Wednesday, December 31, 2008

UConn's December 2008

UConn’s December had its ebbs and flows. They took care of sub-par teams in Delaware State, Stony Brook, and Fairfield, beat a Gonzaga team that nobody is sure where they stand and struggled at Buffalo and at home against Georgetown. The offense has stuttered at times but they have shown the ability to beat you in a number of ways. The man-to-man defense is a work in progress. They haven’t put together a solid performance yet. Be it letting players have career days or letting players drive past them for easy buckets, they haven’t found the ability to slow teams down.

Thabeet hasn’t been able to show up against comparable talent. While he has shown the post moves against smaller teams, he has yet to display the left hook or one handed put-backs that he has shown to possess. Adrien has produced in every game and brings an intensity and emotion to this team. He works well from the elbow and can dribble drive to the rim for shots but he has missed a lot of easy buckets.

Dyson has proven to be the sparkplug to this team. If he struggles then the whole team does. He is a force on the defensive end and is the teams best penetrater on offense, but he hasn’t shown the outside shooting yet. Price has begun to flash a semblance of his old self. His speed is improving and he has shown a silky touch from behind the arch. He is still having problems finding assists and turning the ball over to much. Austrie hasn’t emerged as a sharpshooter but his streaky shooting looks to be behind him. He has shown to be more than a mere three point threat and can get into the lane and sink floaters.

This month introduced Sticks back to the team and he produced right out of the gates. He has slowly worked into the rotation and has helped UConn in the defensive end and in rebounding. He has shown some rust in the Georgetown game and hasn’t shown the shooting ability that he had last year.

With Stanley the bench is three deep. Edwards is the first big man off the bench and has shown the ability to score and be a reliable rebounder. Walker has struggled in December. He isn’t finding his way to the hoop like in November and his shots aren’t dropping. But his minutes are. Calhoun is sticking with him at point and he is feeling some growing pains.

With conference play underway, they need to defend their home court and beat the teams on the road that they should. With all the teams in the division so comparable, there will be little room for error to win the championship.

Monday, December 29, 2008

No Surprises

This was no surprise. There were shades of this combination of sloppy play and poor man-to-man defense throughout the previous 11 games. The half court offense was erratic and they never settled down and established their big men. The pressure to score then fell on the guards and they weren’t up to the task finishing 14 for 34. With the referees calling a tight ballgame, UConn couldn’t keep Georgetown in front of them and fouled them as they whizzed by, sending them to the line 7 times in the last 10 minutes of play and making their attempt at a comeback impossible.

Price was one of two huskies that played well. His line of the night, 16 points, 5 boards, and 2 dimes was only marred by his 3 turnovers. While he hit the three ball early, he was nearly invisible during stretches of the ballgame. Kemba had a so-so game. While his stats seem impressive, 14 points, 2 boards, and 1 steal, he looked the freshman at times, causing some crucial boneheaded turnovers in the second half. Calhoun has a lot of confidence in him, because he was handling the ball down the stretch. He was able to use his speed at times but failed to see players running with him on the break and finished with no assists.

Austrie had no turnovers, the only starter without one. He also was non-existent offensively, ending the game with 4 points. He is slowly losing playing time to Kemba and finished with only 18 minutes. Dyson struggled mightily. His outside shots clanked (0 for 2), his lay-ups rolled off the rim, he dribbled into trouble (4 turnovers), and he shot 2 for 4 from the stripe. If Dyson’s offense is not there, the entire team stutters and has no rhythm to their game.

Adrien took over during UConn’s hardest push to get back in this game, but he also contributed in costly mistakes on the defensive end and turned the ball over that led to easy points. While he was solid at the line (5 for 7), he had only 5 rebounds against a poor rebounding team. The team needed more from him. Thabeet looked like the Thabeet of a year ago. He didn’t fight for position and let Georgetown muscle him out of the post by fronting him. When he did get the rock, he lost the handle on the ball. He was a monster blocking the ball (7) but the ball went out of bounds and UConn couldn’t capitalize on them. For 34 minutes of play, UConn needs more than 4 points from their highly touted center.

Robinson showed some rust. While his one-handed flying put-back was impressive, he gave up two put-backs for Georgetown because he didn’t put a body on his man. He did rebound well, 5, but his defense was a step behind. Gavin had 2 points and a steal in his nine minutes.

