UConn was heading into March with a lot of steam. They had won three out of four games with two of those against the conference elites of Villanova and West Virginia. All they had to do was win their next two games of the regular season and they would be dancing, but that proved to daunting for UConn. They lost a tough nosed game at Notre Dame and followed that up with another heartbreaker down in Florida to USF. But they weren’t done. Entering the Big East Tournament with all their hopes on the line they put forth an effort of ineptitude, getting blown out of the waters by a mediocre St. John’s team. Limping into the NIT, UConn scrapped and clawed their way to a nail biter against Northeastern. Their season ended shortly after against Virginia Tech, a talented squad, in a tough battle in which Connecticut held the lead for most of the game, but just couldn’t seal the deal late in the game, a common theme throughout the season.
Dyson struggled in March. His jumper just wasn’t falling and teams were playing the lanes and forcing him to take shots. He wasn’t getting to the line and without his offensive output, the team struggled to keep up with teams. He started to force the action and his turnovers began to mount, culminating in a dismal performance against St. John’s. But in the end, he turned his game around, carrying his team to a victory against Northeastern and nearly did it again against Virginia Tech. It will be interesting to see where he lands in the NBA draft. He has the driving ability to play at the next level, but if he can’t consistently hit jumpers then he’ll be relegated to second unit status at the next level.
Walker continued his strong play. He took more of an assertiveness with his offense and mixed his game up more. He drove to the basket, got to the line, and converted there. His outside shot, though not deadly, was falling especially in the first half of ballgames. Kemba still struggled when teams played the zone, and he needs to use his speed more to collapse the zone. Even with all that, Walker showed improvement in all aspects of his game and took over the leadership of the team by the end of the month. He will more then likely return and should become a more deadly scorer, but if they can’t find another legitimate scorer to play next to him then he could be facing major double-teams.
Robinson struggled throughout March, disappearing from crucial stretches of ballgames. He did a much better job of rebounding, but his outside shot was non-existent. He did put together a solid performance in his last game, but much of this season seemed a struggle for Stanley. He never found the post game that the team desperately needed nor did he show a dribble drive, which left him out of any pick and roll offense. The majority of his points came from out of bounds plays, break away dunks, and put-backs. He is going to be a project for a team at the next level. He has out of the world athleticism, but his offensive game is severely lacking and makes him a liability.
Edwards had a good month. He rebounded well and played with energy. Even though he was UConn’s only post threat, he wasn’t a very consistent. He set good picks and was UConn’s best offensive rebounder. He was by far the most improved player on the team, but will an NBA team take a chance on him? He might need to take a year or two in the developmental league, before finding his way onto a roster.
Oriakhi gave UConn what he normally did. He was a body down low that snagged some boards but never solidified a concrete game. He didn’t play the pick and roll well, didn’t fight hard for position on the block, or finish plays around the rim. While he didn’t have the season that he wanted, he has a lot of growth in both size and play left in him. He has the frame to be a strong presence. He just needs to learn position rebounding and how to play defense without fouling.
Majok played with a lot of energy when he was in the game but never had consistent minutes. He made an immediate impact when he was in the game and showed some of the athleticism that warranted the hype, but he never felt comfortable on the offensive end. With some extended minutes coming his way, he should feel more comfortable with the ball in his hands.
Okwandu didn’t show much with the limited amount of minutes he had to work with. He played solid defense but with Majok sharing the same skills but with more athleticism, Okwandu was left to riding the pine. It will be interesting to see how Calhoun sprinkles the minutes around regarding Okwandu with the incoming freshmen.
Coombs-McDaniel was still searching for his jumper through the month of March, but he took it to the rim more which was effective. He played good enough defense to remain in the game, but couldn’t find his place in the offense. Next year he should be more comfortable with taking more shots. It is tough to find his range if he is only taking two or three shots a game. He needs to take at least seven a game next year.
Beverly did a good enough job of taking the point, but he also had problems finding a role on the offense end of the court other then setting up half court sets. He doesn’t have a tremendous first step and can’t create his own shot. So for him to score, he needs to get kick outs for jumpers. His role should remain the same next year, a utility player battling for minutes.
Smith played some extended minutes with Dyson’s early exits and he showed some speed, but didn’t play with much control. He rushed things on offense and got himself into trouble. His defense needs drastic improvement. He is way to aggressive and allows an easy first step towards the rim. He also bites hard on pump-fakes and needs to just remain in front of his opponent. If he can bulk up and slow himself down a little, then he should be a much more improved player.
This team had everything set up for them to have a solid run in March, but everything just fell apart. The seniors didn’t step up when they needed to and the bench never solidified into a unit. It all added up to a horrible ending to what looked like a promising year. There are still some signs of hope springing up from the ashes of this season. Coombs-McDaniel looks to be a promising player, Walker stepped up and became a leader, and Majok and Okwandu showed improvement and should make a solid three man rotation with Oriakhi. The major question for UConn next season is will there be an effective two-guard for Walker to work with. Trice is waiting in the wings but didn’t show anything all year to suggest that he is ready to take that leap. Next year should be interesting, with a much younger team led by a truly special point guard.