that this team will be battling through, so please watch what your blaring through the loud speakers during games.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Role Players

Their job isn’t sexy. In fact at times they are unnoticed and invisible while on the court but the role players on a team are what takes a team to the next level. Most of the time they are asked to come in for a player in foul trouble, give a starter a breather or to substitute while Calhoun can do some persuasive coaching from the bench. Whether it is to block out, secure the ball or play defense, the role players are a pivotal piece to any successful team.

Uconn’s three role players, Gavin Edwards, Jonathan Mandeldove and Curtis Kelly are young and prime to make a bigger contribution to the team next year. They have made an emphasis on bulking up this year and with a year under their belt, they shouldn’t be overwhelmed with the physicality of The Big East. The only problem is that there isn’t enough minutes in a game to give all three enough game time to grow. So the battle for minutes will be fought for during practice and once given the opportunity they must seize it.

As of last year the depth chart seemed fixed with Kelly getting the most minutes while Gavin and Mandeldove shared the scraps. But that isn’t always set in stone. With the motivation of playing time fueling their off season, these players should be ready to take the next step.

Jonathan Mandeldove: At 6-11 and 220 pounds, he is a bit lanky but his long reach and wingspan is reminiscent of Hilton Armstrong in his first two years. Coming from Hargrave Military Academy, Jonathan is a very coachable player and should thrive in this system. Mandeldove has potential to be a starter one day but as of today he is looking up the depth chart.

Gavin Edwards: He is a more physical athlete than Mandeldove. Though he is only 6-9, his 230 pound frame still has room to bulk up. His father was a defensive end for four NFL teams, so Gavin has the genes to become a very physical player. He is not a shot blocking threat yet like his other role players but he does like to mix it up down low and has great footwork. Towards the end of the year, Gavin had cemented the number two role player off the bench.

Curtis Kelly: He probably has the most potential of the three players with a combination of size and speed. He has an offensive game that the others lack and has the ability to block shots. At times he looked confused but that is expected for a freshman. This year, he should know what is expected of him and thrive in the first man off the bench role. The one glaring weakness to his game is his free throw shooting. Its going to be scary when the switch clicks on Kelly’s game because he has all the tools to become an elite forward.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Holy Cross Batman!

Ralph Willard, head coach of Holy Cross, is spitting mad. He pointed the finger at Calhoun, charging him with going to the Gazelle Group, in charge of the Coaching Versus Cancer Tournament, and asked them to take Holy Cross off the Storrs regional. Instead Uconn is playing Buffalo.

Calhoun admitted not wanting to play Holy Cross but denied taking them off the tournament. He said, “We took teams like that, like Holy Cross, and said we’d rather play Buffalo. We didn’t demand it. Those are the kind of teams that if you aren’t ready can get your confidence down pretty quick. We now have said we have no problem with Holy Cross coming here.”

The message boards are afire with Calhoun afraid to play Holy Cross. The truth isn't always black and white. The first few games are exhibition, period. These games are for seeing your team in action without the threat of losing their confidence with an early loss.

Holy Cross did get the short end of the stick. They wanted to be part of the tournament but with being a small school, they didn't want the reschedualing because it conflicted with the schools mid-terms and they declined.

Calhoun has to walk a fine line with this team. His main goal is to get these kids into The Big Dance and an early loss to Holy Cross would be a huge setback to overcome. So is Calhoun afraid to play Holy Cross? Probably, but that is a good thing for Holy Cross. It shows they have a good enough team to compete with this enigma of a Husky team.

Remember this is big money basketball. Calhoun can not have the debacle of a year ago. This team must compete in the Big East this year because with the rise of Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Providence and the usual powerhouses, it makes it hard for this young team to remain afloat in the standings while learning on the fly.

Be it as it may, Calhoun has the right to tweak his schedule. He must be applauded for what he has done and doing for the battle against cancer and in the end that is what this little tournament is about, not the silly bickering of Holy Cross. But I’d put a hundred down that they’ll be on the schedule next year.