It wasn’t just the fact that UConn lost, it was how they lost. They were out played thoroughly. Georgetown dictated the pace, and was in control throughout. When UConn made the run to come back within 3, they couldn’t find a way to stop Georgetown from getting to the rim without fouling and when they got the ball, they were erratic and out of control. They didn’t look like an experienced squad. Throughout these 12 games, UConn hasn’t shown an ability to play solid defense and relied to heavily on their offense to carry them. Hopefully this game is a wakeup call that the defense is what will carry them in the postseason, because if things go the way the have, this team will have a bitter graduation.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Alumni Profile: Josh Boone

ESPN Ranking: 157

Position: Center

Team: New Jersey Nets

Overview: Cracking the starting lineup, Josh Boone has started to produce but his glaring free throw problems, .333 percentage, makes him a liability on the court. He’s overcoming an ankle sprain that has hindered his progress, but he has been rebounding better. He’s not athletic but his NBA style body can hold up in the paint. He is offensively challenged and relies on second chance points for most of his scoring. While his numbers aren’t stellar, they have improved with the amount of minutes he has been given. He’s still a work in progress and has much more room for improvement.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Almost Unfair for Fairfield

This game could have been a let down. UConn was coming off a fantastic win, had horrible travel, a holiday break, and was set to play a sub-par team. They could have easily overlooked the Stags, and walked through this game. They stuttered out of the gates and gave Fairfield easy buckets, but once they settled down, they tore apart the bottom of the zone, and never looked back. With the floodgates open, it was dunking season. Thabeet, Adrien, and Robinson all had multiple spectacular and rim rattling slams and Dyson was a few inches away from his own highlight. The help defense was a little late on the occasions and Fairfield had their shots along the perimeter but couldn’t hit. The offense was firing on all cylinders by halftime and they didn’t let off the throttle. The guards pushed the ball up and rewarded anyone who ran with them and everyone finished plays off.

Thabeet continues to show drastic improvement. He unwrapped a shiny new hook shot from his left hand and he had a one-handed dunk that he’s never shown before, ending with 20 points. He battled hard on the boards with 11 rebounds and swatted 6 shots. He’s being more wise on when to block a shot and stayed in the game longer in the first half. If there is one knock on his performance, it would be his 0 for 4 at the line. Last year at this time, Hasheem had 10 points, on 2 for 2 shooting, 5 boards, and 5 blocks in the game against UCF. What a difference a year makes.

Adrien had the line of the night with 21 points, 14 boards, 2 blocks and made 5 of 6 from the line. He’s playing great ball now and he’s picked up his intensity. While this was against an inferior opponent, he plays the same way against everyone and it is that consistency and reliability that can easily be overlooked.

Dyson’s offense was off and he relied heavily on the three, shooting just 1 for 6 from behind the arch. The offense continued to flow through him and he played Santa, dishing out 6 dimes to only 1 turnover. He brings it every night defensively and isn’t afraid to mix it up in the paint, grabbing 6 boards. Price didn’t force anything. He ran the offense and he drove with speed. He could’ve easily came into the game with the Gonzaga win on his mind and hijack the offense, but he funneled the ball into the paint where the bigs were dominating.

Austrie ran the break well, dished out 3 dimes to no turnovers, and had a block. He wasn’t looking to score and did a great job protecting the perimeter. Kemba bounced back and had a solid performance. He flashed his speed, hit 3 of 4 from the field, went to the line, had 4 dishes and 3 boards. His minutes are dropping with Robinson coming in and he hasn’t settled into what his role is yet.

Robinson is playing above and beyond what anyone expected from a player who is jumping on a team at the halfway point. In his 16 minutes, he had 6 points on 3 of 5 shooting, 2 boards, 3 assists, and 1 block. His length and athleticism has added the missing element on the wing for UConn’s defense and he has found himself in the game during crucial stretches of ballgames.

Gavin has set some lofty expectations lately and his 0 points and 1 rebound performance is a little lackluster. The cries for him to replace Adrien should simmer down now. Okwandu found his way into the game when it was out of hand and he pulled down a board and had a blocked shot in his 3 minutes. You knew Haralson was going to fire a shot off even if he only had 2 minutes. He went 0 for 1 from the floor.

