Saturday, November 29, 2008

Showing some swagger

While Bryant played hard, they were overmatched. They had nothing to defend the inside game. But what was learned in this game was that UConn’s offense needs to flow through Dyson. It wasn’t until he started taking the ball to the basket that they started to pull away. The help defense looked good and everyone contributed on the boards. Rotations are beginning to solidified and players are settling into their roles.

We’ve seen Hasheem come out against smaller teams and become invisible. Not this game. He made his presence felt from the tip to the buzzer. He had the line of the night with 16 points, 12 boards, and 3 blocks. UConn lived in the paint and gobbled up 16 offensive rebounds. Adrien was solid with 14 points, 9 boards, and 2 blocks. He just needs to leave running the break to the guards. He is still hesitant to use that elbow jumper and used the dribble drive for most of his points.

Austrie had his best game of the year. He sank a few floaters and was knocking down the outside shot. He’ll be able to get open looks all season with teams shrinking the zone to defend the paint. He just needs to execute. Price also had his best overall performance of the year. He was looking for his offense all game and took 11 three point attempts. It is also great to see his assists (4) to turnovers (1) look more Price like.

Dyson is the key to the offense. When he is able to get into the teeth of the defense good things start to happen. He is also playing superior defense and has a knack of getting into the passing lanes for steals. Sky-Walker came in and played aggressive, getting to the line 5 times. He is fitting well into the rotation and doesn’t hesitate with decision making.

Gavin played 18 minutes and grabbed 5 boards. He has been a little lax on the defensive end, leaving his man early to help out and giving up easy buckets. Okwandu got the most bang out of his minutes. He got 4 boards, 3 offensive, and to the line in his 6 minutes of play. The Thabeet and Okwandu lineup looked intriguing and effective. Beverly is going to be an Austrie type of player. Solid. He comes in and contributes without playing out of control. Haralson was on a mission to make a basket even if it was going to cost him a tongue lashing from Calhoun.

These tune-up games are vital for UConn. They need to see what depth they have behind their starters. While they are dominating teams now, they are going to need Okwandu, Walker, and Gavin to contribute during crucial stretches of tight ballgames. Calhoun has to be pleased with the fluidity of his offense and unselfishness of his players to pass the ball (18 assists). With the defense beginning to catch up, this team is beginning to find its swagger.

Rudy and Ray have the hot hand

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tough Juice is doing everything he can

UNC is head and shoulders above everyone else

Ty Lawson had his way in this game. Notre Dame looked slow and sluggish. They are also very deep, having Ed Davis come off the bench. The scary thing is that they aren't healthy. The way to beat this team is to make them jump shooters. They are so skilled at getting into the lanes and push the ball up. Does UConn have a chance? Yes. They aren't playing at the same level yet. Once Price finds his game then this team will be scary. UConn will also need the length of Robinson and Majok to be able to stay in front and help out on the boards, because UNC brings waves of athletic forwards onto the floor.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pressure Point

The pressure was turned up in this game. UConn put the zone away and dusted off the frantic man-to-man defense that caused havoc with Wisconsin’s backcourt, creating 22 turnovers. They baited Wisconsin to play their tempo and they bit it hook, line, and sinker. While the three ball kept Wisconsin in the game early in the first half, once they went cold and had to venture into the paint, UConn went on the run that put them ahead for good.

Jerome Dyson has found his confidence. He was able to get into the lane, draw the defense, and hit 5 to 8 foot jumpers. This is a different Dyson. He’s dangerous if he can hit that, pull up from three, make those slashing shots around the basket, and not get into early foul trouble. How’s this for the line of the night: 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting, 6 boards, 3 dimes, and 1 steal. His early fuel to UConn’s offense has helped them set the tone. Sky-Walker had a solid game. He was the cog in Wisconsin’s backcourt, snatching 4 steals. He missed all 3 of his three-point shots, but he was 6 of 6 from the line, and made a great reverse lay-up.

Price continues to search for his game. His vision isn’t there yet and seems to be behind with most of his passes. He has developed into a dependable three-point shooter, 2 of 3. He just needs to get comfortable with the speed of the game again. Austrie was solid, hitting 3 of 4 from the floor and 2 of 2 from three. It is good to see those shots sinking again.

