Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Pros and Cons to DeAndre Daniels' Decision to Enter NBA Draft

There is a lot that had to go into DeAndre Daniels’ decision to put his name into the NBA draft but was it the right decision for him? It is an incredible gamble on his part. First off, it shows that he doesn’t truly have confidence that he could improve on this season and is grabbing an NBA opportunity just because it is there for the taking. There is no telling if this is a good or bad move until all the cards are on the table and when we all see where Daniels gets drafted. If he goes to a good team late or goes in the top-teens or low-twenties, then it is a great decision, but if he slips and gets mired on a bad team and has trouble developing, then it could be a costly gamble. Only time will tell, but there are certainly pros and cons to this decision.

Pros: He has an NBA game already from a deep range to post moves which will easily translate over to the next level. Many a NBA prospect has used a great NCAA tournament to springboard themselves up the draft board and DeAndre Daniels had a fantastic tournament. He’s projected as a late first or early second pick, which means that he has the opportunity to land on a really good franchise that has the luxury to put in the time to make sure that he progresses without throwing him to the wolves and hoping he can cut it. Coming back for your senior year isn’t a guarantee, just ask Marcus Smart. Things can go wrong, be it an injury or just a step back on the development, striking when the iron is hot is always a good move.

Cons: This is one of the strongest NBA drafts to come around in some time and there is a lot of depth that could possibly push Daniels back far enough that he will land on a bad team in the second round. He could possibly be losing millions of dollars on this gamble, because if he stuck around and continued his development that he has shown in each and every season then he could be a top ten pick next year instead of a twenty to thirty pick this year. In terms of money, that movement up the board is enormous. The biggest question for Daniels will be his size. He still needs to add twenty pounds to his frame to compete against the men in the NBA and he doesn’t have the bounce that can overcome his lack of size.

From a selfish fan perspective this seems like a bad move for Daniels. He has developed each and every year and there was no doubt that he would continue his uphill trajectory. The only thing that would bar his draft status from rising would be an injury, but which one of us would not take the guarantee of getting a chance at a dream job. He can now get paid and develop on a NBA team. Daniels upside is very alluring and a team will snag him up. The biggest obstacle for him at this point will be his workouts with teams. He will need to impress these NBA front offices with some stellar performances. If he does so, he has the opportunity to slide higher in this draft and anything lower than the 18th pick will be an improvement. No matter what happens, UConn fans have to be happy with Daniels because here was a kid that had little hype coming into his freshman year and through hard work and relentless progression, he developed a NBA game. That type of characteristics needs to be applauded and hopefully he lands in the right situation to continue his maturity.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kemba Walker Does It All In Loss To Heat

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

UConn's Magical March and April

UConn started off March with an impressive win against Cincinnati where they held the Bearcats to just 45 points. They backed that game up with an inconsistent effort against Rutgers at home where they let the Scarlet Knights hang with them for much of the game. Things went quickly down hill when they traveled to Kentucky and faced a red hot Louisville team for the final game of the regular season. The Cardinals tore UConn apart left, right,and center and handed them not only their worst lose of the season, but the 33 point deficit was one of the worst losses in UConn history. Ollie had to regroup because they had to take on a Memphis team that he had already beat twice this year and to do it a third time, on top of that it was in Memphis which would be a daunting task. The Huskies put together one of their better games of the year and beat the Tigers by nineteen points. Riding the momentum of that game, UConn geared up for the tie-breaker against Cincinnati. This game was a heavy weight defensive battle that went back and forth but UConn had the more consistent offense and pulled out the two point victory which set them up  a rematch against the very team that had destroyed them in the final regular season game. This time UConn was better prepared, but Louisville’s defensive intensity and deadly outside shooting gave the Cardinals a double digit lead that UConn couldn’t overcome and the Huskies lost by ten.

Many fans wondered just what team would show up in the NCAA tournament and no one expected the lightning in a bottle that UConn discovered. They might not have been happy with UConn earning a seven seed, but Husky fans were ecstatic for them to be in the eastern region and to have favorable match-ups with the higher seeds. St. Joseph’s played a fantastic game and the combination of Galloway and Kanacevic were almost enough to shatter UConn’s destiny but that changed as soon as Kanacevic fouled out. With Brimah’s three point play, UConn headed into overtime and soon seized control of the game and pulled away for the victory. That set them up with a familiar foe in Villanova. Jay Wright’s team had been reeling with a shocking loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament and UConn caught them at the right time. Shabazz Napier was masterful in the game and led UConn with 25 points, hitting 4 of 8 from deep and 9 of 13 from the field. They pulled away in the second half and never looked back.

