M.V.P. Kemba Walker
February was a whirlwind of a month for UConn. They were reeling exiting January and were soon knocked to the canvas with a horrible loss to Cincinnati, as Calhoun made his triumphant return. All seemed lost with the most brutal stretch of their schedule left and they did what seemed impossible. They went on the road and beat one of the best teams in the country in Villanova and followed that up with a win against a scrappy Rutgers team at the RAC. They then rolled over another good team in West Virginia and pulled themselves up off the carpet for another round. While they ended the month on a sour note in losing a close game to Louisville, they continued their resurgent play, other then a massive amount of turnovers. The defense was stingy, the rebounding did a total one-eighty, and they started sinking some outside shots. With the league beating up on each other, and UConn getting enough quality wins, they put themselves in position to close out the regular season strong and garner a coveted at-large bid.
Dyson has been the most consistent player all year and that hadn’t changed throughout the month of February. While his dribble drive was his primary weapon, he struggled from deep and never had a solid performance from the line. His defense has always been stellar, though at times he does ball-watch and give up an easy lay-up. The biggest difference for Dyson was that he was able to stay out of foul trouble in the first half, though he wasn’t as aggressive on the defensive end in the first half, but it was necessary for UConn to function well on offense.
The biggest difference to UConn’s resurgence has been due to Kemba Walker’s transformation into a scorer. He no longer takes ten minutes to take his first field goal attempt. He is much more aggressive with the ball and he has developed a pretty outside jumper. It only opens up the lanes more for him to utilize his tremendous speed. On top of that, he is UConn’s best free throw shooter, which is important because the ball is in his hands the most. He has limited his turnovers and is playing tremendous defense. There really isn’t an area of his game that he isn’t playing well at right now and it has given UConn new life.
Robinson is still struggling with his post game, but he has done a great job on the boards which had been killing the huskies. He is finding a ton of points on put-backs and second chance opportunities. His outside shot has been a bit erratic and his free throw shooting isn’t great, but he has done a lot of the dirty work to help solidify a major weakness for UConn and he deserves credit. Robinson still has an issue with turnovers, especially with careless passes.
Edwards has also stepped up his rebounding game, but his hands are still a liability. He turns the ball over too much and he is getting it stripped out of his hands or passing it to the wrong team. He is also struggled at the charity stripe. But with all that, he has developed a solid repertoire of post moves that are effective. There is no other legitimate option in the post other then Edwards, so if he isn’t knocking down shots in the paint, UConn is extremely limited in the half court.
Oriakhi was relegated to the bench when Calhoun returned. He just hasn’t shown anything on the offensive end and gets lost at times on defense. He is a natural rebounder but that is about all he has done so far and his progression is coming along at a snails pace. His free throw shooting has improved in every game and is as reliable there as Edwards is.
Okwandu and Majok have shown the energy on the rebounding end and both can block shots, but they can not stay on the court without getting into foul trouble. Offensively they both have an unreliable elbow jumper and aren’t comfortable in the post yet. Majok has a nice stroke from the charity stripe and Okwandu struggles there. Both have shown flashes of greatness in February, but lack the consistency to steal minutes from Oriakhi or Edwards.
Beverly has done a good job in spelling Kemba at the point, but isn’t comfortable in looking for his own shot yet. He has shown the ability to get into the lane and sink a jumper. He doesn’t turn the ball over and plays solid defense, which is what his job is. Coombs-McDaniel struggled for a good chunk of February but found his stroke in UConn’s three game winning streak. He needs to take open shots when they are there but also try to take the ball to the rim more and get to the line. It is hard living for a shooter to take only one shot a game and remain confident.
UConn was a cornered animal coming into February and they fought and clawed their way back into the NCAA Tournament picture, but the work is far from done. They need to finish out the season strong or all the work that they did to get them here will be for not. With the resurgence of Walker’s game and the rebounding becoming a strength, this team has set themselves up nicely for a run at the end of the year. They just need to take care of business and in this league nothing comes easy and UConn knows this all to well.
Warning: Music has swears in it.