UConn Seeks Signature Wins in Atlantis

Posted by Jared Kotler on November 25th, 2015

Coming off last year’s disappointing season that resulted in a trip to the NIT, Kevin Ollie‘s UConn Huskies have retooled and should be looking to make a statement in this week’s Battle 4 Atlantis. To accomplish that mission, here are three things UConn will be looking to do — besides eat a little Thanksgiving turkey — this Feast Week.

If UConn Meets Syracuse On Thursday, Daniel Hamilton Will Be Key In Picking Apart The Vaunted ‘Cuse Zone. (NBC Connecticut)

Win the opening game: This may seem obvious, but UConn’s Battle 4 Atlantis opener is crucial. Given the way the bracket sets up, beating Michigan must happen for the Huskies to have real chances at resume-building wins. It’s not that dissimilar a situation to the 2010 Maui Invitational that UConn won. Those Kemba Walker-led Huskies opened with a victory over Wichita State, a win that enabled them to post marquee wins over Michigan State and Kentucky. A UConn loss to Michigan would most likely result in a matchup with a Charlotte (KenPom #275). Win, and a matchup with old Big East foe Syracuse is a good bet to happen. Out of conference scheduling has been a focus of UConn since conference realignment left them with fewer in-conference opportunities for big victories, and needless to say, the Huskies didn’t travel to Atlantis to take on Charlotte. Michigan comes into this game after a home loss to Xavier in the Gavitt Games, so they will also arrive in Nassau desperate for a solid early win.

Get Ready to Take on a Zone Defense: If there has been one defense that has given the Huskies trouble over the past few years, it’s a zone. The 2014 national champions are the only UConn team of the last nine years to finish among the nation’s top 100 in three-point field goal percentage. This week, should UConn win its first game, Syracuse and their vaunted 2-3 zone will likely wait in the semis. UConn has already been tested a bit this year by a zone — against in UNH in its second game of the year. The Wildcats almost exclusively employed a zone against UConn in that game, and the Huskies struggled to combat it. Ollie did adjust by flashing Daniel Hamilton and Shonn Miller to the center of the zone, a tactic that proved moderately successful. Their presence in the middle opened up things on the perimeter for Sterling Gibbs and Rodney Purvis, both of whom are shooting over 40% from beyond the arc so far this season. In talking with Dave Borges of the New Haven Register following the UNH game, Gibbs said, “I love zone. I love zone. It’s pretty much just like practice shots. In the first half, they pretty much dared us to shoot the ball. I like shooting the ball, so I was able to step into the shot, be confident and make it.” Syracuse will surely feature a tougher zone than what the Huskies faced against New Hampshire, but Gibbs and company should be more prepared than past UConn teams to take it on.

Can Omar Calhoun Break Out Of His Shooting Slump This Week? (WTNH)

Solidify Bench Roles: In the first three games of the season, UConn has given almost every player on the roster some playing time. While it’s unlikely Kevin Ollie dips that deep into his roster in the Bahamas, playing three games in three days is still tough and will require bench players to step up. Against improved competition, Ollie should have a better  chance to evaluate his bench players and see who is capable of a larger role this season. Three guys to watch in this discussion: Sam Cassell Jr., Omar Calhoun, and Steven Enoch. Cassell Jr. missed most of last year due to injury, but the son of the NBA legend is healthy and will look to bring offense off the Husky bench. During his first three games, Cassell Jr. has led UConn bench players with an offensive rating of 133.9. Calhoun has struggled to find offensive consistency throughout his time in Storrs, but has the talent to be a standout performer. His early reputation as a sharpshooter has slowly eroded over the years, and this season he’s off to another slow start (4-of-14 from long range). Enoch is a highly regarded freshman, but has yet to make much of an impact this year, having only played 14 total minutes in the three games. UConn does have a crowded, senior-laden frontcourt, which may prevent the 6’11” Enoch from seeing extensive early minutes. However, in a three games in three days setup, fresh legs will be needed. Enoch — and the rest of the Husky bench — should have ample opportunity to make a case for more playing time moving forward.

Jared Kotler (9 Posts)

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