With Big East play around the corner, this team is on a great roll. They’ve won close games, beat teams with their bigs, and ran teams to death with their guards. They have swagger and confidence, a deadly combination. All they do now is head into the toughest conference in the nation with a giant bulls-eye on there backs. Make sure you have plenty of popcorn in the pantry because it’s going to be a long season.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

An instant classic: UConn versus Gonzaga

Post Game

He's Back

This was a total team effort. With Thabeet riding the pine for most of the game, the bench stepped up. While the offense was on track early, it derailed once the zone was implemented. They couldn’t find a way to penetrate it. Once they were able to pass the ball to the top of the key, the zone collapsed like a house of cards, shooters opened up and the big men positioned themselves for easy put-backs. It took longer for Calhoun to find the right combination to stop the dribble penetration of the Zags that created far too many easy buckets. The Bulldogs would pull everyone to the perimeter and let the ball handler beat their man to the hoop. With Thabeet out of his comfort zone, he found himself late to the ball and in early foul trouble. It would have been interesting to see Calhoun implement the zone to keep Hasheem in the paint. The guards were so used to funneling their man into the shot blocker that they had a hard time keeping them in front on pick in rolls.

Price was amazing. He was driving with speed, hitting the outside shot, running the offense, dishing out 10 assists, and getting on track at the line. He struggled all season against inferior talent, but when the chips were even, he played his best. He has shown his silky smooth touch from outside all year, and no three points were more beautiful than those that tied the game in the waning seconds. Austrie misses a wide open look, the ball finds its way to Price at the top of the arch, he’s covered by two players, takes a dribble to his left, jumps into his defender, and Onions!

Dyson was the heart and soul of this team. His toughness and tenacity were contagious. He was able to dribble into the lane, collapsing the bigs, and got to the line 12 times, sinking 10 of those. He also stuck his nose into the paint and pulled down 9 boards. He had the line of the night with 21 points, 9 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block. Austrie’s shot wasn’t there, having his worst play in his last four games. He was able to give Price and Dyson breathers, and his ability to sink free throws made him a valuable asset down the stretch. Kemba has had his third straight poor performance. If he isn’t able to get ahead of the defense, then he turns invisible. He needs to develop his jump shot and dribble drive into the zone, but he’s still just a freshman and playing with seniors.

Adrien was a monster out there, while his stats weren’t impressive, just 8 boards and 8 points, his defense was stellar. He still is missing easy buckets and needs to finish plays off. Last year he had problems covering players around the perimeter, but he had no problems with his man. Thabeet didn’t have the same luck. He found himself behind the play, and the refs didn’t give him a break, calling every bump. He had a season low 19 minutes, and couldn’t find a flow to his game. While the prior two years he was a quiet shell, this year he can’t contain his emotions and was flagged for a technical foul that knocked him out of the game. He needs to yell at the crowd, stop the dancing and trash talking to the defenders.

Has Stanley changed his name to Sticks Robinson? Whatever you call him, he was an important piece to this win. His stats are sub-par with 6 points and 2 boards, but it was his ability to contain the wing players that slowed down the Bulldogs offense. He was able to find his way to the rim on a few pretty put-backs and didn’t force the offense. He was the difference maker on defense.

What more can you say about Gavin’s play? He came off the bench, gave UConn the ability to thwart the pick and roll by staying in front of his defender, made his shots (4 of 6), with 14 points, had 12 rebounds, 7 of those offensive, 2 steals, one the costly Pargo turnover in the closing seconds, 3 blocks, and was able to make his free throws (6 of 9). While this wasn’t his highest scoring total, this was his best overall performance and a glimpse at the talent that he has. Calhoun used a small bench this game with Mandeldove making the other bench appearance and looks to have surpassed Okwandu for second big man off the bench.

It wasn’t just that UConn flew across the country and beat a legitimate top ten team, it was how they did it. Price who was struggling all year, showed he is back and better then ever. They couldn’t lean on their big man, who sat on the bench for half this game. It looked like everything was stacked against them and they came together as a team and dug deep down, found the essence of who they are, and ripped the game away from Gonzaga. While the season is long from over, they have proven to themselves that they belong, they’re legit, and you damn well better bring it for 40 minutes every night.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Emeka and Ray destroy Rudy and Gordon

Emeka is playing great basketball lately and his team has started to get on track.

Gordon is having a fantastic year but the defense was atrocious.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sticks and Stony

The bigs took over the game early, dominating the paint and the guards finished it off by having their best outside shooting performance of the year. While Stony Brook was outmanned, the UConn defense was active and challenged the smaller Seawolves, holding them to just 32.4 percent shooting. It was expected that the huskies would be a tad rusty with the week long layoff, and they didn’t bother with the outside shot until midway through the first half, but they didn’t need it. The big men roasted marshmallows as they set up camp in the paint.

