NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: The National Championship Game

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on April 7th, 2014

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#7 Connecticut vs. #8 Kentucky – National Championship Game (at Arlington, Texas) – 9:10 PM ET on CBS

History will be made in some form tonight at AT&T Stadium no matter which team wins this game. Connecticut is bidding to become the first #7 seed to ever win the national championship while Kentucky is looking to become the first #8 seed since Cinderella team Villanova toppled top-seeded Georgetown in 1985, the first year of the 64/68-team era. Kevin Ollie could become the first coach to win a championship in his first tournament appearance since Michigan’s Steve Fisher accomplished that feat a quarter-century ago in 1989 at Seattle’s Kingdome. John Calipari could win his second title in three seasons, this time with the nation’s most inexperienced team (according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics). Something has to give in this game between what some observers have said are teams of destiny. Connecticut is going for the Texas triple play, so to speak, having closed out two previous Final Fours in the Lone Star State (2004 in San Antonio and 2011 in Houston) with championships while Kentucky has three players from the state on its roster, including hometown favorite Julius Randle. Connecticut is seeking its fourth national championship while Kentucky would earn its ninth with a win.

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Coach Cal is looking for his second title in three seasons tonight against Connecticut. (NYDN)

Kentucky has had some of its best offensive games of the season in this tournament. The Wildcats have not been defensive juggernauts, but timely stops and consistent offensive output have been the keys to their success over the last couple of weeks (along with clutch Aaron Harrison shots, of course). Going up against yet another strong defensive team in Connecticut (UK has already faced Kansas State, Wichita State and Louisville, all terrific on the defensive end) will be a test for the “Cardiac Cats.” At the point guard position, Andrew Harrison has to do a better job taking care of the basketball against the undersized, but quicker and pesky Huskies guards. He is averaging four turnovers per game in the tournament and making him uncomfortable needs to be part of the game plan for Ollie’s team. Daring Andrew Harrison shoot has been fairly successful for Kentucky’s opponents as he is just 18-for-52 (35 percent) from the floor in five tournament games, which even includes a solid 6-for-9 performance against Wichita State in the round of 32. By contrast, making his brother Aaron put the ball on the floor and drive is the best strategy for Connecticut. Aaron Harrison has made 14-of-25 threes (56 percent) in the tournament but he is just 8-for-27 (30 percent) when it comes to two point shots. Chasing him off the three point line and making him put it on the deck has to be a point of emphasis for Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright defensively. Kentucky is at its best when Andrew Harrison is moving the ball well, Aaron Harrison is open on the wing and James Young is either knocking down triples or slashing through the defense, opening up the lane for Randle in the post. Of course, Randle is so good and so strong that he can do a number of things on the low block. The freshman has 50+ pounds on Connecticut’s four man DeAndre Daniels and nearly 40 pounds on Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah, both of whom are good defensively but also quite raw by the same token. Ollie may very well wrinkle in some zone to keep Kentucky out of the lane and dare it to make shots. However, that is still risky because of the ability of Aaron Harrison and Young to connect from the three point line. The Huskies are sneaky good when it comes to interior defense, allowing just 42.2 percent field goal shooting inside the three point arc. That will be tested against the stronger Randle and Dakari Johnson, who is very difficult to guard when he catches the ball deep in the post. Great interior defense is a staple of the Jim Calhoun era and a part of the Connecticut culture that Ollie has carried over while building the program his way.

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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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Season In Review: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by mlemaire on May 1st, 2013

Despite the fact that there was no postseason at the end of the tunnel thanks to the academic sins of those who came before them, UConn put together quite a remarkable season that should have Huskies’ fans excited about the future of their program. The year started with question marks on everything from who would play in the frontcourt to whether interim coach Kevin Ollie would become Jim Calhoun’s permanent successor. It ended with Ollie as the team’s head coach for the future and the squad winning a mildly surprising 20 games, including a 10-8 mark in Big East play, en route to somewhat of a feel-good story for coach and program. Let’s go deeper inside UConn’s season:

Preseason Expectations

The Huskies were one of the easier teams in the conference to predict but our scribes at the microsite proved at least slightly more accurate than the coaches as we pegged the Huskies to finish 8th, which is where they finished (the coaches pegged them 9th). The expectations were easy once it became clear that the team was going to play hard all season for Ollie. Many figured that their issues in the frontcourt and no prospect of the postseason would put the Huskies near the bottom of the conference. But they also understood that in Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and DeAndre Daniels, there was enough talent in place for UConn to compete with most every team if things went well — which is pretty much exactly what they did.

