Four Thoughts: Connecticut v. DePaul EditionPosted by mlemaire on March 6th, 2012
Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. With the Big East Tournament upon us, we figured we would try to offer four thoughts about every game that is played… emphasis on “try.”
- Connecticut took care of business. Beating DePaul isn’t going to help the Huskies’ tournament chances very much, but losing to the Blue Demons would have almost certainly been a catastrophe. Luckily, the team — and especially Jeremy Lamb — came out firing on all cylinders, built a 13-point lead at halftime, and coasted to victory from there. Lamb was superb in the first half and finished the game with 25 points and four assists, and the offense that was non-existent in the last few weeks returned as the Huskies shot 46. 3% from the field. The victory sets up what many are calling a de facto play-in game with West Virginia tomorrow at noon.
- The return of Jim Calhoun has energized a team in need of a pick-me-up. With Calhoun back on the bench for the first time since his spinal surgery, UConn handled Pittsburgh in its regular season finale on Saturday. After the game, freshman point guard Ryan Boatright told reporters, “It was just a whole `nother vibe with him back on the sidelines.” Well it looked that way again this afternoon. Neither the Panthers nor the Blue Demons have been particularly competitive this season, but Calhoun’s brave comeback, his perseverance, and his leadership is exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that looked timid and uninspired as the season came to a close. They were efficient on offense and held DePaul to just 27.4% from the field. I am not ready to starting drawing comparisons to the run the Huskies made through the Big East Tournament last year because this team is still one week removed from losing to Providence, but they are definitely not the same team they were last week, and Calhoun is a major reason why.
- If they want to beat West Virginia, the Huskies are going to need better games from their big men. As well as Lamb and Boatright played, the Huskies have to be worried about the performance of their two best big men, Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi. Drummond finished with 12 points and just three rebounds and missed all seven of the free throws he attempted, and Oriakhi finished with just nine points and four rebounds. The duo did block four shots apiece, so it wasn’t all bad. But all of this came against a team with just one semi-legitimate big man. Say what you want about the up-and-down season West Virginia has put together, but their frontcourt is still physical and talented. When the two teams met earlier in the season, the Huskies got 20 points and 11 rebounds from Drummond and still needed a late rally to win at home. The Mountaineers are not a very deep team, but they will be playing for their tournament lives tomorrow and you better believe senior Kevin Jones will be ready to play. Drummond and Oriakhi don’t need to shoulder the scoring load by any means — leave that to the guards. But they better be crashing the glass and playing physical interior defense, otherwise a late rally may not even be enough to save them.
- If the Huskies are going to make a repeat run, Jeremy Lamb will play the role of Kemba Walker. There is absolutely no question that Lamb is the offensive key to the Big East Tournament for the Huskies. Today, Lamb came to Madison Square Garden ready to do his best Walker impression. The sophomore scored 15 of his team’s first 30 points to stake them to an early lead. Shabazz Napier and Boatright are talented offensive players but they are too inconsistent, and Drummond and Oriakhi are the same way. This means that for the Huskies to continue to play efficient offensive basketball, they will need their scoring leader to show them the way. Lamb is not the fiery and emotional leader that Walker was, but like Walker, he can score the ball in a multitude of ways and is nearly impossible to stop if he is hitting his long-range shots. The whispers have already started and some are thinking that UConn can repeat last season’s improbable run. If they do, it will because Lamb carried them there.