Thabeet continues to dominate inside. He is playing with emotion that he didn’t show last year, pumping his fist in anger at giving up a turnover and hugging Austrie after a spectacular dish. After a rocky start from the line, he finished 8 for 10 from the stripe with 9 boards and 18 points. Every UConn fan held their breath when Thabeet fell to the court and grabbed his knee. It was good to see him come back in and show no effect. Adrien had his best game of the season with 18 points, on a perfect 8 for 8 shooting, and 10 boards. He finally sank an elbow jumper, which will help extend the defense.

Welcome back Sticks. Rust? What rust? In 16 minutes Stanley had 7 points, 5 boards, 1 steal, 2 blocks, and made 3 of 4 from the stripe. He also played solid defense, considering he wasn’t used to the pace of the game. He had a great put back from the wing, something they lacked in the previous games. He didn’t force anything and let the game come to him.

Dyson bounced back from his sub-par performance in Buffalo. He had the line of the night with 16 points, 8 boards, 5 assists, and 1 block. He just missed a super-highlight on a highflying dunk. When Dyson has a solid game, the team almost always follows suit. Price continues to shoot through his slump, going 5 for 12 from the floor. He is deadly when he is able to set up for the shot, but his runners are off the mark.

Austrie has put together four consecutive good shooting games, possibly shaking the mantra of being a streaky shooter. He was 4 of 6 from the floor and did a little of everything out there. He was perfect from deep, 3 of 3, made 2 of 3 from the line, pulled off a spectacular block and had a game high 7 dishes. Kemba has shot the ball only three times in the past two games. He continues to push the ball, but hasn’t been able to find a lane to the rim. He needs to pull up and drain a few jumpers when his man is retreating. He did have 4 boards, 5 dishes, 1 steal, and 1 block.

Edwards played 12 minutes but couldn’t get into the flow of the game, ending up with 2 points, 1 board, and 1 assist. Beverly had an assist in his 6 minutes and Haralson had only 1 board in his 7 minutes. Okwandu managed 1 rebound, 3 turnovers and 2 fouls in his 5 minutes. And there was a Mandeldove sighting! He had a turnover in his 1 minute. Johnnie Bird also got into the game for 1 minute.

This was just what the doctor ordered for UConn after the poor road performance at Buffalo and the long break. They were dominant in the paint, 43 boards, and they shot 8 for 13 from three. Stanley was able to make an immediate impact in his first game back and fit well into his role off the bench. They’ll have to take the confidence they displayed in this game and see if it can carry over into a hostile and highly talented Gonzaga squad. They’ll know where they stand after the battle in Seattle, which is hard to gauge against teams that can’t match the talent on the floor. Pack your bags because its time to man up.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Top Ten UConn NBA Players

1. Ray Allen. 18.9 points, 3.5 boards and 2.6 assists. While he doesn’t have the best numbers like several of the other huskies, he was the major reason that the Celtics have the best record in the NBA. He has been playing some of his best ball since arriving in Boston. His outside shooting has skyrocketed to .395 from deep. He is 16th in the NBA in free throw percentage and 37th in scoring.

2. Caron Butler. 22.3 points, 6.5 boards and 4.4 assists. Carrying the Wizards on his back has given Tough Juice a soar left knee and aching right foot but he continues to produce solid numbers, though his team is struggling in last place in the East at 4 and 16. With Agent Zero on the bench Caron is missing a valuable opportunity to become a legit superstar but he hasn’t been able to will his team to victories. He is 10th in the league in scoring and 14th in steals, but 20th in turnovers.

3. Ben Gordon. 20.5 points, 3.5 boards, and 3.8 assists. Gordon is a lock for most improved NBA Husky. He has moved off the bench and started 16 of the Bulls 22 games. He is fighting through a shooting slump and slow starts, shooting 23 for 48 in his last three games. He isn’t getting to the line as much as he should and is doing most of his damage from jump shots. He is 22nd in the NBA in scoring.

4. Rudy Gay. 20 points, 5.3 boards, and 1.7 assists. Rudy has been playing great ball lately, scoring 71 points in the last three games and his team is winning those games. He is gelling with Mayo and they are becoming a dynamic duo, but their slow start has put them well behind the pace for the playoffs. He is 28th in the NBA in scoring and 26th in steals, but 14th in turnovers.

