Tuesday, March 6, 2012
February was much like January. UConn could only muster a 3 & 5 record throughout the month with wins against Seton Hall, DePaul, and an overtime win against Villanova. They were thoroughly beat against Georgetown, were dominated by Louisville, beat twice by Syracuse with one a blowout and another a nail biter, they lost control of the game against Marquette, and ended the month with their worst game of the year against Providence, where they let a 14 point lead disappear in a blink of the eye. In each game it has been the same, poor rebounding, bad transition defense, five to seven minute offensive droughts, taking too many three pointers, and fouling on defense. It leaves fans shaking their heads because they see the talent from Drummond’s athleticism, Lamb’s silky smooth jumper, Napier’s grit, and Boatright’s speed, but it hasn’t coalesced into a team. Some might call it lack of leadership, but that is too easy and a catch phrase. It boils down to making plays in key stretches and this team can't do that and instead gives the other team an opportunity to do so. It all boiled down to a disappointing month.
Lamb has been taking more shots, but he at times settles for the easy outside shot. His game is much better when he is getting to the line. Taking quick outside shots isn’t going to get him there. What happened to that Jeremy Lamb who had that monster jam early in the season where he jumped through someone? That player needs to emerge. He also is a major culprit to not rotating back on defense and is letting his man beat him down the court for easy buckets. He hasn’t taken a step back from last year, but he hasn’t progressed as fast as most people thought he would.
Napier’s month has been perplexing. He made some big time baskets, none bigger then the one against Villanova, but he has stopped taking shots all together. He’s not looking for his offense and that has forced Lamb into the primary role, which is a good thing, but it has also put a lot of pressure on others that aren’t ready or capable to give this team 20 points. Something happened in this month to change his entire game around. He still tries to make hero shots when he doesn’t need to and needs to know that while he is capable of making the three pointer, he shouldn’t do it all the time. The team goes as Napier goes and this month it hasn't been good.
Boatright is still trying to figure out his role and has been put in a tough situation. He is by far UConn’s most consistent three point shooter, but he takes too many of them. His quickness should get him to the line more, but he doesn’t. He is still a freshman and that hopefully will be added to his game. There needs to be more patience with his game.
Oriakhi did have a couple of good games in this month, but for the most experienced player on this team, he has yet to become that penciled in double-double machine that Jeff Adrien was. This team lives and dies by rebounding and he just hasn’t contributed in the way that he needs to. This team just needs him to focus on the boards and the rest will follow suit.
Drummond has found a way to utilize his unique skill set with effectiveness. They toss the ball near the rim and he throws it home. He’s demonstrated a bit of a back to the basket game but it looks awkward and until he gets his free throw shooting around sixty percent, he should never take a 15-footer. He has become UConn’s best rebounder and has picked up much of the slack there. It would be a shame to see him go to the NBA right away. He has the talent, but the fundamentals are not there and he would be a second unit guy for his first year.
Olander had a rough month, battling his heel injury. He has struggled to be the rebounder that he showed promise of becoming earlier in the season, and can’t get the rhythm back in his jumper. He is still a solid big man in the rotation, but has lost a bit of confidence down the stretch of the season.
Smith has showed a lot of improvement throughout the month. His elusive jumper came back to him and knocked down a couple of shots from deep, was effective in the middle of that Syracuse zone, and was rebounding the ball much better. He plays good defense but tends to foul too much. This team hasn't had an effective wing in sometime and hopefully he can be a consistent contributor in the final run of the season.
DeAndre Daniels is still searching for his role. He’s only been getting a sprinkling of minutes and takes way too many 3-pointers. He has made a couple but it shouldn’t be his primary weapon right now. He needs to step in for a couple of long twos and needs to show that he can rebound.
Giffey has been more aggressive this month and has played well, other then a couple of turnovers in key stretches and his inability to knock down outside shots, but he is an invaluable asset that can play a number of positions. He is surprisingly a good defensive player and has been more reliable with his ball handling.
There aren’t any signs from this past month that this team can go on a run in the Big East tournament to get that elusive bid, but they have the talent to do so. The chemistry between Napier and Lamb just hasn’t been conducive to create wins. The amazing thing is that they still control their own destiny. With the soft bubble of the NCAA tournament, it really is amazing that this team could miss it. They aren’t playing Connecticut basketball and haven’t all year and it is perplexing. They still hold their destiny in their hands and need to head into March and find a little magic that they had last year. Who knows? This team could surprise us again, but for now two wins in a row would be nice.