Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Wait is Over

UConn is in uncharted waters.  They have a brand new coach, a point guard coming off an injury that has sidelined him for much of the summer, a talented  but unproven shooting/point guard, a top recruit that has all the signs of being another great UConn player, a front court that is full of question marks, and a season that will end abruptly no matter what their record is.  It is a lot to digest for many UConn fans that no longer have the Calhoun security blanket to hold on to.  This is arguably one of UConn’s most important seasons in its history.  The NCAA is littered with teams that have been right were UConn is now, replacing a legendary coach and they just couldn’t maintain the excellence or have the same consistency.  Once that luster is gone, getting those top recruits to choose your school becomes an upward slog. That is why it is vital for UConn to prove to everyone that while the NCAA can throw the hammer down on them that they are the anvil not the nail.

On a personal level this season is more important to Kevin Ollie than anyone else.  He is working on a seven month contract which means that he is being evaluated in each and every game.  While he says that it doesn’t matter to him, it has to detract from his focus. How can it not if he is worried about if he will be out of a job in March before he even gets the clipboard out.   The real question is what will his evaluation be on?  A winning season, how hard his team plays, or something else?  He’s inherited a tough situation and he’ll need a few breaks to go his way to entice an A.D. that wants to put his stamp on the university to give Ollie a multiyear contract.

The strength of this team is in its back court.  Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and Omar Calhoun will form a tremendous three guard lineup and they all can slide into the point or the scoring guard positions.  That gives Ollie a variety of ways to manipulate his line-up to match-up with other teams.  Napier is returning for his junior year and has seen the ups and downs of the college game.  He’s got a gritty personality but forced himself as a leader last year and it didn’t work.  This year though, this is undisputedly Napier’s team and he needs to lead with solid play on the court and not take so many risky plays that swing the momentum around.  Boatright is coming into his second season and looks to assert  himself more into the offensive game plan.  If he can use his speed more and not rely on the outside shot as much than he could become a more well rounded player.  Omar possesses so much talent, but he’s heading into his first year and needs to adjust to the speed and physicality of the game.  There is no doubt that he will be an integral part of this team by the middle of Big East play, but patience is needed to start the season.

UConn has been searching for an answer at the wing position since Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown, and Rudy Gay left.  They’ve tried Robinson, Coombs-McDaniels, Marcus Johnson, Roscoe Smith and now it is DeAndre Daniels’ turn.  To be fair, the wing position is the hardest spot to adjust to in the college game.  You need to be able to knock down open three pointers, rebound, have a back to the basket game, and then be able to defend guards or power forwards that teams will throw at you.  Daniels has all those attributes but the problem is that he will be the third or fourth option offensively which means that he has only a sliver of opportunities each game to be effective and UConn has had their share of players that couldn’t handle that role. Giffey, while he acts like a 2-guard at times, is more suitable to the wing position.  He definitely has the range to knock down open shots, but lacks the ability to rebound consistently and attack on the post.

The front court is assuredly a work in progress and the likes of Wolf, Nolan, and Olander aren’t going to scare teams,  but they aren’t hapless.  Besides last year UConn was supposed to have a powerhouse in the frontcourt with Drummond and Oriakhi and they were out rebounded in most games.  So how much worse could it get?  This year’s team will need to be more team rebounding oriented and start blocking out instead of  relying on sheer athleticism to get the ball.  But until they get on the court, this is the biggest question mark on the team and one that will eventually determine how successful this team will actually be.

There are some people out there that question what is this team playing for if they won’t get a shot at a National Championship or the Big East Tournament trophy?  Besides the Big East regular season title, pride and the love of the game, which should be enough, they are playing for the asterisk.  They want to put a mark on this season and make everyone in college basketball think about what if UConn did get into the tournament.  They want to be that missing one seed or two seed that was kept out of the tournament because of something that happened two years ago.  They want to make a statement.  So lace up those sneakers tight boys, because no matter what the NCAA can do to UConn, you’ll get the last say on the court.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jeremy Lamb on the Trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Alumni Profile: Charlie Villanueva

Looking Back:  Charlie Villanueva had his worst season of his career last year.  Like so many players during the lockout, the tough scheduling that it produced helped contribute to an injury that only stopped his season short after 13 games.   When he was playing, it was sparingly averaging only 13.8 minutes a game.  There were grumblings about his play when he was healthy and some wanted to have his contract waived even if it didn’t help Detroit’s salary cap.  All in all, it was a season to forget for Charlie.

