Four Thoughts on Connecticut vs. Maryland

Posted 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.
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Ryan Boatright Was All Over The Place Last Night For UConn (AP/Jason DeCrow)

  • 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.

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UConn’s Kentan Facey Eligible, Will Help Depth in Frontcourt

Posted by Mike Lemaire on October 25th, 2013

Given how dire the situation in Connecticut‘s frontcourt is, news that the NCAA granted 6’9″ forward Kentan Facey a waiver to play immediately and awarded him four years of eligibility must be music to coach Kevin Ollie‘s ears. Facey had been forced to sit out because of issues with credits from his high school. He graduated from Long Island (NY) Lutheran last year but he was born, raised and had even attended some high school in Jamaica (the country, not New York), so the NCAA reviewed whether his college eligibility clock should have started a year early. Apparently they were satisfied with what they saw because Facey tweeted his thanks to the UConn compliance staff and the NCAA this morning, and the school issued a statement filled with quotes from Ollie that make it seem like he did some celebratory fist-pumping and chest-bumping this morning.

Kevin Ollie Should Be All Smiles This Morning (credit: CT Post)

Kevin Ollie Should Be All Smiles This Morning (credit: CT Post)

Ollie has good reason to be excited because Facey is going to be an immediate contributor and impact player in the Huskies’ frontcourt. The versatile forward averaged a double-double (14.5 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 3.8 BPG) on his way to being named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012-13. He was also a consensus top-100 recruit and easily the highest-rated prospect in the Huskies’ freshman class. His athleticism is probably his best offensive attribute right now, as his shot and ability to create his own offense off the bounce are going to take some time to develop, but he is a long and active rebounder who runs the floor well and has the athleticism and size to defend multiple positions.

It will take him some time to get adjusted to the Division I level, but he has been practicing with the team while awaiting the NCAA’s decision. That should mean that he is already in the process of getting acclimated, and at the very least, he will provide another talented body for Ollie to add to a dangerously thin and inexperienced frontcourt rotation. The likely starters on the baseline are senior Tyler Olander and junior DeAndre Daniels, but Daniels should hardly be considered your prototypical power forward and behind that duo, Ollie will be mixing and matching a combination of sophomore Phillip Nolan, raw freshman center Amida Brimah, and now Facey.

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AAC M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 24th, 2013

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  1. It is a bit surprising to see a list of college basketball’s Top 30 freshman and not see any of the players from Memphis‘ fabulous recruiting class make the list. In fact, only three players from the AAC made the list at all; Louisville’s Terry Rozier (#24), SMU’s Keith Frazier (#26) and Cincinnati’s Jermaine Lawrence (#27) are the conference’s only representatives. Judging the country’s best 30 freshmen before the season starts is clearly an exercise done for entertainment and debate purposes, so I will humor them and argue that it’s hard to believe that Austin NicholsKuran Iverson, or Nick King couldn’t make this list, especially given their importance to the Tigers’ frontcourt this season. Josh Pastner lost a lot of production out of his frontcourt and the trio of freshmen are going to be his best bets to replace some or all of that production. Rozier may be more talented and college-ready, but he will have to scratch and claw for minutes in a loaded backcourt. Nichols and Iverson are good candidates to begin the season in the starting lineup and they will have ample opportunities to prove themselves on the court, which is why I believe one or both of those players belong on any list of top freshmen.
  2. At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised when Louisville coach Rick Pitino shows up on a television program that has nothing to do with basketball and says something that makes headlines anyway. But it was still a bit baffling to watch Pitino call the government “totally dysfunctional” while chopping it up about politics with a couple of hosts from CNBC. It’s not that Pitino shouldn’t be allowed to talk about politics in a televised forum as he is a smart guy with plenty of smart things to say about the government. It was just a bit amusing to watch the CNBC hosts do their best to tie basketball into the political questions they were asking and it was even more amusing to watch Pitino effortlessly weave his experience as a basketball coach with what he thinks should be done in Washington, D.C. There is nothing wrong with trying to garner a little publicity by going outside of the usual channels, it was just odd to watch a man who is gearing up to repeat as National Champions explain to CNBC hosts why term limits for congressmen are important.
  3. If you were looking for reasons why the offseason scandal at Rutgers is going to affect the program less than some might think, look no further than juniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack. Without trying to compare the actual scandals, one of the primary reasons that Penn State football was able to rebound so quickly was because the majority of the players banded together and decided to stay with the Nittany Lions. A similar situation has unfolded in Piscataway as players were granted a free release after the school fired coach Mike Rice for verbal and physical abuse and some players understandably left for greener pastures. But players like Mack, Jack, Jerome Seagears, and Wally Judge all stuck around to, “finish what I started”, as Jack put it. Not only does the return of these four players mean that new coach Eddie Jordan won’t need to start entirely from scratch, it actually means he has a pretty good nucleus of talent to work with as the team enters a new conference. The Scarlet Knights are still probably not an NCAA Tournament team, which makes the decision of those four players to stay all the more noble. In a sport where leadership is important both on and off the court, Jordan now has a number of mature young men to point to as examples of what leadership looks like.
  4. Everyone already knows about the dynamite backcourt trio of Shabazz NapierRyan Boatright, and Omar Calhoun. They also probably know about multi-talented forward DeAndre Daniels and the expectations on his shoulders. But if the Huskies are going to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be because some of the team’s newcomers stepped up and made impactful contributions. Kevin Ollie‘s first real recruiting class didn’t garner any national attention or win any accolades, but Amida BrimahKentan Facey (assuming he is eligible), and Terrence Samuel will all be expected to play a role on the team this season and their development and early success will be crucial to determining exactly how good this UConn team can be. Brimah and Facey will probably get the most chances to make an early impression because of the team’s stark lack of depth in the frontcourt, but the newcomer most ready to contribute however is George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah. The athletic 6’6″ wing was a double-digit scorer in his career in D.C. and he has all the tools to be a shutdown defender who can guard multiple positions. Ollie has a tough task ahead of him as he tries to find playing time for all of his talented backcourt and wing players without sacrificing too much size, but the added depth and talent are part of the reason why so many expect the Huskies to be back in the NCAA Tournament this season.
  5. Count me among those who aren’t fans of college basketball’s new emphasis on hand-checking. It’s not surprising as every sport is continuously making small tweaks to the rule book that benefit offense in part to make the sport more watchable and exciting, but increased foul calls don’t make college basketball more exciting, they make it more boring. Even the Big 12’s coordinator of officials admitted that players will no longer be able to “guard full-court, man-to-man, in-your-face like we’ve allowed”. Maybe a few years down the road as players get used to the rule and how officials call it, the game will be more exciting and explosive, but I would expect this type of rule to take some time to get adjusted to, which means we will be seeing a lot more ticky-tack fouls called and we will be seeing teams shoot a lot more free throws. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy astutely pointed out that fans aren’t paying to watch their favorite players foul out of a game and he even brought up Louisville, citing their intense pressure defense as something that will longer be as effective with this new rule. Hooray for the dawn of this new era of offensive basketball…I guess.
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Big East M5: 01.15.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 15th, 2013