5. Rip Hamilton. 17.4 points, 3.4 boards, and 3.5 assists. The Mask is starting to find his range, hitting 6 for 10 in his last three games. His team is struggling to find its identity with A.I. on the team. He has just signed a new three-year extension and rewarded the team with improved play. He is 47th in the NBA in scoring.

6. Emeka Okafor. 12.6 points, 10.8 boards, and 1.8 blocks. He is a double-double machine but is inconsistent with his play. He has only been to the line 11 times in his past three games and needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end. Other than field goal percentage, his season stats are below his career stats. He is 7th in the league in rebounding, 15th in blocks and 3rd in field goal percentage.

7. Charlie Villanueva. 12.8 points, 7.1 boards, and 1.1 assists. With Ben getting more starts, Charlie has become the best Husky six man. He is playing great basketball lately, scoring 45 points in his last three games, though he shot just 18 for 48 in those games. He is 22nd in free throw percentage.

8. Josh Boone. 7.5 points, 7 boards, and 1.2 blocks. He’s getting the starts and minutes but has shown little bump in his overall stats. He is still woeful from the line, shooting an ugly .267 from the stripe. While he is rebounding better of late, 15 in his last three games isn’t what New Jersey needs.

9. Hilton Armstrong. 4.7 points, 2.9 boards, and .5 blocks. Hilton is getting more minutes of late and has shown improvement. He isn’t big enough to bang against larger centers and isn’t fluid enough to match up against elite power forwards.

10. Donyell Marshall. 5.4 points, 1.9 boards, and .7 assists. He was dusted off and contributed right away. He’s shooting .500 from deep and has proved that an old man still can contribute in this young man’s sport. He is 8th in three point percentage in the league.

Gay takes out Gordon

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Making the Grade

With classes winding down for the semester, it is time to give the pups their grades.

Hasheem Thabeet: A. 14.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4 blocks a game. He came out of the gates and has shown drastic improvement. He’s scoring with authority, showing some post moves, and rebounding with tenacity. Sure he isn’t a legit post threat yet but his other intangibles have grown by leaps and bounds.

Jerome Dyson: A-. 15.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3 assists and .1.8 steals. He has found his confidence and early. He’s driving into the lanes and pulling up for jumpers and runners which he didn’t do last year. The more games UConn plays, the more it is obvious that the offense needs to run through him. He needs to shoot better from the line, just .683, and he needs to be more consistent from deep, 7 out of 23, but he runs the break, plays great defense and is the motor to the offense.

Jeff Adrien. B+. 14 points, 9 boards, and 1.25 blocks. He isn’t flashy but he gets the job done. With Thabeet’s progression on the block, it has freed Adrien from the double teams and he has flourished. He has done most of his damage from driving at the elbow to the rim and on second chance points. His elbow jumper isn’t there yet and he’s missed his fair share of bunnies. He leads the team in minutes played which shows that he is playing solid defense without fouling.

Kemba Walker: B+. 12 points, 3.6 boards, 3 assists, and 1.6 steals. He’s made an impact every game except the Buffalo one, which is fantastic for a true freshmen. He runs the break as fast as passing the ball up court and finishes plays. He has great court vision and has supplanted Price during stretches of the game at point. While he has only taken a handful of outside shots, he has drained them, shooting .385 from beyond the arch and he is the best free throw shooter on the team at .833.

Craig Austrie: B. 10.6 points, 1.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. He’s put together three solid games, but remains a streaky outside shooter at .346. He’s an all-around reliable guard that can play both point and the 2-guard positions which is an asset that most teams do not have. He hasn’t been as reliable at the line like his other seasons at only .788 percent but that should rise. It will be interesting to see how his minutes play out when Robinson returns.

A.J. Price. B-. 8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. It is tough to critique a player that is recovering from a devastating knee surgery that Price went through, but it is obvious that he isn’t fully recovered. He’s a bit slower on the court and hasn’t caught up to the pace of the game. He still has developed into the teams best outside shooter at .394 percent and is the best rebounding and assist guard on the team. He might not be the Price of a year ago but he doesn’t have to be to take this team to were it wants to go.

Gavin Edwards. C+. 5.1 points and 2.3 boards. He has filled in nicely into the first big man off the bench and has produced in his 11.6 minutes of action but his rebounding numbers aren’t where he needs them to be and he has been a liability on defense on a number of occasions.

