Monday, March 31, 2008

Caron Butler with a Wow

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Meet Ater Majok

UConn is pushing hard for the services of Ater Majok, a Sudan refugee and Australian citizen. He is a 6’9 player with an incredible wingspan. He’s a hard worker and is a team player. Ater is a power forward but can slide into the center position because of his length. He committed to Baylor but withdrew his commitment when other schools showed interest. Connecticut tops his list but Kansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia all have shown interest. He is more then likely a two year player at the most. NBA scouts have already projected him as a first round pick in the 2009 draft.

UConn recruit Kemba Walker doing his thing

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top Ten UConn NBA Players

1. Caron Butler. 20.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. He’s back and hasn’t skipped a beat, carrying the Wizards into the playoffs. He’s a stronger Paul Pierce, and is playing through hip and wrist injuries. He is a double-double beast and a budding superstar.

2. Ray Allen. 18.2 points, 3.9 boards, and 3 assists. Ray has been hot and cold from outside, but he is such a versatile player and still has deceptive speed. He is a major piece to the best team in the NBA. He is underrated at the defensive end and is a lock at the free throw line.

3. Rip Hamilton. 17.7 points, 3.3 boards, and 4.2 assists. Rip is quietly having a great season. He shoots the ball so well around screens that he is nearly impossible to stop. He is battling a sore left hip and sat a game but will be rested come the playoff.

4. Rudy Gay. 19.9 points, 6.1 boards, and 1.8 assists. Now Rudy is a player, probably the best athlete of the Huskies but he gets knocked down a couple of notches for being on a losing team. He is taking an enormous amount of shots, 28 in his last game, but he makes a good percentage of those. He rebounds and can finish around the rim like no other.

5. Ben Gordon. 19.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3 assists. Gordon has resurrected his season and has found his shot, hitting 4 of 9 from three in the past three games. He has struggled on defense and with the addition of Larry Hughes.

6. Emeka Okafor. 13.2 points, 10.9 boards, and 1.7 blocks. Don’t know what’s going on with Okafor. He hasn’t been in double figures in his last four games and looks to be slowing down. There are no rumors of injury but he has played less than 27 minutes in the past few games.

7. Charlie Villanueva. 10.7 points, and 5.8 rebounds. Hurt his ankle recently but hasn’t shot the ball well as of late, 4 for 18 in his last two games, but he has rebounded well.

8. Josh Boone. 8 points, and 7.2 boards. Boone has an arm injury and has played through it. He finally hit double digits with a game against the Cavaliers.

9. Marcus Williams. 5.7 points, 2 boards, and 2.7 assists. Lawrence Frank wants to see more intensity and consistency from Williams, and only played him for 4 minutes in his last ballgame.

10. Hilton Armstrong. 2.9 points and 2.4 rebounds. What’s going on with Armstrong? He has a total of 13 minutes in his last three games, with 3 points and 2 rebounds.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Game Over

This one was tough to swallow. UConn has had problems defending smaller and quicker teams all year starting with Morgan State, Northeastern, Central Florida, Providence, West Virginia, and now San Diego. Its one thing to be a big team and play big and another to be big but play small. You must enforce your will upon the opposing team, attacking inside, piling on the fouls, and using your size to your advantage. But UConn couldn’t find ways to get their big men involved. The most perplexing problem that UConn has faced all year was in their man to man defense. The pick and roll ate them alive all year, freeing up space for clear looks at the basket and easy driving lanes.

You’d think that if UConn lost this game then San Diego shot lights out from downtown, but they only hit 4 three pointers. It was the mid-range game that carved the pups up. Reminiscent of the Providence and West Virginia game, Pomare playing the role of Joe Alexander and McDermott, carved the interior of UConn’s defense and led to their downfall. Maybe this game would have been different if the cruel basketball gods didn’t inflict a curse upon A.J. Price. Hasn’t he suffered enough. But this team had to much talent sprinkled throughout the roster to easily hand San Diego a loss.