Shabazz Napier Was A Big Reason UConn Stayed Competitive This Season

Shabazz Napier Was A Big Reason UConn Stayed Competitive This Season

The Good

First things first, this season could have just as easily gone off the rails if the Huskies couldn’t stay motivated, so head coach Kevin Ollie deserves major kudos for the job he did with his new team and apparently the school agreed because midway through the season UConn removed the interim tag from his position. Not only did Ollie keep the team motivated (they only lost two games by more than 10 points and one was to that Louisville buzzsaw), but he helped the squad become an above-average team on both ends that was truly only hampered by its inability to rebound and defend the post. He has also already proven his recruiting chops and should continue to be a more-than-capable replacement for Calhoun. Napier (17.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.4 RPG, 44.1 FG%) became a more judicious shot-taker, an excellent free throw shooter and one of the best floor generals in the conference, setting the stage for what should be a tremendous senior season. Boatright (15.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 42.9 FG%) also saw an uptick in his numbers, although that had something to do with his more prominent role in the offense and an increase in shots attempted. If he can cut down on turnovers and improve his three-point shooting a bit, there will be little doubt which team has the best backcourt in the conference next season. But the man who showed the most improvement was sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels. A non-factor in limited minutes as a freshman (3.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 34.1 FG%), the Huskies were counting on the uber-talented sophomore to make a leap and he didn’t disappoint, averaging 12.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG while shooting better than 46 percent from the field and turning into one of the better shot-blockers in the conference. Without Daniels, the Huskies would have been lucky to win 15 games this season.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by mlemaire on August 2nd, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Connecticut.

1. It’s official; there will be no postseason play for the Huskies in 2013.

There was only one truly major story that came out of Connecticut this summer but it was a doozy. The Huskies got into hot water with the NCAA because the program’s APR score wasn’t high enough to meet NCAA standards from 2008-11. The NCAA as a result dropped a postseason ban on the program because of its lackluster APR score and the university and the program have been fighting to appeal that ban ever since.  By the middle of July, they had run out of appeals and it became official that the UConn basketball program would not be participating in any postseason tournaments next season. The logic behind the ban makes sense, but it still seems unfortunate to punish the players directly, many of whom weren’t even on the team during the years in question. It also is truly unfortunate to punish the fans of the program. I am sure Storrs will still be rocking when big names roll through town,  but it is going to be tough to stay invested and motivated in your team’s success when you know no matter how well they do, there won’t be any pot of gold at the end of this proverbial rainbow.

2. A lot of pressure falls on the young shoulders of Omar Calhoun.

There Will Be No Postseason For Jim Calhoun And His Huskies Next Season

As if the postseason ban wasn’t enough of a stomach punch, the program also watched as its two most talented players – Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond – left for the NBA; one of its captains – Alex Oriakhi – transfer because he was unhappy; and another key contributor – Roscoe Smith – transfer out so he could play small forward. Needing to replace a lot of scoring and talent, the coaching staff brought in exactly three players. There is 6-foot-10 Philip Nolan who should provide defensive support in the post but is really raw offensively. There is Leon Tolksdorf, another German recruit who at the very least should provide much needed depth to a frontcourt sorely in need of it. And then there is 6-foot-3 combo guard and New York City native Omar Calhoun. Calhoun is strong enough psychically and multi-talented enough offensively to step into a contributing role immediately. After all, he hasn’t even been on campus for more than a few months and already has held his own against arguably the program’s best player ever in a game of one-on-one. But the Big East won’t be a one-on-one scrimmage, and Calhoun will need to learn quickly, because the Huskies need a lot of help across the board especially given the scoring exodus that took place during the offseason. Calhoun has all the tools to fill some of that scoring gap right away, so he should be ready to make the most of this opportunity.