Thabeet seems to be a man of two halves. He is so afraid of foul trouble that he isn’t aggressive in the first half. But once the second half arrives and he has some fouls to play with, he is a blocking machine. He needs to find a way to play more aggressive in the first half without fouling. Easier said then done. He continues to shoot well from the line, but his hands aren’t his best asset. That dunk that Dyson set him up with was spectacular. Adrien was a work horse. He used his strength to battle inside to find his points got to the line 7 times. He had a game high 8 boards.

Gavin was the bench in this game. He played a total of 8 minutes and was 1 of 1 from the field, got to the line, had a block, and was active on the court. It is surprising that Calhoun didn’t use the bench as much since this was a back-to-back game.

The pressure defense was suffocating and the backcourt won this game for UConn. They were able to slice the lanes apart and get into the paint with ease. This team has so many ways to beat you. Last night it was Thabeet and this game it was Dyson. UConn heads back home from the comfy confines of the Virgin Islands hotter and more confident then ever. Gampel better have the heat turned up full blast, we don’t want the 20 degree weather to cool them down.

Monday, November 24, 2008


UConn put together a total team effort, having four players in double figures. They were aggressive right from the tip and pushed the ball up the floor. Though they started the game on fire, they cooled down with some sloppy play and costly turnovers that gave the hurricanes some life. The defense looked much better and kept Miami at bay even with some late runs.

Thabeet looked determined right from the go. He took the ball to the basket even if he was double-teamed and was paid for it with 19 points. He also had an excellent rebounding performance pulling down 14 boards and swatting 7 shots. He needs to put together a stretch of games like these. Adrien just couldn’t get it going. He missed bunnies, never got to the line, pulled down 7 boards, didn’t have an assist and turned the ball over.

Price was going to find his shot and hit only 5 of 13, 1 of 4 from the line and 2 of 5 from three. Even though his shooting is off, he contributed on the boards and pulled down 11, that’s four more then Adrien. Dyson did what he needed to do, drive to the basket. He only shot the ball 7 times but he was in early foul trouble. The old Dyson showed up a couple of times. He was caught in the air a couple of times and he had a few offensive fouls. But his aggressive play helped fuel UConn’s offense and created the double-digit lead.

Kemba showed some growing pains. His driving shots rolled off the rim, he had some issues dribbling, and couldn’t find a rhythm to his game. But in the end, he had 11 points, 3 assists, and a steal. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the kid is still a freshman. Austrie is still streaky from three, 0 for 3, but he came in at the end of the game and sealed it-7 for 9 from the line.

Gavin had a great game. He was 3 of 4 from the field, had 2 boards, 1 assist, and 1 block in 11 minutes. Beverly missed a shot in 2 minutes of play and Okwandu had zeros in 3 minutes of play.

This was the first legitimate test for the pups and they showed their merit. They were determined to beat the defense down the court and focus their offense through Thabeet who produced. There is still plenty to improve on but they corrected much of their woes on defense. The offense was a team effort and the ball movement in the half court looked crisp. This team can have a number of players step up. One night it was Adrien and Kemba and the next it is Thabeet. It is a well rounded team and now they are playing with confidence. That’s scary.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kemba Sky-Walker

Defense. It all boils down to defense. UConn can’t allow a team of La Salle’s stature to outscore them in the paint 42 to 40. If you live by the three guard offense, then you die by the three guard offense. But it is obvious that they miss Stanley Robinson. La Salle’s forwards feasted in the paint and were able to get shots up before Thabeet and Adrien could position themselves to defend. The man to man was so bad that Calhoun went to a zone. It was also an inconsistent called game and there was no flow until halfway into the second half. They would let enormous contact on drives to the basket and then call a tick tack foul on the perimeter. But that wasn’t the reason why La Salle and Hartford have stayed in games against the 2nd ranked team in the country. It has been the interior defense and they need to figure it out fast.

Kemba Sky-Walker came out to play. He was able to drive the length of the court and beat La Salle before they could turn to defend. He was aggressive right from the start and set the tempo. If he can have 23 points on 7 of 11 shooting, 3 boards, 4 assists, and 2 steals a game, then this team will be deadly offensively and take over a starting position. Price hasn’t shaken off the rust yet. He shot the ball well, 2 of 3 from three, but his 4 assists to 4 turnovers isn’t like him. He might be trying to figure out his new role with Kemba on the team. At least he remained composed.