The more I see these mid-majors play these talented NBA caliber college teams, it reminds me of the USA teams versus international squads. Sure on paper USA should be able to put away the less athletic squads they face, but they have problems when faced with teams that have competed together for several years and play fundamentally sound basketball.

While on paper UConn didn’t do that bad offensively. The guards hit 11 of 29 and the big men hit 14 of 24. They weren’t three point happy and made the few they shot. They got to the line 20 times and hit 16 of those. Though they were a little erratic with shot selection, they distributed the ball well and hit the majority of their shots. The loss boiled down to not stopping the other team. Pomare, Jones, and Johnson hit 24 of 46 shots and they took 7 more shots than UConn.

There’s two ways of looking at this season. One is that they over achieved and made it into the tournament or that they underachieved and got knocked out early by an inferior opponent. I believe its somewhere in the middle. They just peaked at the wrong time. Just ask Duke. If the tournament came after the first Providence loss then this team would be knocking on UCLA’s door. They just couldn’t find an answer to anyone defensively and the blame goes across the board. Next year they must find the answer to the pick and roll, which they had none last year, and play with the defender, not trailing after him. Maybe when the three point line gets extended it will help solve this dilemma. Or it could exasperate it, drawing the big men even farther out and leaving tractor trailer size lanes to the basket. Either way, I would like to see UConn utilize the zone more. They need to make teams earn the win by hitting the outside shot and keep the lanes filled.

Credit Dyson in this game. Here is a kid with about one percent confidence in his outside shot and when Price went down with his torn ACL, the pressure to score fell on his shoulders. He did what he knew he had to do, take the ball to the basket. He caused a few offensive fouls, but he kept attacking and was rewarded with fouls, sinking them all down the stretch. Without him this game would have been over with 5 minutes to play.

This loss hurts but not like the George Mason one. Sure this team should’ve beat San Diego and possibly Western Kentucky, but that’s where most people saw the Husky express stop. Unlike the talented team two years ago, this one wasn’t there yet. Now next year, and with the unlikely but still possible return of Thabeet, this team will be expected to make the Final Four. Just hope they don’t meet any mid-majors on the way.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

George Mason Jitters

UConn’s post season is about to be underway and looking back on the regular season, they have been a little inconsistent with their play. Some nights they are hitting the outside shot, others the big men were having their way, a few they both were working, and some neither were. UConn’s most inconsistency has been from the defensive end. They have let players score in bucket loads. Their 68.6 points allowed a game is about middle of the pack in the conference, San Diego’s is 63.4. And Connecticut’s lack of figuring the match up zone gets them frustrated and prone to turnovers.

For the pups to go deep into this tournament, they’ll need a few things to happen. Adrien and Price will need to make plays. Austrie and Wiggins have to hit one or two threes with good percentages. Thabeet needs to stay out of foul trouble and get fouled. Stanley has to be hunting for offensive boards. Dyson needs to attack the rim and not turn the ball over. And lastly, defend the three point line. If they do these things, then they can take on any team in the bracket, even UCLA. They have shown that this can be done in the Cincinnati game. The talent is there but the confidence isn’t yet. Once they find that, then this team is a title contender.

A few things they need to concentrate on in this upcoming game is containing Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare. De’Jon Jackson is an emerging scorer and led the team in points, with 24 points and 16, in 2 of the last 3 games. UConn is the stronger and deeper team and must flex their muscle inside with second chance points and easy put backs. The pressure will be on the guards. They need to fight through screens and not let shooters have clear looks at the basket. Their hands need to be up at all times, playing tight, and giving up the drive to the basket to funnel the ball towards Thabeet.

