Four Thoughts on Connecticut vs. MarylandPosted by mlemaire on November 9th, 2013
Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to key games throughout the season.
- Connecticut should consider itself very lucky to be walking out of the Barclays Center with a win because they did everything possible down the stretch to hand last night’s game to Maryland. First Shabazz Napier picked up a silly technical foul that seemingly woke the Terrapins up and then he fouled out with barely 90 seconds left and his team clinging to a slim lead. Boatright and Napier’s replacement Terrence Samuel both had chances in the final 30 seconds to at least ensure the Terps couldn’t beat them in one possession, but both missed the front end of one-and-ones and were lucky enough to survive some wild shots from Dez Wells in order to win the game. It’s a big win on a neutral court, the type of win that might make a big difference in March, and the Terps are a good and talented basketball team. But UConn is not going to be able to get away with that kind of second half letdown very often. Let’s not jump to conclusions after only one game because the Huskies will have plenty of time to work on their late-game strategies, but that was just as close to being an embarrassing loss as it was a statement win.
- Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright better be in great shape because those two are going to play a lot of minutes for the Huskies this season. They should be used to it, since both of them averaged more than 36 minutes per game last season, but Napier played 33 minutes last night and Boatright played 37. The Huskies have some patsies on the schedule so the duo will get a chance to rest, but head coach Kevin Ollie would be wise to keep an eye on their minutes as they are way too valuable to the team’s success to be worn down when the games matter the most. The two combined to use nearly 50 percent of their team’s possessions last season and it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume those percentages were similar last night. Boatright didn’t shoot the ball well but he and Napier were still the best two players on the floor (apologies to Maryland’s Wells) and how they play will ultimately determine how UConn fares as a team.
- He will play an important role for UConn this season, but look out for Amida Brimah two or three years from now because he has tremendous potential that was on display last night. He didn’t exact set the world on fire with five points, three blocks, and three rebounds in 15 minutes, but he acquitted himself better than most people expected he would against a good opponent in his first collegiate game. Brimah seemed like a long-term project when he committed and he remains a project now, but he isn’t a project that Ollie will be forced to sit on the bench if only because of his game-changing defensively ability. Yes, he is very long and particularly athletic and coordinated for a young man his size, but if he can play every night with the same motor he played with last night, Ollie will be forced to make him a regular in the rotation. He was a bit overeager at times and will need to make a conscious effort to stay out of foul trouble, but if he can consistently give the Huskies the kind of quality minutes he gave them versus the Terps, the Huskies’ frontcourt won’t be so nerve-wrackingly thin.
- Connecticut was able to survive last night because they Huskies shot the lights out in the first half (52 percent from the field), got contributions from unexpected sources like Niels Giffey (13 points on 5-of-6 shooting) and Lasan Kromah (eight points on 3-of-4 shooting) and got a heroic effort from Napier (18 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals). It probably won’t be the last time the Huskies win a game that way this season but the team’s best complementary pieces — DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun — did not have great games and that won’t cut it as the season progresses. To his credit, Daniels was vital to his team’s success last night and affected the game in a number of different ways. But he didn’t pose much of a threat on the offensive end of the floor and Calhoun did a lot of hoisting from behind the three-point arc without many makes. He won’t have off-shooting nights like that all the time, but a big question entering the season was whether Ollie would find consistency from Daniels and Calhoun, and that question remains after game one.