Austrie is finding his minutes being gobbled by Sky-Walker. If he remains a streaky shooter, 0 for 4, he is likely to lose his starting job. The good thing is that he is such a versatile player that coming off the bench won’t hurt his game at all. No matter the situation, Austrie remains a reliable player and an asset. Dyson had a solid performance and took 8 shots, which is around the number he needs to be at. His outside shot wasn’t dropping and he was caught in the air at times, but he was aggressive and went to the line 11 times, hitting 9 of them.

Adrien was impressive. He shot 8 of 16 from the field, made 6 of 8 from the line, pulled down 14 boards, 6 offensive, and had 3 assists to 1 turnover. La Salle couldn’t match up with a player of his strength and skill set. It is good to see him playing this well this early. Thabeet is regressing. He isn’t making post moves, even if he is one on one with his man. He isn’t able to hold onto the ball and had smaller defenders rip it away from him. He needs to hold the thing above his head. For a greater part of this game, he was ineffective but during the middle of the second half, he started pulling down boards and had all of his 5 blocks. Some of the problems are not his. The guards need to move into a better position to make that entry pass and need to pass the ball higher, not down by his feet. Again the zone is taking away UConn’s strength.

The bench was hardly used. They saw a total of 14 minutes, which shows you how close this game was. Beverly was in for a brief 3 minutes and had goose-eggs. Gavin came in for 7 minutes and missed a shot. Okwandu was in for 3 minutes and had 2 fouls and 1 turnover. And there was a Mandeldove sighting for about 1 minute.

This team is not even close to where they want to be defensively. While the three guard lineup has allowed them to run the floor, protect the perimeter, and shoot effectively from the line and from the outside, the interior defense is taking a hit. There needs to be that third player to help battle in the paint. Teams are flooding the lanes and able to shoot quickly over the bigs. The zone was a big help during the second half and allowed Thabeet to roam the paint. Watch for them to utilize it more against a more forward oriented offense. Whatever defense they use they can’t allow a team to shoot 50% from the field. They need to patch this leaky interior defense or they are an upset ready to happen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Deceiving Victory

While the final score looked like a blowout, this game was anything but one-sided. There were shades of the past couple of seasons during stretches of this game. The zone frustrated the huskies and they could never establish the bigs inside. They better figure this out because that zone will be much harder to penetrate when they enter Big East play. On defense they were getting out hustled by a much slower opponent, and settled for the three ball without moving the defense or penetrating. They were bailed out with the tight officiating and got to the line 46 times to Hartford’s 17. The bigs need to do a better job in fighting for position and the guards need to remain patient, drive into the zone and look to dish the ball when the defense reacts.

Again Dyson had a solid performance and has emerged as UConn’s primary offensive threat. He shot 8 for 15 and 2 of 6 from three. He needs to keep this offensive mindset, and attack the defense. His 0 out 3 from the line hopefully is an anomaly. Kemba did a good job in his first start and looked more comfortable in taking the open look. He displayed his “one man fast break ability” that Calhoun has talked about, and has displayed range with his shot, hitting 2 of 6 from three. His aggressive style and lightning fast first step put him to the line 8 times and he sunk 7 of those. Craig Austrie had his best performance since the middle of league play last year. He wasn’t hesitant to take the shot and only 3 of his 11 field goals were three pointers, which shows his ability to take the ball inside. He lived at the charity stripe, hitting 10 out of 11. He also played exceptional defense on Joe Zeglinski.

Thabeet with his towering frame could only muster 4 shot attempts in his 22 minutes of play. There were signs of last year in some of his post moves and lack of intensity. He battled on the boards and pulled down 8, but his night was a big disappointment. He needs to demand the ball, fight hard for position and block out. Adrien also had a hard time with the zone and went most of the game without a bucket. He fought hard and pulled down 15 boards, but the lack of touches on the block and the way he passed the ball without making a move is disheartening. Where was that elbow jumper he had added to his game last year?

Beverly played great. He picked and chose his points and was effective. In 12 minutes he had 9 points, 4 boards, 2 offensive, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 three point shot. Now that’s getting it done. This bench is deep in the guard position. Haralson needs confidence in the biggest way. He went 0 for 3 again. He needs to keep shooting it, but sometimes finding an easy bucket will make that basket look a lot bigger. Gavin did his job and pulled down 6 boards, 4 of them were offensive, went 3 of 3 from the line, and even found an assist. Okwandu at times looked like a freshman, but surprised everyone with a smooth elbow jumper. He also had a block and a steal in his 9 minutes of action. Johnnie Bird made an appearance and found his way to the basket.