I think I’m having George Mason jitters facing these small schools with deadly shooters. This team is totally different than the one that was here last but that bad taste still lingers. They have heart and play hard, but they lack that one element to push them to the next level. Be it as it may, I’ll take the All-American point guard and the 7 foot 3 blocking machine.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Preview of UConn Versus San Diego

The chips fell the right way in the Big East Tournament and UConn didn’t drop down in the seeding department. They fell into a bracket that pits them against the San Diego Toreros. They are led by a talented point guard, Brandon Johnson, a 6-foot junior. He is a thief and led his conference in steals with 74. UConn must be able to control the boards, unlike the West Virginia game, and to do that they need to put a body on Gyno Pomare, who is averaging 7.4 boards a game. He isn’t just a monster on the boards, but also puts in around 13 points a game.

Connecticut has the advantage in almost every department. The only weapon that San Diego can use to pull this upset off is to drain the three ball and that brings you back to Brandon Johnson, who drained 74 threes, about half the teams, this season. This team is capable of the upset, as seen against Gonzaga, and the pups shouldn’t overlook this team. UConn needs to attack the zone effectively and have total control of the glass and second chance opportunities. San Diego has nothing to lose and that places the pressure squarely on UConn’s shoulders. But in the end UConn should move on.

Welcome back and Happy Birthday Caron Butler!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Recap and post game comments of West Virginia loss

How not to defend the mid-range jumper

Credit Alexander but the lack of a double team or putting a body on this star player cost them the game.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Exit Stage Left

The dreaded drought strikes again, but this time it hit UConn in the second half. They couldn’t buy a basket and it culminated with Adrien’s missed dunk. They played sloppy and haven’t been able to figure out the zone all year long. The big men aren’t getting themselves in position for entry passes, the guards are turning the ball over that led to easy fast break opportunities, they let a smaller team out rebound them by 16, and they couldn’t shoot over the zone. They relied to heavily on their outside shooting and couldn’t defend without fouling, half of West Virginia’s second half points came from the line . On top of all that, they gave another player their career high.

Price couldn’t find a shot in the second half, and ended his day going 5 for 13, with 10 of his 22 points coming from the free throw line. Austrie also had a bad shooting night. Only 1 of his 7 shots were from inside the arch. He needs to mix up his game. His free throw shooting is his greatest asset and he failed to get there. He needs to take the ball to the tin more. Wiggins had a solid game, hitting 3 of 4, only 1 foul, and didn’t turn the ball over. He is putting together a stretch of good games. Dyson needs to take over the team offensively, especially in the second half of games. He played well, 2 of 3 from the field, 3 steals, and got to the line. He had a tough task of guarding Alexander and he fouled way to much. He also needs to take better care of the ball, having a team high 3 turnovers.

Robinson has improved so much that a 11 point, 3 boards, and 2 block performance is lackluster. UConn needed him big time in the rebounding department and he couldn’t find the ball. His game is fueled by his tenacity on the boards and he just didn’t have a good game in that department.

Thabeet had trouble with how the referees were calling the game, but he did battle hard in the paint. West Virginia stayed away from the inside game and pulled him away as much as they could. He still had 6 boards, 3 of those were offensive. Adrien just couldn’t find a rhythm, and only got to the line twice. He had trouble rebounding and fighting the crowded Mountaineers in the paint. Without much inside presence, the pressure on scoring fell on the guards, and that isn’t UConn’s strength.

Gavin saw some playing time and had 1 point, 2 fouls, and 1 turnover in 8 minutes. Calhoun will shorten his bench this time of year, and barring some serious foul trouble, he won’t rely on Mandeldove, Beverly, and Gavin for serious minutes.

It was another sloppy, poorly executed game against the zone. What is amazing is that they were in control throughout the first half, even with Alexander’s excellent shooting, but once the second half opened, they choked. It is at these moments of offensive lulls that they should attack the basket, but they settled for outside shots. The loss should sting and drop their seeding a bit come selection time. They need to regroup, find ways to attack the zone, and protect the basketball. The loss doesn’t look as bad since Louisville and Notre Dame also lost. Connecticut is going to see this match up zone again, and they are going to need to figure it out quickly or its game over.