The Good: Villanueva has a silky smooth game, some would call it finesse but he can play physical if he wants too.  He has a solid jumper but has never averaged over .390 from deep, he can play above the rim, has great athleticism, and has good ball handling skills.  He has a multitude of ways to score and is a solid rotation piece.

The Bad: Charlie has had enough time in the league that teams know what they are going to get from him.  He has yet to average over 17 points per game and his rebounding numbers aren’t great especially for his position.  The major knock against him is his tenacity on the defensive side of the ball.  He doesn’t block many shots nor does he get steals, averaging less then one a game.  He also doesn’t share the ball either, getting one assist every other game isn’t going to cut it.  All the tools are there for a great player but he lacks consistency from each of those tools to make him a starter.

Looking Ahead:  This is a huge year for Villanueva and he knows it.   He needs to showcase a more well rounded game and make plays that doesn’t include scoring.  He needs to bang inside for second chance points and draw a defender and dish it off for a better shot.  If he can do those things then he should have a good year, but so far his time in Detroit has done little to evolve his game.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Alumni Profile: Rip Hamilton

Looking Back:  It was supposed to be Rip Hamilton’s year to remerge on the big stage.  He was leaving behind a mess in Detroit and was on a team with Championship aspirations.  In fact, the team looked just like the one that had so much success in Detroit.  They had a clutch point guard, a tough nosed center, and a versatile power forward.  Everything was lined up for Rip to take the Bulls to the next level, but his body had other plans.  He struggled, like so many other veterans, in the shortened schedule format and an  injury marred much of the season.  When he was finally healthy, his championship hopes fell apart because of a major injury to Derek Rose.   The Bulls couldn’t recover and were bounced from the Playoffs in the first round.

The Good:  There is still plenty left in the tank for Rip.  He is a devastatingly good mid-ranged shooter, a non-stop worker off the screens, and plays tight defense without fouling.  He is a great compliment to Rose’s style and his motor is impeccable.  He is a great closer in ballgames and his experience in tough playoff games makes him a valuable asset.  He is also a great free throw shooter that can seal a game at the line in close ballgames.

The Bad:  It has to start with his health.  He had such a hard time making it through last season that it leaves questions as to how much can his body endure.  He doesn’t have an above the rim game and he needs to be more physical on defense because he isn’t as fast as he used to be.

Looking Ahead:  There are too many unknowns to know how Rip’s season will go.  If he can stay healthy, if Rose returns to form, and if the Bulls stay in contention then Rip should get the minutes and produce.  Time isn’t on Rip’s side and he needs to have a great showing to put the Detroit debacle behind him and sure up his legacy.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

UConn at Big East Media Day 2012

Alumni Profile: Emeka Okafor

Looking Back:  Emeka Okafor has been mister consistent throughout his career, giving the Hornets a nightly double-double.  So heading into the strike shortened season, Okafor looked to provide stability to a franchise that had just lost their superstar in Chris Paul in a trade to the Clippers, but Emeka’s season only lasted 27 games because of a knee injury that he blamed on the shortened season.  In the off season, Charlotte cleaned house and dealt Okafor to the Washington Wizards.

The Good: Emeka is a workhorse and gives a team a solid defender, a low post presence, and a tough nosed rebounder.  He’s one of those glue guys that every team needs and he’s a great role model.  He’s as barring injury you can pencil his double-double on the box score.

The Bad: He isn’t going to be that 20 point scorer nor an overpowering center on the block.  There is also the injury concern now, especially with the knee.  There was always talk about the back issues that he had early in his career, but to his credit it has never sidelined him for an extended period of time.

