Four Thoughts: Connecticut v. Seton Hall EditionPosted by mlemaire on January 4th, 2012
Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. Four Thoughts is our brand new, not-so creatively titled feature where, in lieu of a game recap, we give you four thoughts about key Big East action from the night before. Enjoy!
Hopefully this game taught Connecticut freshman Andre Drummond that, even if he legitimately has no idea who the opposing team’s best player is, it’s probably better to not say that into a reporter’s recording device. Seton Hall took advantage of the Huskies’ slow start last night to stake a 13-point lead at halftime, and cruised to a 75-63 victory at the Prudential Center in Newark. Here are some of the key takeaways from the upset.
1. Don’t look now, but Seton Hall is a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender.
Entering the season with a new coach and having lost three of their top four scorers, the Pirates were considered an afterthought in the Big East this season and were picked to finish 13th in the conference’s annual preseason poll. And after they were dismantled by Syracuse 75-49 in their conference opener, it seemed as if the predictions about Kevin Willard’s squad would prove true, but the Pirates had other ideas. Two nights after the Syracuse debacle, Seton Hall rolled over a solid West Virginia team 67-48 and then last night they beat the No. 8 team in the country handily. Senior forward Herb Pope has emerged as one of the conference’s best big man, senior guard Jordan Theodore has been sublime as the point guard, and sophomore forward Fuquan Edwin has been stuffing the stat sheet and is one of the more versatile forwards in the conference. It’s important not to get ahead of ourselves as it’s difficult to imagine a team with a seven-deep rotation surviving a rugged conference schedule, but after that win last night, it shouldn’t shock anyone if the Pirates finish in the top half of the conference.
2. Should we really still consider UConn’s frontcourt as one of the nation’s elite?
Sure, the team’s big men ooze talent and potential, but how can they be considered one of the nation’s best and deepest frontcourts after the dud they put up last night against the undersized and undermanned Pirates? It would be one thing if their shots hadn’t been falling, but Drummond and Alex Oriakhi combined to go 2-7 from the field with just six points, seven rebounds, and three turnovers. Oriakhi in particular (two points and two rebounds in 19 minutes) was particularly bad and the team’s best forward last night was sophomore Tyler Olander, who is a nice player, but should never be the best player in a frontcourt as talented as the Huskies. Drummond (9.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.7 BPG) has been improving and will only get better as the season progresses, but forwards Roscoe Smith and DeAndre McDaniels have been maddeningly inconsistent. The real issue has been the regression of junior center Oriakhi. Almost everyone pegged Oriakhi to have a monster season pairing with Drummond, but instead he has been averaging 10 fewer minutes per game and as a result his numbers are down across the board and he has taken to Twitter to express his displeasure with his playing time. No matter how talented the team is, it is never good when one of the team’s captains in pouting like a freshman who hasn’t received the playing time he was promised. Until Oriakhi gets his act together or Drummond becomes a double-double machine overnight, the Huskies have a good but not an elite frontcourt.
3. It’s time to consider Jordan Theodore among the conference’s best point guards.
Jon Rothstein from CBS New York first asked the question after Theodore dropped 19 points and 11 assists on the Huskies last night and after letting it marinate for eight hours, I am ready to agree. When shoot-from-everywhere guard Jeremy Hazell graduated, it was common knowledge that Theodore was going to be asked to shoot and score more and he has, averaging 16 points per game on nearly 13 shots. But he has also emerged as one of the conference’s best distributors and he leads the Big East in assists per game (7.3) and is second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.9) all while running an uptempo attack (#59 in the country in KenPom’s adjusted offensive tempo). He is also one of the conference’s best on-ball defenders (#8 in the conference in steals). Classmate Herb Pope’s emergence as one of the best all-around big men in the country is certainly one of the primary reasons for the Pirates’ unexpected success, but Theodore deserves a lion’s share of the credit for not only providing veteran leadership and scoring for the Pirates, but also for making the young and inexperienced players around him better.
4. The up-and-down play of UConn point guard Shabazz Napier continues, and probably will all season.
One of the biggest questions facing the Huskies entering the season was whether sophomore point guard Shabazz Napier could fill the shoes for departed star Kemba Walker and the early results are in, and reviews are mixed. For example, on December 28, the Huskies barely beat South Florida and Napier was 1-9 from the field with just four points and three assists in 36 minutes. But then, just three days later, the sophomore was ruthlessly efficient, scoring 17 points and dishing out nine assists in a blowout win over St. John’s. Last night it was back to bad Napier as the Massachusetts native went just 2-12 from the field and finished with six points, four assists, and five turnovers while being badly outplayed by Theodore. With Oriakhi struggling and Drummond still learning, Napier is clearly the team’s second-best scoring option and one of the most important players on the roster, and if he doesn’t start playing better night-in and night-out, the Huskies’ chances of repeating as National Champions look very slim. When freshman Ryan Boatright was cleared to play, it was expected to help Napier who would no longer have to shoulder such a large load, but one has to wonder whether Boatright’s emergence has stunted Napier’s development. He is only a sophomore, so some of his inconsistency should be forgiven, but considering how important his role is on UConn, he needs to play better Jim Calhoun‘s club will remain a Top-10 team.