Their next foe, Iowa State had lost their big man, Georges Niang, with a broken foot. With UConn’s biggest
weakness in the frontcourt, the loss of Niang played a pivotal role. Led by Daniels spectacular play where he hit 10 of 15 from the court, UConn led by double digits by halftime, but Dustin Hogue helped Iowa State claw back into the game with his own superstar performance. But UConn proved too much and they moved on to face what everyone thought to be the sleeper team of the tournament in Michigan State. Tom Izzo had his team playing extremely hard, but UConn’s defense were hitting their stride. They frustrated the Spartans and created 16 turnovers which helped fuel their fast break. Despite shooting just 34 percent from the field, UConn used pinpoint free throw shooting, 21 of 22, to keep themselves at arms length to pull off the epic upset and send themselves to an improbable Final Four appearance.

They now faced their biggest competition in the overall number one seed in Florida who were riding a 30 game winning streak that had started after their loss to UConn in Gampel Pavilion. With the entire country besides the little old state of Connecticut picking Florida, UConn put together a game for the ages. Their defense frustrated Florida and the offense shot 55 percent from the field. Florida’s only weapon was to get to the line or score around the rim, because UConn only gave up one 3-pointer the entire game and that occurred on Florida’s first possession. They shocked the overall number one seed and found themselves in the championship game against a very talented and equally hot Kentucky team.

The game looked to be UConn’s to lose as the Huskies jumped out early and scored easily and often, but Kentucky switched to a zone which derailed UConn’s offense. It ended up being a sloppy but tough fought battle with UConn making just enough plays to keep the pesky Wildcats at within a possession of the lead. They found themselves in the improbable position of cutting down the nets for the 4th time in school history, book-ending Giffey, Napier, and Olander’s careers at UConn.

Napier was everything this team needed down the stretch of March and into early April. He hit his jumpers, got to the line, found the open men, and commanded the halfcourt sets. His leadership ability and humble off the court demeanor was contagious and the team solidified around him. Make no doubt about it, this all started back in 2011 when he tutored under Kemba Walker. Walker showed him what it took to lead a team not expected to amount to much and willed them to the National Title. It will be interesting to see who takes the torch from Napier.

For this team to go as far as they did, Ollie needed Boatright to step up and the junior shooting guard did just that. He didn’t fare so well in early March. His jumper eluded him, he turned the ball over in critical situations. His struggles had him sitting on the bench in crunch time on several occasions and it looked like his confidence was on an all-time low, but he would soon prove everyone wrong. Once he stepped into the NCAA tournament, he was a totally different player. His jumpers were dropping and he carried UConn offensively for much of the St. Joseph’s game. He was masterful against Villanova, frustrated Iowa State, was a defensive juggernaut against Michigan State, knocked down shots around the rim against Florida, and though he had a sub-par game against Kentucky, his defense controlled the perimeter and made the Wildcats into a one dimensional team. He is still rough around the edges, but the glimpses he showed, especially with Napier on the bench, has given UConn fans some confidence heading into next year.

Even though Boatright’s improved play helped UConn cut down the nets, DeAndre Daniels’ spectacular performance in the tournament was the overall difference maker. He was in a bit of a funk in early March and struggled against Cincinnati and Rutgers, but he was the only shining spot in that egg of a game that they suffered against Louisville and he never looked back after that.  He made plays in the post, rebounded the basketball in traffic, hit the outside shot to help elevate pressure on the pick and rolls, and played solid defense. His only bad game was in the title game where he had a hard time hitting his jumpers, but he still battled hard, grabbed boards, and made an important lay-up late in the game. With the depth of the draft class this year, he should stay in school, add ten to fifteen pounds to his frame, and continue to play around the rim. If he can do this then he should be a top ten pick come next year.

Giffey had an up and down March and April. He had two really great shooting games throughout the two months, but he was the glue guy of the team and he did the little things that Ollie needed him to do, especially when UConn had to go small. He rebounded the basketball, defended bigger and more agile players, and made plays around the rim. Even though he might not make the NBA, he will have a very long European career, because of his maturity, range, and defensive ability.

