Tuesday, December 6, 2011
The question heading into the first month of the season was who was going to replace Walker’s scoring and leadership. That was answered right from the tip-off of the preseason. Napier and Lamb proved plenty capable of pouring on points and the freshmen looked the part of their highly touted rankings. While scoring wasn’t a problem, getting a consistent effort for 40 minutes defensively, especially around the perimeter and in transition, and a combination of poor ball handling, put UConn in some uncomfortably close games through much of the month. Their sloppy play finally cost them a game against UCF, where they held a 17 point lead but watched it wither away with inconsistent play. They didn’t finish out the month strong, battling a pesky FSU team into overtime and scratching and clawing their way to a victory on the back of their freshman guard, Ryan Boatright, playing his first game.
If there was any question to whether Jeremy Lamb could lead this team, this first month answered that. He showed his versatility on the offensive end, knocking down threes, throwing down some spectacular dunks, getting to the line, and using his patented floater. He hasn’t been forcing the issue or taking an inordinate amount of shots to get his points too. He’s been letting the game come to him and makes points look effortless. If there is any knock to his game, it is that he needs to be a bit more aggressive and take it to the rim more. He has the speed and length to shoot over any defender.
Napier has adjusted well to his role as the primary ball handler, especially with Ryan Boatright’s absence. He played a ton of minutes and probably wasn’t as aggressive as he would’ve liked. He has shown the ability to knock down the three, though sometimes falls in love with it to much, and it has opened up the lanes for the frontcourt to work in. His major issue is his turnovers. He needs to get that part of his game under control. He doesn’t need to make the homerun play on each possession but instead he needs to make the simple one. That being said, Napier has exceeded most expectations and this team would be floundering in mediocrity without him. Boatright played in the final game of the month and shined. Calhoun utilized the three guard unit for much of the game and Ryan adds another facet to this team that the Hall of Fame coach can play with. He also showed that he can be trusted in crunch time.
Oriakhi has been an enigma. Calhoun has been pulling all the strings to try to get Alex going. He’s benched him, limited his minutes, and has given him an earful during some heated timeouts, but Oriakhi continues his inconsistent play that has plagued his career. He is shy on taking that 15-footer, is rushing plays around the rim, and isn’t dominating smaller players on rebounds. Hopefully he turns this around, because the frontcourt needs his leadership. Drummond has taken some time to find his footing, but he has shown flashes of his NBA-like skills in each game. The college game is more backcourt oriented and it takes big men like Drummond time to find his niche. He has certainly outplayed Oriakhi in this short season and has deserved the start.
Olander has been the biggest surprise so far. He has shown the ability to hit the mid-range jumper, is rebounding much better, and is finishing plays around the rim. While he started the month out strong, his play has tailed off a bit. Daniels has made the most impact out of all the freshmen. He has shown the ability to be another outside shooter, can rebound the ball, makes the hustle plays, and is strong on the defensive end. He has slowly eroded Smith’s minutes who has struggle for much of the month. Roscoe just couldn’t find his offense and couldn’t defend without fouling. He found himself watching from the bench as Daniels made plays.
Giffey continued to struggle in finding his role. It didn’t help that he was injured for a few games. If he can not be a spot up three point shooter, then his minutes are going to dwindle. Allen, a walk-on, played significant minutes early in the season, but once games began to get close, his minutes dropped. With Boatright on the team now, it will be hard for Allen to get playing time. Wolf has fallen drastically down the depth charts, playing only a handful of minutes in the entire month. It has been a mystery as to why. He has made plays in those limited minutes. Hopefully there won’t be another Okwandu issue, where Calhoun regrets not red shirting him in his freshman year.
It hasn’t been pretty and this team isn't playing like a top echelon team, but the talent is all there. They just need to put it all together and the season is just beginning. They are learning on the fly to life without Walker. They just need to limit their turnovers and most of these close games would’ve been blowouts. This team just has too much talent to not compete for the Big East crown. They just need to absorb the fundamentals, which is easier said then done. But what is always true is that Calhoun’s teams get better as the year progresses and looking at this roster, that’s pretty scary.