West Virginia and UConn Basketball Lowlights

Monday, March 10, 2008

Forty perfect minutes

Talk about a bounce back game, UConn practically bounced out of Gampel pavilion. They had all phases of their game going right from the opening tip. Their perimeter defense was stifling, they shot better than 50% from three, made 25 of 30 free throws, grabbed 48 boards, 13 offensive, blocked 13 shots, and did it without a player shooting more than 11 shots. Simply amazing. This wasn’t against a terrible team either. This is a team on the bubble for their NCAA lives, and that bubble just popped. Another incredible thing was that everyone in the game scored and contributed in the win.

Price wasn’t dominate, but distributed the offense well, dishing out 6 dimes, hitting a three, and playing great defense. He was able to get into lanes and find the big men. Austrie bounced back from his horrible showing against Providence and shot well, 3 out of 5. He also had 5 assists to 0 turnovers, 5 boards, and made 7 out of 7 from the charity stripe. Wiggins’ shot is improving in every game. He hit 2 of 3 from three and didn’t force himself into precarious situations. He ran the break well and found the open man.

Dyson took it hard to the basket at every possible chance and had a solid evening. It is going to be important that Dyson gets going and that falls on the shoulders of the point guards. They need to make an emphasis on finding him in scoring situations. He played great perimeter defense, hit a three and pulled down 7 boards. He is finding ways to contribute in his limited role.

Stanley continues to mature as a player. He connected on all his threes and free throws, grabbed 8 boards, blocked 2 shots, and had 2 assists. His pull up jumper is becoming a consistent weapon and he is playing stellar defense. If he continues this pace, then teams are going to stop doubling the big men and that will set the table for the rest of the team.

Thabeet is a beast, blocking 8 more shots and setting records. He is showing more offensive prowess with a mid-range jumper and hook shot. He has been battling hard on the boards lately and pulled down 8 rebounds. You know when it is your night when Adrien hits a three ball. He didn’t rebound like he normally does and only garnered 5 boards, but he played solid man to man, blocked 2 shots, and had 2 steals.

This was the night of the bench. Beverly, Mandeldove and Edwards all grabbed minutes and scored. Gavin led the way with 9 points, 4 boards, and 1 assist. The Dove scored a point and pulled down 2 boards. Beverly made a jumper, had a block, and grabbed 3 boards.

This game, though an anomaly, scratches the surface on what UConn’s potential can be. With superb defense and a reliable outside game, this team can go deep in the tournament. They’ll play this Thursday at 2, against the winner of the West Virginia and Providence game. Connecticut doesn’t want to have an early exit from the tournament. Not only do they have a Big East championship to play for, but they also have a chance to move up a seed or two. And the way the Big East has played so far this year, the crown is up for grabs.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Spitting out checks

Sloppy. Not even Louisville’s deadly guards have done what Providence has been able to do to UConn. They were able to pressure the ball, close the seams, and keep Uconn’s guards from getting into the paint. Connecticut forced the ball into closely defended big men and gave the Friars 15 steals. They also played out of control and undecided when driving, creating several traveling calls. While the shot distribution was about right, the shot selection was atrocious. To many time they were playing one on one basketball and didn’t move the zone with passes. While this win is a setback, it will only hurt their overall seeding in the tournament. But it proves that this team has a long way to go, like keep quiet and play a solid 40 minutes of basketball.

Price had a horrible game, turning the ball over and forcing things. Don’t tempt the basketball gods. It usually always falls the other way. The tougher Providence players were able to keep Price from the lane, and to many times, the lengthy arms of Xavier, Efejuku, and Mckenzie knocked his passes away. Austrie was right there with Price. He went 1 for 11, 0 for 5 from three, 4 turnovers and 1 assist. Wiggins shot the ball well, 4 for 7, but had to many out of control plays. Dyson had his best game since returning, though a little lackadaisical on the perimeter defense, but he shot 3 for 5, 1 assist to 0 turnovers. He should have took over the game in the second half.

