Monday, December 31, 2012

Andre Drummond Dunks on Bucks



UConn Highlights vs. Washington

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dog Eat Dog


Every time UConn plays Washington, it brings back the memories of instant classics, but alas this wasn’t one of them.  Both teams struggled mightily with their jumpers and the halfcourt sets looked out of sync.  Kevin Ollie, just inking a brand new five year contract, has instilled into this team a defensive mindset and that was more than evident.  UConn turned Washington over 13 times and held their own on the boards, actually winning that battle by four.  It was that defensive intensity that won this game.  They had no right winning this game, turning the ball over 17 times, hitting only 2 of  14 from deep, and missing 10 free throws. They left the door open numerous times for Washington to take over the game, but UConn deserves credit for locking down defensively and making just enough plays to stretch the lead to three or four possessions.

It was a strange game for Napier.  He took numerous bad 3-pointers that led to points at the other end.  His only offense was a steal & lay-up, a 3-pointer, a jumper, and 3 trips to the line.  The good thing was that he was playing downhill and creating pressure on the defense.  Unfortunately he was making poor decisions in crowds and had a whopping 7 turnovers.  His defense was amazing though and Washington’s size was out dueled by his speed and agility.  He just needs to find a better flow to his game, because at times it seems like he is swimming upstream in these games.

Boatright’s night started out strong, hitting an early jumper, but he got into early foul trouble which limited his impact.  He again came out strong and hit an up & under lay-up, had a back-door lay-up, but then struggled to find his offense for the majority of the second half.  He had some bad turnovers, took some horrible shots, and let his man find easy lanes to the basket, but when the team needed a play, he sank a jumper and got to the line to stretch out that lead again.  He’s been the offensive cog to this team for the majority of the month and when he struggles to find points, the team flounders, especially in the half court sets.

Calhoun's night began with two clanks from the free throw line but it didn’t affect his mindset.  He came right back with a lay-up and a sweet push-shot in the first half, but he was just getting started.  In the second half, he hit a baseline jumper, had a nice pass, played great defense, had two lay-ups, a jumper, and sank both his free throws.  This is the impact that this team needs from him each and every outing.  The game has slowed down for him and he isn’t rushing things or turning the ball over at an incredible clip.  Evans came in and gave the team a nice spark, getting two lay-ups, snagging two steals and playing solid defense. He did have a bad pass and missed his two attempts at the line, but his instant energy to the team is so important and a great weapon off the bench.

Daniels had a solid game.  He hit a nice mid-ranged jumper, had a nice cut to the basket for a lay-up, hit his free throws, had a hustle block, hit an elbow jumper, and sank an important 3-pointer to put some wind back into UConn’s sails, but on a freak play he hit his chin on the hardwood and needed help getting off the floor.  This team needs him and his loss would put a lot of pressure on the already weak frontcourt.  Giffey had little impact on this game other than an offensive rebound.  He needs to do a better job of moving without the ball.  Nolan got some playing time and hit 3 of 4 from the line, but needs to provide something in the rebounding department.

There is no telling which Enosch Wolf that Kevin Ollie is going to get.  In this game it was the one that plays with effort, goes after the ball, runs the break, and makes positive plays.  He didn’t score until late in the second half on a loud dunk that ignited the crowd, but he made his impact early and often on hustle plays and carving out space on the glass.  That is the key to his game and he needs to focus solely on that.  Olander got the start and struggled to establish position on the block and gave up a free throw rebound.  He did sink two free throws, but again could only muster 2 rebounds in 17 minutes.

This was an important win heading into Big East play.  Washington is the type of team that they are going to face in the Big East.  Big and strong guards and legitimate frontcourt size and UConn was up to the challenge.  The good sign was that they were able to win a game without relying on their jumper and they did so convincingly.  They did it on the backs of their defense and aggressiveness on the offensive end.  They have a lot to clean up, but this team is playing extremely hard which is night in day from the way they looked heading into Big East play last year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Work in Progress


Fordham did everything wrong against UConn in the first half.  They turned the ball over time after time which fueled UConn’s best weapon, the fast break.  The Huskies turned those turnovers into 21 of their whopping 57 first half points.  It also helped that UConn hit eight 3-pointers in that half and blew the doors off this game.  But then the second half happened.  Fordham settled down, started making jumpers, getting second & third chances on the offensive glass, and kept UConn in the half court sets.  The Huskies' jumpers soon dried up and that once 32 point lead started to whittle down until it looked like a paltry 13.  But it was too big of a hole to climb out of and UConn made enough plays down the stretch to pull off the victory, but to get beat so badly on the boards and to be outscored by 14 points in the second half put a bad taste to this 15 point victory.