Like Giffey, Kromah had an inconsistent two months offensively, but his defense never dwindled. He was pivotal in several games with either Napier or Boatright on the bench. He helped alleviate some the full court pressure and also had the task of covering the opponents best slashers. For some reason, he went into a shell offensively in both tournaments and that once reliable jumper wasn’t there for him and his confidence began to wain.

UConn needed some of the freshmen to step up and contribute and Samuel was up for the challenge. There is no denying the importance of his role and how it contributed for UConn’s success. There were many times when this team’s offense hit a wall and the unheralded freshman beat a double team or broke the press to get to the rim for a lay-up. He has a bit of a Taliek Brown in him and has that knack of getting to the rim with ease. Hopefully he can build on this new found confindence heading forward.

Brimah had that one shining moment when he hit an important 3-point play to tie the game up against St. Joseph’s but that masked what was a pretty disappointing two months. He had a hard time staying on the court for consistent minutes. While his footwork has improved drastically from the start of the season, his hands were getting him into trouble defensively. They would snake around when defending on the post or wouldn’t be straight up when a player drove into the lane. That should improve with experience, but he makes such an impact when he is on the court that he needs to limit those needless fouls.

Nolan had major issues rebounding, defending without fouling, and finishing plays around the rim. He does get into good defensive position and led the team in charge calls this season, but he will need more improvement in rebounding and finishing plays around the basket next season. He didn’t take as big of a leap in development from last season to this one and hopefully he can not only bulk up but become a great compliment to Brimah down low.

Olander’s role diminished in March and April in his limited stints. He just wasn’t strong or skilled enough on the post to make a big impact and was mostly there to clog lanes and buy time for the other big men to return. He was the punching bag for many UConn fans that saw many of his flaws, but it is a bit unfair. He was undersized for the center position and would have been more qualified for that power forward role like Jeff Adrien played, but with UConn’s strength in the backcourt, Ollie utilized a more 3-guard line-up and he was forced to play the center role.

Calhoun flat out disappeared in March and April and it is hard to come up with a single positive play that he made in the month in a half of basketball. It will be an important off season for him to improve his jumper. It was awkward to start with but Ollie could deal with it when it was falling for him but now that it hasn’t, changes might be in order. He right now is the biggest question mark heading into next season.

Facey didn’t get much playing time in March and April but he has shown enough versatility to become a main piece to next year’s squad. He is a versatile player that has a knack for the ball coming off the rim and also can put it on the floor and hit jumpers. He will need to focus on the fundamentals next season and become a consistent rebounder. That should allow him to get minutes which should lead to opportunities to showcase some of those skills, but it starts and ends with rebounding.

What a magical month. It hasn’t truly settled in yet what this team accomplished. In truth, we are very spoiled as a fan base and sometimes have a hard time grasping in total what UConn has been able to do these past fifteen years. This is the one sport that can allow a team to get hot at just the right time and win it all. Most sports only allow the top ten or fifteen teams into their playoffs, but to allow 64 teams to via for that title is incredible and for UConn to be underdogs in just about every match-up and not only win those, but to win seven of the eight games convincingly was unimaginable. Can you believe it? Four National Titles. Simply incredible, especially when two of them came out of nowhere.  Who says lightning can’t strike twice?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

UConn Huskies 2014 National Champions

First off, wow. Did this really just happen? Now that that is off the table we can get into the game. It was a battle of two wills. UConn wanted to use their defense to create easy and early offensive opportunities. While Kentucky wanted to use their brute force down low to put UConn into foul trouble and get second chance opportunities. UConn won the battle early on, jumping out to a 15 point lead with Napier, Daniels, and Boatright all getting whatever looks they wanted, but Kentucky’s aggressiveness put Daniels and Boatright on the bench with two fouls each. The momentum immediately switched as Kromah and Samuels made costly turnovers and Napier settled for jumpers. They treaded water, making one play for every two of Kentucky’s and the Wildcats slowly chipped away, closing out the half to get within a possession of the lead.