Robinson was all over the place, grabbing 8 boards, making all his free throws, getting a steal, hitting some threes, and having no turnovers. He was UConn’s best player out there and is starting to find his stride and swagger. The only knock against him in this game is that he gave his man a lane to the basket.

Thabeet found a hook shot. He had a solid night with 13 boards, 7 offensive, 6 blocks, got to the floor for loose balls, had 16 points and made all his free throws. He was taking a beating out there and still produced, a promising sign. Adrien should burn the tape on the offensive side, minus that wicked one-handed put back. He battled on the boards for 7 but had 6 costly turnovers. He was abused by McDermott and has problems defending players with an outside shot.

There was a Mandeldove sighting but came in and got yanked early for a defensive mistake. Edwards had 9 minutes and held his own but didn’t contribute much on offense. He didn’t even pull down a board.

You must credit Providence for making the shots down the stretch, shooting 58% from the field in the second half. If there is a silver lining it is that after Providence beat UConn in the first game, they went on that long winning streak. It would be perfect if they could duplicate that. To do that Adrien and Price will need to play better and not go a combined 8 for 24 with 12 turnovers. Though Thabeet and Robinson are the x-factor, if Price and Adrien can’t get it done, then it will be a short postseason. Oh, and don’t run your yapper.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Big East Power Rankings

1. Louisville. This team has the best chance to make it the farthest in the tournament. They have the best wing players in the Big East. Derrick Caracter, Terrence Williams and Earl Clark make it hard to match up. The only knock is that they don’t have a player in the top 30 in scoring.

2. Georgetown. I hope they haven’t used up all their luck. They might need some in the tournament, playing so close to the vest. They make the game about execution. Their strategy is to limit your possessions and play solid defense and they do. Credit that they make the plays when they have to and they have had to.

3. Connecticut. Solid season put together by UConn. They have far exceeded everyone’s, but themselves, expectations. Price has emerged as the best point guard in the league and has 175 assists, the most in the league. He is also tied for 13th in scoring with his teammate Jeff Adrien, at 15 points a game.

4. Marquette. After stumbling in the middle of their season, Marquette and Dominic James put together a string of victories. A team like this, with a talented back court, can do some damage in the tournament.

5. Notre Dame. This team would be National Champs if they played their tournament games at home, but they’re not. They are a different team on the road and haven’t been able to slay an upper echelon team while away. Harangody is clearly the best player in the league, but this team rides on Mcalarney’s shooting.

6. West Virginia. Joe Alexander is sneaky athletic and Ruoff can hit the three. They will be dangerous in the tournament. They are missing a piece or two to be able to match up against bigger and stronger teams.

7. Pittsburgh. There is no other freshman that I believe will be a better pro then DeJuan Blair. He is already a man and will be getting stronger. He scores 12 a game and pulls down 9.3 rebounds a game. Sam Young is a scorer at 18 a game. They just haven’t found that streak yet, winning one then losing two.

8. Syracuse. They had their chance to punch their ticket to the tournament after the Georgetown game. They just needed to knock off either Louisville, Notre Dame, or Pittsburgh, but they lost them all. They are scary athletic, but young and not playing much defense.

9. Villanova. They made a valiant effort at the end of the year, but the loss to Marquette might have shut the door. To bad because Scottie Reynolds is having a fantastic sophomore year.

10. Cincinnati. They started the season beating Louisville, but sputtered down the stretch. They do have some quality wins though. Deonta Vaughn, and Jamual Warren are playing some great ball.

11. Seton Hall. They are a talented offensive team but haven’t put together any semblance of defense. Brian Laing and Eugene Harvey have logged the most minutes in the league and score a ton, but it wasn’t enough to string together some victories.

