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.

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