The second half started out like the first half ended. UConn had a hard time getting their offense going and the defense struggled to keep Kentucky off the line, but luckily for them, the Wildcats had a hard time knocking them down, which ultimately cost them the game. UConn made just enough plays down the stretch to keep the lead, even though Kentucky came within one possession several times. With UConn’s big men in foul trouble, Ollie went small ball and mixed in the zone. The small unit more than held their own on the boards. That helped space the floor and they made just enough jumpers to stretch the lead to two possessions and held on for the victory. It wasn’t a well played game. Give Kentucky credit. They frustrated UConn with the zone, but many of Connecticut’s errors were self-inflicted. They were the best team out there right from the tip and it seemed like they would either win this or lose it on their own accord, but this team never gave in to the frustration and stared defeat in the eyes several times and made just enough stops to hold onto the lead for the improbable victory.

Napier looked aggressive early on. He took every open look and there were plenty. He knocked down three 3-pointers, had a nifty lay-up in traffic, and had two of his shots goal-tended, but once Boatright and Daniels were on the bench, he began to settle for jumpers. His frustration level grew in the second half and it began to effect his game. He had some sloppy turnovers, bad passes, but like a true champion, he fought through it and made some crucial plays down the stretch. It wasn’t his best game, but he was the catalyst and UConn rode him to the finish line.

Boatright came out with contagious energy. In the first half, he had two lay-ups, a jumper, and hit two free throws on a hard foul, but he also had a lazy pass that led to a dunk. His defense frustrated Kentucky but he soon found himself in foul trouble and had to sit on the bench. He came out in the second half with an early jumper, but then rolled his ankle. It didn’t look good, with him hobbling to the sidelines, but he fought through it and hit a crucial jumper. With being at half strength, he still did a great job defensively and helped elevate Kentucky’s pressure in the half court.

Daniels had a nice but brief stint in the first half. He had a massive dunk and a step back jumper, but had his second foul with almost five and a half minutes to go in the first half. When he finally got back into the game, his jumpers were all off and other than a lay-up and a put-back, he never got it going. Despite all that, he did all the little things like boxing out and battling for rebounds, especially when Ollie went small. If it wasn’t for his contributions in the paint in this game, this would be a ten point Kentucky win.

Giffey had an early lay-up, had an offensive rebound, and went two for two from the line. He finally got two 3-pointers to drop for him and was the spark UConn needed in the second half to help elevate the zone pressure Kentucky applied. Kromah hit a jumper but also had a horrible turnover that led to a 3-pointer on the other end. He had a key jump-ball and hit two crucial free throws late in the ball game to help UConn stretch the lead three possessions. Samuels came out and provided an immediate lift with a steal and a lay-up, but then went under a screen that led to points and also had a turnover. This unit was key to the victory and without them, it wouldn’t have been close.

Brimah started out strong with a block and rebounded with strength, but struggled to defend without fouling. Nolan had an early offensive rebound and a block, but also had trouble containing Kentucky. They couldn’t get anything to drop around the rim and had trouble with Kentucky’s length. With both of them getting into major foul trouble, Ollie had to sit them both and go small.

It is hard to put into words what this team just accomplished. Sure they did this before in 2011, but this was something totally different. That team won its Maui Tournament, Big East Tournament, and headed into the NCAA Tournament with a head of steam. This team lost to Louisville three times, with one of those by an embarrassing margin. No one gave them a shot, not even 99% of UConn fans, but this team did what makes this sport so special, they became one. Everyone stepped up collectively and fulfilled their roles which was beautiful to watch. UConn nation should be proud of this team and what it has not only accomplished on the court, but what it has done to stabilize itself for the foreseeable future. There has been many a great franchise to have had their culture of winning wane and never be seen again, but this team stuck through that ban and are now College Basketball royalty. You could use many words to describe this team. Heart, toughness, together, but the one word that truly describes this team is loyal and for that every UConn fan has to say Thank You.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Overlooked But Not Outdone

They said that UConn was too inconsistent, flawed in the frontcourt, and not talented enough. They gave them no shot against St. Joseph, Villanova, Michigan State, and Florida, but long time UConn fans know that this is exactly how UConn likes it. They relish the underdog role. They thrive on the disrespect and now they stand on the precipice of an impressive 4th national title. It didn’t look good from the start. Florida jumped out to an early lead, hitting several jumpers right off the bat and for the first time in the tournament, UConn had one of their slow starts. The Gators built up a 16 to 4 lead and looked ready to put the Huskies away before the half ended, but UConn had other plans and it started by the insertion of an unheralded freshman. Terrence Samuel came in and it changed the flow of the game. The lanes opened and they began driving and dishing to open shooters. Daniels and Boatright knocked down jumpers while Samuel and Giffey found ways to score inside. They clawed back into the game and the defense began to tighten up. Florida had a hard time rotating the ball and kicking out to open shooters. The half ended with UConn holding on to a one possession lead.