While the pups turned around a horrible start to the second half, there are still some disconcerting facts. They need to be able to use their strengths and not let teams dictate were the offense is going to come from. It is up to the guards to penetrate the zone. While the threes were dropping, they settled for the first open look. They didn’t pass the ball well, didn’t hustle, and let a smaller and slower team out work them. Though the better team took over at the end of the game, against a more comparable talented squad this outcome would’ve been much different.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Opening a can of whoop

UConn did what it had to do, come out of the gates strong and play with a comfortable lead. The offense looked crisp and they swung the ball around the defense and got it inside to their bigs. The defense mirrored the offense and kept Western Carolina to only 34.4% shooting. It was surprising to see the amount of minutes the starters had versus the bench. Gavin, Beverly, Haralson, and Okwandu only played 30 combined minutes.

Jerome Dyson was a man on a mission. It was great to see him playing with confidence again. He hit 3 of 4 from three! If this continues, watch out Big East. He stayed aggressive and got to the line 9 times, dished the ball 5 times, found 3 steals, had a massive dunk, and the greatest sign of a different Dyson-he drove into the lane and sunk a jumper. A.J. Price needs to focus on his game and needs to play the game right. There is no excuse for jabbing a player in the stomach. It doesn’t matter what happened prior. There will be frustrations while he adjusts to playing with a reconstructed knee. Ask Tony Allen of the Celtics how long it took to return to form after the injury. He might not be 100% throughout the season.

Craig Austrie had a solid game hitting 4 of 8 from the field, but was 1 of 4 from three. He needs to be that clutch shooter from there for this team. He also needs to get into the paint and find some boards, coming up empty in 23 minutes. With no small forwards, it is up to the guards to find the loose change. Kemba Walker is looking the part of a big time player. He split the double team twice and looked like Adrien Peterson making a cut. He has a tremendous first step and he played aggressive, getting into the paint and to the line 6 times. He also picked up 3 boards and 5 dishes. He showed some solid defensive.

Hasheem Thabeet was a man among boys but his stats should be taken with a grain of salt. The competition wasn’t up to par and he could get to any spot he wanted without resistance. There are a few things that Thabeet showed that could be carried over into a more competitive game. He hit 9 of 13 from the charity stripe. If he can improve on last seasons stellar free throw percentage, he will find his points. He also was aggressive with the ball in the post. He might be more apprehensive to drive against the monster post players in the league but the aggression will force the referees to make a call. Adrien did what we all expect and he gets lost in the Hasheem hype. He was 6 of 7 from the floor, hit all his free throws (just two), pulled down 7 boards, blocked a shot, stole the ball twice, and the most amazing stat was his 2 assists to only 1 turnover.

Donnell Beverly came in and played solid. He was 1 of 2 in his 6 minutes of play. Gavin also did his job, pulling down 3 boards, 1 offensive, and was 1 of 2 from the field. Haralson continues to struggle, going 0 for 3 from the field. He needs to remain confident in his shot, but he did get a rebound in his 7 minutes. Charles Okwandu looked like he belonged while he made his brief appearance. He has great footwork and wasn’t lost on the defensive end. He even managed to get an offensive board in his 5 minutes.

If Jerome can be the offensive threat that he displayed in this game, then this team will have a great chance of doing damage at the end of the season. He needs to have at least 7 to 10 shot attempts a game. How much of a luxury is it to have Kemba Walker on the team? A.J. Price was nonexistent in this game and UConn hardly noticed. There wasn’t a lull in the offense. But we need to put the Final Four ticket purchases on hold though, until they prove that they can remain composed against comparable talent and on the road, these games are just meaningful preseason games.

Tough Juice steals the show

Dyson's massive dunk versus Western Carolina

Friday, November 14, 2008

Top Ten UConn NBA Players

1. Caron Butler. 21.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 3.8 assists. Tough Juice has emerged as an elite player. He is shooting well from three (.364) which makes him hard to defend. He can play the post and has become a solid defender.