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  1. Another day has passed and we don’t know anything more about the shady eligibility issue that is keeping Syracuse forward James Southerland off the court. Jim Boeheim spoke about the suspension with ESPN while he was on the network’s campus in Bristol and while he wouldn’t elaborate on what Southerland is actually suspended for, he did call the suspension “troubling” while also noting that “James will get through it”. While Orange fans anxiously await Southerland’s reinstatement, those of us on the outside looking in are left with an insatiable curiosity about the cloud of mystery surrounding the suspension. One would think that if this was a by-the-book suspension for academic issues, Syracuse would have just come out and said that, it isn’t the team’s first rodeo in that respect after all. Instead the program has chosen to keep everyone in the dark and there is a chance we will never know what is keeping Southerland suspended.
  2. As expected Louisville survived the war of attrition and ascended to the top spot in the latest Associated Press’ Top 25 poll Monday and they celebrated by stomping out a potential upset bid from Connecticut on the same night. The Huskies have already proven they are going to be a tough game for any opponent, and they actually led the Cardinals by six points at halftime before Louisville dialed up the defense and swarmed over the younger Huskies in the second half. At this point the only thing that keeps Louisville from dominating is their own intensity and effort. When the Cardinals play with max effort, they are better than nearly everyone else in the country, but as they showed in the first half Monday, the switch isn’t always turned on. For now that will work, but a lackluster half in March will be a lot more dangerous.
  3. The Providence Journal is right, this is a big week for Ed Cooley and Providence . The team is coming off its first conference win in four tries and plays middle-of-the-road teams Georgetown and Villanova. If ever there was an opportunity to potentially climb out of the basement, now, against beatable teams, is the time to do it. The Journal correctly points out that the team is still adjusting to a few new faces in the lineup and of course the familiar face of Vincent Council as well.  The Friars have almost no depth or chemistry right now, so not a lot is expected of them, but if they can win both games, it will send a statement to the fan base and the rest of the conference that this team still has a pulse.
  4. At this point we are really just piling on, but Pittsburgh has not had a great start to conference play and part of it is because they aren’t winning close games the way that they used to when Jamie Dixon was regularly making NCAA Tournament runs with his teams. Most of the advanced metrics support the fact that Pittsburgh should be a lot better than they have shown so far and the team seems to think it is just a matter of taking advantage of opportunities to seize the game. The Panthers are about to hit a four-game stretch of winnable games before they meet Louisville at the end of January, and if they have any NCAA Tournament aspirations they are going to need to win more of those games than they lose.
  5. There was some good news for UConn fans today as coach Kevin Ollie landed his first recruit since officially becoming the team’s head coach in Miami-area big man and Ghana native Amida Brimah. Brimah is basically a really long and really athletic 6’10” center with raw offensive skills and present defensive ability. The Huskies have had some notable success with similar players and they desperately need big men, and big men who can develop into elite rim protectors are even better.
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