Looking Ahead:  The Washington Wizards are looking for Okafor to stabilize a troubled locker room and his professionalism needs rub off on a team that was the laughing stock of the NBA.  If he remains healthy, Okafor should put up career numbers, simply because of the minutes, and should provide a foundation for a team looking to build around a young point guard.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Alumni Profile: Kemba Walker

Looking Back: There was talk swirling around the Charlotte Bobcats’ decision to pick Kemba Walker so high in the draft.  Detractors said he was to small, he wasn’t a true point guard, and that his game wouldn’t translate over to the NBA.  He soon put those doubts on the back burner with his play as soon as he got on the court.  He showed that he could score at the next level and that he was not only a scoring guard, but had the court vision to be a floor general.  He didn’t take the NBA by storm, but showed that he did belong.  With the shortened season, Walker had a slow start and played the sixth man for much of the season, which was a role he was accustomed to at UConn, but he soon found himself in the starting lineup where his team struggled to win games, ending the season with the NBA's all time losing percentage of any franchise ever.

The Good:  He has a tremendous first step and cross over.  He also utilizes the pick and roll extremely well and can get to the rim.  Like many UConn fans know, Walker loves to play isolation and has a variety of moves from his step-back to the aforementioned cross over.  He is also great at playing through contact and getting the ball up for an and-one.   There is no other UConn Alumni that possesses the will to win like Walker and that was one of the major reasons to why he was picked so highly over other point guards in the draft.

The Bad:  He doesn’t have a consistent jumper that will keep his defender honest.  Until he does, teams will game plan to keep him out of the lanes and force him into deep shots.  He also needs to do a better job of getting others involved and limit his turnovers.  His size will always be a knock against him and other guards will have no problem getting a shot over him.

Looking Ahead: With a full training camp and summer league, Walker should be a much better player heading into the season.  Hopefully he avoids the sophomore slump and with a more Kemba  friendly offense, he should get more opportunities to showcase his skills.  He’ll have another UConn alumni beside him in Ben Gordon which should give Kemba the space he needs to find driving lanes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Alumni Profile: Ben Gordon

Looking Back:  Ben Gordon never settled into his role in Detroit like he had in Chicago where he averaged 20 points a game.  His numbers dipped drastically to just 13 a game. The talent on those two different teams had something to do with it, but Gordon’s tenure in Detroit was anything but successful. He did have his bright spots where he showed the ability to put up starter like numbers like his 45 points against Denver, but there were also those nights where he struggled mightily to get consistency out of his jumper.   With his heavy contract and his up and down play, Detroit shipped him to the Bobcats.

The Good: Gordon has one of the sweetest strokes in the game and when he is on, he is as good as it gets.  He has great ball handling skills, can take his defender off the dribble, and has a knack of getting open through screens.  He has become one of the NBA’s best three point shooters, ranking 8th. He also plays the break well and has deceptively good athleticism and can play above the rim.

The Bad: Consistency has plagued Gordon throughout his career and has kept him out of starting lineup for much of his career.  He also isn’t known for his defense, though he has shown the ability to turn it up a notch in the playoffs, which is more disconcerting because it shows apathy.  Another issue that Gordon has is his turnovers where he is averaging 2 a game in his 26 minutes a game.  He has all the tools and has yet to put it all together to become the star that most UConn fans thought he would be.

Looking Ahead:  With Ben Gordon now in Charlotte, he will have the opportunity to get more minutes, but his playoff hopes are assuredly done.  He’ll have to be more of a mentor for Kemba Walker and the young Bobcats that need some leadership in the worst way.   He’ll put up better numbers in Charlotte, but it’s a far cry from his time in Chicago.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Alumni Profile: Caron Butler

Looking Back: Caron Butler was coming off an injury plagued year with the Mavericks in which he saw his team win it all from the bench.  Soon after in free agency, Butler signed with the new look Clippers.  Everything looked to be set up for Butler to have a great season but for some reason his numbers were down across the board. His field goal and 3-point percentages sank, he only averaged 12 points a game, and he had a career low in rebounding.   Even with his low numbers, he entered the playoffs  healthy but it didn’t last. He suffered a broken hand in the first game of the playoffs, but living up to his nickname, Tough Juice, he came back and played well, but they didn’t have enough to get through the Spurs.

The Good: He isn’t named Tough Juice for no reason.  He plays injured, isn’t afraid of contact, and plays with a lot of heart.  He also has the most versatile game out of any UConn Alumni.  He can play on the block, has a mid-ranged jumper, is decent enough from 3-point range that a defender must respect it, uses the baseline well, and has a first step to attack the rim.  His size and athleticism creates mismatches against either the small or power forwards.  He is in the prime of his career now and should put up some career numbers going forward.