Napier had a really good game, he wasn’t shooting the 3-ball at an alarming rate, taking only 5 of his 11 shots from the arc.  He also had a better handle on the basketball, only having one turnover while doling out 4 dimes.  The amazing stat was his rebounding, 7, which is a great sign, but unfortunately that was the team high.  If your point guard is your leading rebounder that means your frontcourt isn’t getting it done.  His defense was causing problems all night and had 4 steals that lead to easy fast break points.

Boatright came out to a scorching start, making 2 lay-ups, a dunk, two 3-pointers, 2 jumpers, and 4 free throws, but like UConn, his offense struggled in the second half only mustering 1 jumper, 1 lay-up, and 2 free throws.  What really marred his night was his turnovers, 6, which were more than the rest of the team combined.  Even though he had some turnover problems, he distributed the ball extremely well, having 9 assists.  Like Napier, his on the ball defense was impressive and turned 3 steals into fast break points.

Omar Calhoun carried over his solid play from the previous two games and has turned the corner on his season.  He didn’t shy away from taking shots, hit some early jumpers, didn’t turn the ball over, and made plays in the second half.  He’s finally found confidence in his game to assert himself on the offense side of the ball.  He now needs to do the little things like get to the line more, attack the offensive glass, and create steals.   R.J. Evans was able to get some playing time in this game and it looked like that sore shoulder wasn’t bothering him at all.  He hit a rare 3-pointer, had 3 steals and 3 lay-ups.  He adds those under the radar contributions to this team and when he isn’t playing, it shows.

DeAndre Daniels had a frustrating night.  It started out great with him hitting a jumper and a dunk in the first 3 minutes of the game, but then he missed four jumpers before he scored again, which was in the middle of the second half.  This team needed him in the paint and battling for boards, but he only had 3 which isn’t going to cut it.  He needs to hover around 6 to 10 each and every game.  Giffey had a sub-par game.  He did hit a nice elbow jumper, but didn’t contribute much other than a rebound, an assist, and 2 steals.  This team needs him to rebound better than he has so far this year.

Enosch Wolf got the start, but he wasn’t playing the way Ollie wanted him to and he only played 8 minutes.  He struggled on the boards, only snagging one.  If he wants to maintain his starting job then he needs to focus solely on the boards.  Olander’s frustrating season continued.  He is having a hard time finding the bottom of the net and boxing out opponents for defensive boards.  He did have 6 rebounds, but numerous times opponents got offensive rebounds on him.  This frontcourt is struggling mightly and for them only to muster 7 boards in 25 minutes just isn’t going to cut it.  Might as well go all small with this team instead of banging a square peg in a round hole.

It’s hard to gauge this team.  They look great in stretches, have taken out an elite squad already, are obviously frontcourt deficient, but have such a strong backcourt that they can match up with anyone in the country.  So heading into the end of non-conference play there are still plenty of questions left to this team.  The frontcourt isn’t going to become a weapon and they are going to have to lean on the wing players to contribute much more to overcome the lack of a power forward and center position that are role players asked to be more than that, but for now it is a work in progress.


   

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Shore Thing



On a night with heavy hearts, UConn jumped out to a quick lead against a Maryland-Eastern Shore team without a win yet this season, hitting a couple of jumpers and finding ways to get to the rim, but their defense struggled to contain Spencer and Mays.  They found ways to score easy baskets near the rim and slowly chipped away at the double digit lead, but when UConn's jumpers are falling, it is tough to beat them and they were able to push the lead to eight by the end of the half.  It only took UConn three minutes to rattle off 11 points to start the second half and Maryland-Eastern Shore went frigid from the field, making this game a laugher. UConn then made 17 straight points to extend the lead to well over thirty.  Even in this lopsided victory, they were still out rebounded and the Hawks aren’t a juggernaut in that department, which leaves fans scratching their heads, especially considering that with UConn's great shooting percentage that there wasn't many defensive rebounds for the taking for the opponent to tally rebounds.

Napier is becoming a true pass first point guard.  He wasn't looking for his shot, only taking four field goals, and has put back-to-back solid assists numbers together.  He did have some problems controlling the ball, dribbling a few times off his feet, but he’s becoming more of a floor general out there, especially since his other guards had their jumpers working.

Boatright had his best offensive game of the season and had his whole arsenal working from the outside shot, getting to the line, snagging rebounds, and getting his first dunk of the year.  He’s still taking too many 3-pointers, 6 of his 10 shots and needs to drive more, but they were falling for him.  This could be that breakthrough game that he needed to get his jumper corrected, but only time will tell.  It was also great to see Calhoun get his game back on track.  He was more confident out there, taking more shots than he normally takes. Unlike other games, he came out in the second half and made an early impact, knocking down 3-pointers, not turning the ball over, fouling on defense and got to the line.  Too many times, he fades away from the offense when Napier becomes more aggressive or the game is close, but he looked more comfortable in asserting himself in this game.