2. Rudy Gay. 20 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.8 assists. Rudy is still a human highlight machine but he isn’t shooting the ball well (.413) and is 17 for 43 in his last three games. He is also 2 for 11 from three, shooting just .200 from downtown. He needs to build on his good shooting from last year to make the next leap in his game.

3. Ben Gordon. 19.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, .4 steals, and 3.8 assists. It is great to see Ben finding his offense this early in the season. While he isn’t shooting well from three, he is shooting the ball much better this year (.479). If he provides this type of spark off the bench all season, he will be in the running for sixth man of the year again.

4. Ray Allen. 15.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, .9 steals, and 2.6 assists. Maybe that shiny new ring on his hand has thrown his shot off because he isn’t shooting the ball well from downtown (.271). He isn’t a one trick pony though and finds his points in various ways and plays excellent defense.

5. Rip Hamilton. 17.4 points, 4 rebounds, .4 steals, and 3.4 assists. Rip, the model of consistency, is below his career average in field goal percentage but he still is averaging the same amount of points. He is a scorer and the jumper will eventually come around. He’s hitting the boards better this year and he is a tenacious man to man defender.

6. Emeka Okafor. 10.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and .4 assists. Emeka is bringing his lunch pail to work everyday. While his points are down by four points, his free throw percentage is up by .150 percentage points and his field goal percentage is up by .060 points. He is the only husky averaging a double-double.

7. Charlie Villanueva. 10.3 points, 7 rebounds, .3 steals, and 1.4 assists. Charlie is playing with more confidence and has been rewarded with several starts this season. He has a great free throw percentage (.917), but he needs to get to the line more often, only 4 times in the past three games.

8. Josh Boone. 8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and .7 assists. Josh’s hard work has earned him a starting role and he has produced. He is a stable rebounder and defender, but he needs some serious work on his free throw shooting. It is only .267. Is he shooting them blindfolded?

9. Hilton Armstrong. 4.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, .4 blocks, .4 assists. Hilton is getting more minutes, but the production just isn’t there. He needs to be a solid rebounder and 3.3 just isn’t going to cut it. He is on a solid squad but he should be contributing more.

10. Kevin Ollie. 3.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, .2 steals, and 2 assists. It is good to see Kevin in the top ten list. He is a solid backup guard and a smart player. It proves that hard work and perseverance can go a long way in this league.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Alumni Profile: Charlie Villanueva

ESPN Ranking: 93

Position: Power/Small Forward

Team: Milwaukee Bucks

Overview: Charlie’s role has been to be a scorer with the second unit. He has the skills to be an elite player, but hasn’t taken that next step to securing a starting position. He plays hard and makes all the hustle plays. He’s a fluid offensive player, once scoring 48 points in a game, and has been committed to the boards. Now in his fourth season, he is beginning to find the consistency in his game that has been previously lacking. He is as passionate about his charity as he is about his game on the court. He is the spokesman for National Alopecia Areata Foundation, started The Charlie Villanueva Foundation to combat bullying, and created the footwear donation program named Tenis Para Ninos. Charlie is primed to take his game to the next level and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets a hefty new contract after this season.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Small Foot Forward

Calhoun has been trying to figure out the small forward position since the loss of Rudy Gay. Stanley Robinson and Marcus Johnson came in and couldn’t find a way to contribute in their freshmen year. Marcus left abruptly at the start of his sophomore season and left Robinson with the starting job all to himself. He improved and was able to find his role on the team, a tenacious rebounder and a three point threat. Though his outside shot was streaky, he proved consistent in the paint.

So who on this current roster will make up for Robinson’s rebounding? They can’t rely on Thabeet and Adrien to get double digit rebounding if teams flood the paint. Whoever plays that third guard spot will be asked to match up against a stronger, taller and more athletic player. A team like Louisville would be hard to match up with.

While Stanley and Majok will be here during Big East Play, will they be ready to slide into that position with little rust? Robinson should be able to handle it, if they don’t rely on him offensively. He should concentrate on those second chance points and high flying rebounding.

Even with this talented squad, Calhoun hasn’t been able to nail down the small forward position. While Robinson looks the part, he is far from consistent. Majok is still a mystery and who knows how he will respond from coming into a whole new environment and having to deal with Calhoun’s old school style of coaching? This teams championship hopes might hinge on how the small forward position pans out.