Charles Okwandu. C. .4 points and 1.3 rebounds. He physically looks the part of a big time center and he moves well, but with 4.9 minutes a game, he hasn’t been able to show his stuff out on the court.

Donnell Beverly. C. 1.5 points and 1 rebound. He is mired in the rear of a really talented back court. He is a solid player and is waiting patiently for his time to play. He will be a contributor on next year's squad.

Scottie Haralson. C-. 2.3 points and .3 boards. He has shown himself to be a streaky shooter and that is not what UConn needs. Of course with only 6 minutes a game, he doesn’t have time to warm up before jacking up the three. It is good to see those shots falling though.

Johnnie Bird. Incomplete. He’s shown talent but not enough to warrant playing time.

Jonathan Mandeldove. Absent. He’s played one minute. What happened?

John Linder. Incomplete. He’s a rebounding machine at 1 every 2 minutes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Player Profile: Stanley Robinson

Welcome home Sticks. Stanley had a breakout season last year. He found the consistency to his game that he lacked in his freshman year. He pounded the glass and scrapped his way for second chance points. He has also developed an outside shot, performed well from beyond the arch and wasn’t forcing shots. He is the best overall athlete on the team which is scary. He is the Leon Powe of this team, a player that roams the paint and has the hands and power to finish plays off.

The Good: His athleticism is far and beyond his greatest asset. He can sky over bigger players and adds another dimension to the front court. The wings have given UConn trouble and Robinson’s defensive ability will be essential. He has steadily been improving on his jump shot, which will open other aspects to his game. There is no questioning his heart, just look at the new tattoo on his arm. The Huskies are a family to him and he craves being there for his teammates.

The Bad: It starts with his mysterious personal issue that took him away from the team for half a semester. Hopefully he has taken care of whatever it was and he comes out of it a stronger person. He will be rusty for awhile and needs to adjust to coming off the bench. While he is a fantastic rebounder and developed his jump shot, he hasn’t added the dribble drive to his arsenal yet which would make him a devastating player.

Looking Ahead: It will be interesting to see how he adjusts. He’ll need to concentrate on rebounding and defending when coming into the game and let the outside shot be his last option while he settles into his role. This team needs his size and athleticism on the wing and he will produce big numbers by the end of league play. There is a lot to say about a player working and paying their own way back on the team. Robinson will be the difference maker come March.

Friday, December 5, 2008

What I learned from UConn's true road test

Calhoun's Victory Number 78-Phew

This team has a long way to go. The guards had trouble on the wings covering the Bulls and let them slip too easily to the basket for easy shots. They once again let a scorer have a hot hand and couldn’t contain him. Rodney Pierce was insane and had 28 points. He had a combined 47 points in his previous three games. UConn was also horrible from the line, leaving 10 points on the floor, not to mention the 3 missed free throws by Adrien with lane violations and 3 missed one-and-one opportunities. It was ugly and the more the season goes on the more it is obvious how important Dyson is to this squad.

Thabeet is on a tear. He had a monster double-double with 21 points and 18 boards with 4 blocks mixed in. His only knock is his 7 for 12 from the line and his attempt at a dance after the massive slam. That would’ve been costly if he got a technical which he deserved. He’s really stepped up his game into a whole other stratosphere. Adrien also had a solid game with 18 points, 7 boards, and 4 blocks. He missed some early bunnies and decided to throw everything down with authority after that. He needs to play with that type of emotion all the time. No more banking it off the glass. Take it to the hole.

The Bulls did a great job of flustering the backcourt, beating the press, and getting back on defense. UConn’s guards had little impact on this game. Austrie was the only one to step up. He was 2 of 3 from deep, his third game in a row of great shooting, and he has added a little mid-ranged floater to his arsenal. Price again struggled from the field but was able to have 3 assists to only 1 turnover. He looks a bit lost without the ball in his hands and isn’t penetrating into the lanes effectively.

Jerome was out of sync. The ball wouldn’t fall for him and only got to the line once and missed. He still fought hard out there and had 6 boards, 3 steals, and 2 dimes. This was his worst game of the year. If Dyson isn’t creating off the dribble then this team’s offense stutters. Kemba also had his worst game of the year and didn’t even take a shot in his 30 minutes of play. He also had a costly traveling call that could have cost them the game.