The Bad: He isn’t known for his defense or his rebounding prowess.  For his size, he should be a much better rebounder.  Also injuries have plagued his previous two seasons, though they were totally separate and the hand injury didn’t keep him sidelined for long.  He’s never been able to become that superstar that his talent says that he should be.  He has always been a contributor instead of taking the reins.

Looking Ahead:  Caron is heading into a season where he needs to improve across the board.  He has an All-World point guard that should get him the ball where he is most comfortable and he needs to take a more of an aggressive role in the team.  Its his second year with the Clippers and he should be used to Del Negro’s quirky offense which should make for a much better season for him.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Alumni Profile: Ray Allen

Looking Back:  He was having another Ray Allen type season, hitting the long ball, playing solid defense, and doing the little things for the Celtics, but then he got injured.  The condensed scheduling put a lot of wear and tear on the older players bodies, and like so many of the veteran players, Allen was fighting through a painful injury, bone spurs.  While he rehabbed, Avery Bradley came in and played well.  Rivers had to make a decision when Allen was healthy again.  Who should he start, Allen or Bradley?  He stuck with Bradley and though Allen put on a good face, he felt slighted.  The Celtics made a great run through the playoffs and fell to the Heat in seven games, but Allen didn’t play that well in the playoffs and in the off season, he parted ways with the franchise that gave him his first championship and decided to play for the Celtics main rival the Miami Heat.

The Good: Even at his age, Ray Allen is still one of the premiere perimeter shooters in the game.  He has a quick release, plays screens as well as anyone, and is a lock at the line.  His work ethic is incredible and no matter what fans feel about his signing with the Heat, his handling of himself during the signing did nothing to diminish his moral character.  He is still one of the best ambassadors for UConn and goes out of his way to give back to his community.

The Bad: This is going to be his last run in the NBA and that was one of the reasons why he chose Miami.  He’ll have a great opportunity in each of his final three years to get another championship.  His age is a big concern though and he is coming off an injury which affected his game, especially at the line late in the season. Those are major question marks that remain to be answered.

Looking Ahead:  If Ray can remain healthy and accept a more limited role, he will have another Ray Allen like season.  He won’t be asked to average the 15 points a game that he was asked to in Boston.  They just need him to knock down some open threes and to have defenses respect his range which will open driving lanes for LeBron and Wade.  He has the best chance as any other UConn Alumni to win another championship and cement his legacy as one of the greatest players in NBA history.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Alumni Profile: Rudy Gay

Looking Back: Rudy Gay was coming off a shoulder surgery that ended his 2010 season short and coming into 2011 campaign, he had a lot to prove because during his absence his team made a spectacular run in the playoffs without him. He needed to show that he deserved his max contract and was a major piece to the up and coming Grizzlies. While he had a good season, his numbers dipped in just about every category. It wasn’t a drastic dip but the strike shortened season and the injury to Zach Randolf contributed to his struggles to find consistency. His season ended on a sour note, losing to the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs and it didn’t dispel the fan base from questioning his leadership and his asset to carry this team deep into the playoffs.

The Good: The first word that comes to mind for Rudy Gay is athleticism. He is deadly in the open court, has developed a consistent jumper, and can play on the block. He has worked hard on defense, though he isn’t renowned for fighting through screens or pressuring his man. He is a solid rebounder, hovering around 6 a game. He likes the ball in hands down the stretch of ballgames and has hit his fair share of game winners. He is also in the prime of his career and should be ready to solidify himself as UConn’s best Alumni in the NBA.

The Bad: Rudy is hovering around super star status but hasn’t reached it yet. He lacks that ability to take over stretches of the fourth quarter that other high caliber players have. He’ll knock down a clutch 3-pointer here and there, but won’t carry his team on his back for six or seven plays in a row. He isn’t a player that looks for the contacts, fights through screens, or battles in the paint for the tough points.

Looking Ahead: With a full season ahead of him and a healthy Zach Randolf, Rudy should have a much better showing. If he can remain healthy, hit better from deep, play tighter defense, and be more of a vocal leader then he should have another good year. It really comes down to what he does in the playoffs that truly matters and until he carries this team on his shoulders through a playoff series then the trade rumors will continue to swirl around him.