12. Providence. They had their chance to make some noise but couldn’t put anything together after the win at UConn. They’ve been battling hard but can’t stop teams. They have great potential at the wing positions but they haven’t put a solid 40 minutes in.

13. DePaul. They came out with some gusto in the first half of conference play but faded down the stretch. This team is young and missing a few parts, but has potential.

14. St. John’s. They just don’t have a player that has stepped up and won games. Eugene Lawrence is having a decent senior year. They need lots of pieces.

15. USF. It is a shame that USF couldn’t do better with the season that Gransberry is putting together. 16.5 points a game and 11 rebounds. They just haven’t had that complement for him.

16. Rutgers. They have a promising future with JR Inman, Corey Chandler, and Hamady Ndiaye. They remind me of UConn’s team last year. They have the best chance of the bottom tier teams to rebound next year.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Temperature Rising

With the season winding down and the Big East standings clustered at the top, it was vital that UConn hold serve and win out. West Virginia is a tricky team to play, with their excellent outside shooting and the deceptive athletic ability of Joe Alexander, but UConn put together one of their best outside shooting performances and a stifling perimeter defense effort. West Virginia had to fight for every shot and only hit 7 out of 20 from three, while UConn put together a stellar 9 for 15 showing. If they can consistently hit the three, then this team can be very dangerous.

Price set the sprinkler system off at the XL center, hitting 5 of 8 from three, 4 of 4 from the line, and had 24 points. He was everywhere, slicing into lanes for pull up jumpers, spotting up for three in transition, and running around picks for jump shots. Though he had only 2 assists, he was so hot from outside that setting up his teammates was a second option. Austrie is a rock, he gives you that outside threat, knocks down free throws, and protects the weak side. Wiggins finally put together a good game, hitting a three, running the break effectively, grabbing 2 boards, and dishing out 6 assists to no turnovers. All that in only 11 minutes.

Dyson just isn’t comfortable with the new transition. He is a shooter but isn’t shooting. He played 15 minutes and only took 1 shot, had no free throws, no rebounds, and only 3 turnovers. He doesn’t want to rock the boat, but he needs to be effective. He should be shooting at least 5 to 10 shots when in the game 15 or more minutes. He did play excellent perimeter defense, but his contribution should be instant offense when off the bench.

Robinson has come into his own. He had his shot going, hitting 5 of 9, 2 of 3 from three, pulled down 5 boards, 2 offensive, and didn’t turn the ball over. He was able to create his own shot and his jump shot has become a reliable weapon. The only knock is that he didn’t get the line. With his ability to drive to the basket and battling in the paint, he should be getting to the line more.

Thabeet had another sub-par game and didn’t even take a shot, most likely with that 0 for 7 performance the other night still fresh on his mind. But for a 7-foot-3 man to not have taken a shot against a smaller team is disconcerting. Not only that but to only pull down 2 boards. He did only play half the game, but he needs to be more assertive and not care if he misses shots or turns the ball over. Adrien gave the team what he always gives UConn, an aggressive always hustling performance. He attacks the basket when the ball is in his hands and goes up strong. He got to the line, 14 times and is finishing off plays when there. He grabbed 10 boards and had a spectacular block.

Gavin played excellent when coming in for Thabeet in the first. He showed great hands in catching bullet passes and finished plays around the rim. He got to the line, rebounded, blocked 2 shots, and stole 2 more. He will be a player when Thabeet leaves. Mandeldove had an appearance, and in his 5 minutes, he pulled down 2 boards.

It is important that UConn finishes the season strong and not slip in the rankings or in seeding. They are playing for that bye in the Big East tournament and have the edge, because they have beaten Louisville, Marquette, and Notre Dame. If they win out, then they will get that all important bye, but also get that 4th seed or possibly better. Up next for the pups is the rematch against Providence. So far the huskies have bettered their opponents in rematches in which they have lost in the first game. This will be a great barometer in seeing how much their perimeter defense and offense has improved since that game 2 months ago.