Calhoun could’ve driven the team in a minivan to Buffalo with only 7 of his players getting into the game. Gavin was the bench and only played 2 minutes. He still shot the ball two times more than Kemba and had more points.

UConn’s first true road game looked just about as bad as it could be without losing. The fast break was left on the bus, the consistent free throw shooting was lost at Storrs, and the pressure defense was deflated. They can’t let players have career days against them. And they can’t allow teams to carve them up off of back screens and dribble penetration like they have so far this season. 23 of the Bull’s 26 made shots were two pointers. UConn needs to be able to play man-to-man defense without giving up the easy mid-range shots. It is still early, but the images of San Diego and George Mason linger in this state’s mind. And Connecticut doesn’t have many fingernails left to chew on when watching these upstart teams play lights out against the pups.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Big East Power Rankings

1. UConn. They played two top 25 teams and won both convincingly. Kemba Walker looks like the real deal. Price hasn’t hit his stride yet but Thabeet and Dyson are playing fantastic ball now. They run at a frantic pace and are ranked 3rd in turnover margin in the conference, mostly due to the full court pressure. A good sign for this team is their 6th rank in 3-point percentage. If they can hit from outside, then this team will be very dangerous. It is their 15th ranked perimeter defense that is their Achilles heal.

2. Pittsburgh. Sam Young is having a tremendous start to the season, scoring 19 points a game and The Beast, DeJuan Blair, is chipping in with 15 points and 12 boards a game. With Levance Fields handling the helm of the offense with 6.3 assists a game, Pittsburgh looks like the powerhouse we all expected. If they can hit the outside shot and dominate on the boards then this team will be at battling for first all season.

3. Syracuse. It is good to see the orange back. But it could be a quick stay at the top if they don’t straighten out that defense, coming in at 14th in the league. They are playing great offense and rank 1st in assists a game at 18.8. Jonny Flynn doesn’t tire and plays all but 4 minutes a game. Arinze Onuaku has become a major player on the team.

4. Notre Dame. The loss to UNC didn’t hurt them and showed them what they need to improve on to compete at that high a level, but who is at that point. We know Mcalarney and Harangody are the major pieces to the offense, but Tory Jackson is having a fantastic start to the season with 14.3 points a game and 5.7 assists a game. For Notre Dame to make it to the top they’ll need Zeller and Ayers to contribute more.

5. Villanova. Donte Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds are the offense but it is their 5th ranked defense that has them in the upper echelon of the Big East. They are the little team that could and play great swarming defense and are knocking down shots.

6. West Virginia. They always find themselves in the middle of the pack come preseason but by the time they have some games under their belt, they claw their way up the rankings. Alex Ruoff is playing excellent ball and John Flowers is scoring too. They are leading the conference in turnover margin, at a staggering +8.8 a game They are team rebounding but without a strong presence inside, they rely too heavily on their outside shooting. But if they are hitting, then they are a tough out.

7. Louisville. Falling fast, the Cardinals are having their fair share of problems, starting with rebounding. Without Terence Williams this team would be in a larger hole. Samardo Samuels is the real deal but with his size, he needs to rebound much better. We’ve seen Louisville struggle at the start of last season to then turn the ship around and make a strong push in the tournament.

8. Georgetown. They are struggling with finding the defense that they had with the previous regime and they are depending too much on their sensational freshman Greg Monroe for their offense. They are also getting killed on the glass and need to shore that up. Chris Wright has developed into a nice player and Jessie Sapp is playing great defense.

9. Marquette. Marquette is struggling defensively. They are 15th in the conference and need to fix it before they play far more superior talent. While Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, Lazar Hayward, and Dominique James are tearing it up offensively, if they don’t stop teams from .426 shooting, it will be a tough year.

10. Cincinnati. While Deonta Vaughn is Cincinnati’s offense, their defense is carrying this team. Yancy Gates is a good looking freshman and Alvin Mitchell is becoming a sharp shooter. If they can carry their defensive effort into league play, then this team could make some noise.

11. DePaul. Dar Tucker is doing all he can to carry his team but they are young. Mac Koshwal is legit and a great presence inside. They are a scrappy club and could knock out a top echelon team if they are overlooked.

12. Seton Hall. The Pirates are led by Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Their only loss was to a pretty good Memphis team. They are ranked 1st in perimeter defense but only 11th in total field goal defense. Someone has to step up and help Garcia with some scoring.

