Over the next few weeks we will be diagnosing some of the weaknesses and reasons behind the struggles of some Big East teams. Next up is Connecticut, losers of their last three games and five of their last seven.
When you lose someone as important to your offense and departed star Kemba Walker was to UConn’s offense, there will undoubtedly be some growing pains. But most people thought that the remaining talent on Jim Calhoun’s roster was enough to make them a viable if unlikely contender to repeat as National Champions. But now, on the heels of three straight close losses to supposedly inferior teams, some are beginning to wonder if the young Huskies have enough left in the tank to make the NCAA Tournament at all.
1. The team’s commitment to defense seems to have disappeared.
Since 2003, the Huskies have been a consistent presence among the nation’s leaders in defensive efficiency, having never ranked below #41 overall. This season they currently are ranked #80 in the country in defensive efficiency, despite having not one but two premier shot-blockers and endless amounts of length and athleticism on the wings. The team is second in the conference in field-goal percentage but dead last in the conference in three-point field goal percentage which would seem to mean that the onus is on the Huskies’ perimeter defenders to take away their opponents’ open looks. But a renewed commitment to defense will have to be a team effort. Even if Alex Oriakhi can’t get back to blocking shots at the same rate he did in the past two seasons, the Huskies will still block plenty of shots, so forcing turnovers and closing out on shooters should be two things Calhoun harps on in practice.
2. There has not been any consistent offensive post play.
When the highly touted Andre Drummond reclassified and joined UConn in time for the start of this season, pundits and fans alike began salivating over the prospect of having Drummond and Oriakhi playing alongside each other in the middle of UConn’s defense. Not only would they be a two-man block party defensively, but their simultaneous presence would make it difficult for opposing defenses to double-team either of them. Unfortunately, none of that has happened. Drummond is a difference-maker defensively and he has shown flashes offensively, but he remains inconsistent and sometimes timid.
Oriakhi probably deserves his own number in this column as this season has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for the junior captain. He was supposed to assume a larger role offensively and blossom into one of the conference’s best big men. Instead he has seen his minutes drop and as a result he is averaging a paltry 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and has posted just one double-double all season. According to KenPom, the Huskies are the eighth-tallest team in the country, so there should be no reason why they are being outrebounded by Notre Dame‘s undersized bunch.