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Big East Weekly Five: 05.09.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on May 9th, 2012

  1. John Marinatto’s tumultuous three-year run as Big East commissioner ended on Monday when he tendered his resignation. Marinatto’s departure, which reportedly came at the request of member school presidents, puts the already unsteady Big East on even more tenuous ground as the newly realigned and super-sized conference may find itself once again in the cross hairs of other media exposure hungry leagues.  Joseph Bailey, III, the former CEO of the Miami Dolphins, was named interim commissioner. Expect the Big East to move quickly to name a permanent leader, and that person will have to be ready to work under pressure given the fact he or she will be faced with stabilizing the membership and bringing home an extremely important television deal this fall. Whether justified or not, Marinatto will get most of the blame publicly for the current state of the conference. The argument can certainly be made that he lacked the leadership ability and negotiation skills necessary to see the Big East through the landscape changes that faced him, but some of his presidents and so-called allies did not set Marinatto up for success when they led the refusal of a reported $1.2 billion dollar television contract extension with ESPN. That helped to put the conference in a vulnerable position when it subsequently booked to other leagues in search of bigger dollars.
  2. Notre Dame and Tim Abromaitis learned last week that the star forward will not be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility. Abromaitis, who will not appeal, appeared in just two games for the Fighting Irish last season after sitting out a four-game NCAA suspension and before suffering a season-ending ACL tear. The 6’8” Abromaitis, who averaged 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in South Bend, continues to rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee and intends to pursue a professional basketball career. Should hoops not work out, Abromaitis has solid credentials to fall back on as he holds both undergraduate and MBA degrees from Notre Dame.  Mike Brey and the Irish basketball program await a decision on another sixth-year eligibility applicant, Scott Martin, who sat out two years ago due to transfer (from Purdue) in addition to missing last season with a torn ACL of his own.
  3. Connecticut picked up some much-needed good news on the recruiting front as it gained a commitment from Phillip Nolan, a 6’10” power forward from Milwaukee. Nolan, who is ranked 118th nationally by Rivals.com, may be an under-the-radar catch as he played in just six games (transfer), averaging 12.3 points per outing, for Milwaukee’s Riverside University High School this past season. The shortened campaign came about because before enrolling at Riverside, Nolan spent his first two seasons at Vincent High School followed by stops at a pair of prep schools. Nolan will have a great opportunity at immediate playing time on the heels of the much publicized frontcourt departures of transfers Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Michael Bradley along with early NBA draft entrant Andre Drummond.
  4. Providence will enjoy ESPN’s sixth-rated recruiting class next season but Ed Cooley has refused to rest on his laurels as he continues to search for a big man to join the group. After losing out to conference rival St. John’s in the race for highly-regarded forwards JaKarr Sampson and Orlando Sanchez, this year’s recruiting crop still has a vacancy. Cooley scored a front line talent for the 2013-14 season when he received a commitment from seven-foot transfer Carson Desrosiers. Desrosiers played his first two years at Wake Forest and averaged 4.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 31 games as a part-time starter for the Demon Deacons. Desrosiers considered the Friars coming out of Massachusetts’ Central Catholic High School before opting to head south to the ACC.  He will have two years of eligibility after sitting out next season under NCAA transfer rules.
  5. In other transfer news, we noted here last week that Arizona State transfer and last year’s leading scorer Trent Lockett was fast becoming a person of high interest for Marquette. Well it seems the feeling was mutual as Lockett, a 6’4” guard who averaged 13.0 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Sun Devils as a junior, will in fact transfer to play for Buzz Williams in Milwaukee. Lockett is eligible to play for Marquette next season and will be a welcome addition to a lineup that will be looking to replace the production of the departed Darius Johnson-Odom and Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. As with Providence, Wake Forest supplied another Big East school with a transfer as guard Tony Chennault, a native Philadelphian, will be heading home to attend Villanova after two years in Winston-Salem. Chennault played 31.2 minutes per game last season, averaging 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, but elected to transfer to be closer to his mother who has been dealing with health issues. To that end, Chennault is seeking a waiver that will allow him to play for the Wildcats in the 2012-13 season.
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