13. St. John’s. DJ Kennedy is doing everything for this team. He is leading them in scoring and rebounding. Malik Boothe is emerging as a solid guard. Justin Burrell needs to help out more. In most of the league statistics, St. John’s hovers in the middle of the pack.

14. USF. With such a young team, everyone expected this team to struggle offensively and they have, coming in dead last in the Big East. But they also hold the top spot on defense, holding teams to shooting .323 a game. They’ve attempted the fewest three-pointers in the conference. Dominique Jones is an elite player and does most of his damage inside the three-point line.

15. Rutgers. They have to much talent to be struggling this bad. They play solid defense with Hamady Ndiaye roaming the paint and Rosario the highly touted freshman on the perimeter. He’s the second highest scoring freshman in the Big East, behind only Samardo Samuels. They need JR Inman to step up and help him out.

16. Providence. They can score all they want but with a defense that horrible, they are in huge trouble. Teams are getting whatever they want. Geoff McDermott needs to step it up. They are playing hard but aren’t gelling and that’s not good with a new coach and a veteran roster. Randall Hanke is quietly having a solid season and in the top 5 in field goal percentage.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Not Pretty but Effective

At times it looked like UConn was playing against their youngest sibling. The bigs pounded their way inside, set up shop, and didn’t leave. Delaware did have Donald Johnson who went 6 for 11 from three. It exposed one of UConn’s greatest weakness, the perimeter defense. Though UConn did a great job containing him in the second half, against a team that can stay with them inside, a hot shooter like that could be deadly. Last year UConn had trouble stopping a player with a hot hand and handed out career days on a regular basis. To get them over the hump and win a playoff game, they are going to need to have some lockdown defenders.

Thabeet continues to rebound aggressively. He is catching the ball at the highest peak, muscling it away, and finding the outlet quickly. He’s getting to the rim, finishing strong and protecting the paint with 4 blocks. Has there been a 7-footer that has hit the deck more then Thabeet? He took a wicked fall on a flush attempt. No call. He’s found his role and a game he is comfortable with. Adrien had an off night. He missed some bunnies and his defense wasn’t up to his standards, but did step it up during the second half. But even on an off night, he scored 12 points and grabbed 6 boards. It was also good to see him sinking free throws, 6 of 8.

Dyson has set the bar so high to start the season that his 15 points, 4 boards, and 2 dishes looks like a bad day. He’s been the fuel to UConn’s quick starts, but tonight his shots weren’t falling. Last year he might have shied away from the offense after a slow start, but he kept being aggressive and got to the line, sinking all 4 attempts. Kemba played more minutes, 30, then Dyson or Austrie. He’s earning the trust of Calhoun and enters the starting lineup within the first media timeout. He was solid, showed some range, was active on defense, hit the boards, and made some pretty passes that rewarded the big men for running the floor.

Austrie’s shot wasn’t falling but he mentally stayed in the game. He got to the line, had 2 assists to 0 turnovers, and didn’t force shots. Price was also struggling with shooting, but he had a game high 5 assists to 1 turnover. The shots will fall eventually but its good to see the assists to turnovers improving.

Gavin had the game of his life. He had 17 points, made 3 of 5 from the line, muscled 2 offensive boards, dished out an assist, 1 block, and 1 steal in just 16 minutes of play. He was playing only a few feet from the basket and manhandled Delaware’s interior. Go figure that Okwandu would play 7 minutes and have no rebounds and 2 assists with a block. Beverly comes in and plays under control, runs the offense fluidly and you don’t even know he was out there until he has 2 dimes and 2 rebounds.

Talk about having no conscience. Haralson comes in and in 4 minutes jacks up two threes, banking one in, and has 6 points. Calhoun didn’t bother giving the no shot signal this time and let the kid shoot it. Its great to see that. He also looks like the oldest freshman ever to play at Storrs. Bird made an appearance and probably wants to play that minute over again with 1 turnover, 1 foul, and 1 miss. He has shown speed and athleticism in his brief playing time. Linder gets into the books with a rebound!

Sure UConn’s opponents aren’t close to the competition that they will see in conference play but there is no one that needs these warm up games more than Price. While the scoring is coming from all over, UConn’s big picture lays in his hands. UConn won’t always get a 25 to 5 free throw advantage and it will be up to the backcourt to keep defenses honest. While it hasn’t been pretty, it has been effective and a learning experience.

Monday, December 1, 2008