UConn came out in the second half in attack mode and despite the disparity of calls in the paint, they built up their lead to four to five possessions on the backs of their inside scoring. The defense, the best in the tournament, frustrated Florida. Kevin Ollie did a masterful job in substitutions and had to deal with his frontcourt in foul trouble throughout this game. While Florida did win the offensive glass battle, UConn held their own on the overall boards, which was their biggest concern. With the defense stifling Florida, UConn’s offense broke apart Florida’s unheralded defense in the second half for one 3-pointer, 7 lay-ups, a floater, 2 jumpers and 3 dunks. This team is playing at such an elite level right now and are winning games in different fashions, which a team needs to do to reach this level, but the one thing that has been there from the tip has been their defense and if they continue to play at this level, they have a great chance to win their fourth title.

Napier didn’t have his jumper in this game but he didn’t need it. His biggest contribution was on his dribble penetration, passing, defense, and ability to beat the press. He had several key steals that immediately led to points on the other end. He did sink two 3-pointers, a lay-up, and hit 4 of 4 from the line but he didn’t need to be aggressive because others were getting open and knocking down shots.

Boatright has been nothing short of fantastic in this tournament and it hadn’t changed in this game. He had a slow start offensively, hitting only a 3-pointer, but he skied for several big time boards and did a fantastic job of fronting Florida’s guards. He started getting things going in the second half. He had a dunk, 2 lay-ups, a jumper, and hit 2 of 2 from the line. The biggest adjustment for him has been his ability to score around the basket and knock down mid-range jumpers. If he consistently hits those elbow jumpers, he will be unstoppable.

Talking about unstoppable, Daniels has been nothing short of incredible. He not only is knocking down 3-pointers, but is sprinkling in an unguardable turnaround jumper, a monster dunk, a jumper, and lay-up after lay-up. On top of all that, he is banging for boards and blocking shots on the defensive end. UConn fans have seen this from Daniels in fits and starts throughout the season, but he has strung together several games in a row of this top tier performances. This next game will be a huge test for him. He will be going up against superior athletic wings that have given him problems in the past. If he can be as effective against Kentucky as he has been against every other team in this tournament, then he might be playing his last game in a UConn jersey.

Giffey’s jumper just isn’t dropping for him, but he can’t go into a shell because of it. He is too good of a shooter to stop putting them up. The good sign is that he is making plays in other areas, like crashing the boards for put backs and running the court for breakout dunks.  He is also playing very good defense. Kromah has been in a mini slump. He had a horrible pass and found himself on the bench. He needs to keep himself involved though, because he could be that breakout player against Kentucky. The true X-factor for this team has been Samuel. There is something about him that changes the tempo of this team. They went from stagnant to attack mode when he came in. He only made two lay-ups, but his energy and ability to break the press allowed UConn to change the momentum of this game.

The Frontcourt had to deal with a quick whistle from the referees and they weren’t calling it the same on both ends of the court. Brimah had a dunk, a lane violation, and a block, but never got into the flow of the game. Nolan also had a hard time staying on the court for extended periods of time. He had a costly turnover and a block, but like Brimah, he kept coming in and out of the game. Olander had a hard time on defense and was manhandled down low. Luckily for them, Daniels, Napier, Giffey, and Boatright picked up the rebounds or this game could’ve been different. They will need to do a much better job against Kentucky. The Wildcats are probably salivating at getting to play against them and they need to play at their best to have UConn in this game.

It is still hard to believe the run that UConn is on right now. Everyone is playing their role to perfection and the defense is so in sync. The rotations, ball denial, and close outs are a beauty to watch. They have stifled every opponent in this tournament and they need to do the same to one last opponent. This Kentucky team is gelling as well. They are so talented across the board and their biggest weapon is UConn’s biggest weakness. So it is imperative that UConn’s frontcourt hold their own and not back down. On paper it looks like a miss match, but that is exactly how UConn likes it. Let them be overlooked, because that seems to be the fuel that has guided this core group to where they are right now which is an unprecedented second National Championship.