DeAndre Daniels was coming off a career game versus Harvard and backed it up with a solid outing.  His outside shot wasn’t dropping but he thrived around the rim for several lay-ups.  He also got to the line, rebounded okay, and had a couple of blocks.  It wasn't his best rebounding performance by a long shot, but he is still showing a maturity to his game that few UConn wing players have shown at this stage of their careers.  What has happened to Olander?  It is reminiscent to what Oriakhi went through last year.  He just isn’t rebounding like he needs to and the team is suffering because of it.  All you need to know is that he didn’t even get one board in his 12 minutes of play.  He is such an important piece to this team that if he isn't contributing in the rebounding department than they have no shot of winning the battle on the boards.

Enosch Wolf got the start but Ollie tinkered with a more smaller line-up on the court, so the big German only played 13 minutes. He still had 4 rebounds and 1 block in his limited role, not bad. Giffey had a good performance, getting a couple of lay-ups, knocking down a jumper and doing an adequate job on the boards, though he could focus a bit more there.  Tolksdorf was able to get precious minutes in this game and was able to shake off a bit of rust.  He hit a 3-pointer, actually knocked down a free throw, had some nice passes, snagged 2 boards, and had 2 steals.  This was by far the best game of his short career.  Phillip Nolan also was able to get some valuable playing time and made a nice jumper and got a lay-up, and had a dunk late when he should’ve ran out the clock instead.Ollie gave R.J. Evans the game off to rest his aching shoulder.

It was great to see UConn shoot the ball so well, but if they are so dependent on the jumper for points then they’ll have trouble finding consistent offense and when it works early for this team, they tend to keep shooting until the well is thoroughly dry, often times losing leads they could have sustained if they were more aggressive.  Sure it worked against Maryland-Eastern Shore, but against more talented squads, it won't have the same outcome.  They’ll need to be a more slash and gash team and find ways to get to the line.  But for now they can enjoy this win, heal some heavy hearts across this state, and find a way to move on.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Alumni Profile: A.J. Price


Looking Back: A.J. Price was mired on the Pacers bench for much of season.  He played well when he got some playing time, but didn’t do anything to warrant more than a minor role and when the Pacers went into the playoffs, Price barely played.  He was let go of the organization at the end of the year and found a nice home with the Washington Wizards.  It was a nice fit for him because it will allow him some valuable playing time on a team desperate for some continuity.

The Good: Price has done a good enough job of shooting the basketball that defenders must respect it.   He’s also been reliable on both ends of the court and has been relatively healthy.  He’s got some grittiness in him and doesn’t shy away from physical play.

The Bad: He doesn’t do anything great but does a lot of things well.  He also plays at a slower speed than other point guards.  He doesn’t have a great first step and has to rely on his jumper for the majority of his offense.  He hasn’t shown the greatest maturity, as seen in a Youtube clip of him making funny faces at Hansborough.

Looking Ahead: Price has found a nice home in Washington and will get the opportunity to showcase his skills.  If he plays well there than he can parlay that into a career much like that of Kevin Ollie, but his role of a back up point guard or starter that is constantly looking over his shoulder is probably the ceiling of his career.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Possessions


UConn got out to a perfect start on the backs of Boatright, Daniels, and Wolf.  The defense created turnovers and turned them into points on the other end, but it didn’t last long. Harvard flipped the tables on the Huskies.  UConn started turning the ball over, creating back-to-back empty possessions, and Harvard started knocking down threes that ate into UConn’s once big lead.  The Huskies did what they have done for much of this season, scratch and claw their way to a victory.  The most disturbing aspect of this game was the rebounding margin.  Sure UConn has struggled all year in rebounding, but against Harvard, UConn would finally be the bigger team and yet they were out rebounded by 7.  They just don’t put a body on a man when the ball goes in the air and they can’t have Olander and Wolf end the game with just 2 rebounds in forty minutes.

Sure Napier wasn’t scoring points, but unlike other games, he was contributing in other ways.  He was getting others involved with great passes, was the best rebounder on the team which is a bit disconcerting, and he was playing ball hawking defense, snatching 4 steals.  Other than just 6 points, this is the Napier we are used to seeing.  He needs to be more of a floor general than what he has shown in prior games and he really limited his turnovers.

Boatright turned around his poor shooting from the N.C. State game and came out on fire, hitting those mid-ranged shots that he needs to his game.  He still took a bit too many 3-pointers, 5 of his 11 shots, and needs to get to the line more than he has, just one attempt.  He has the speed to beat his defenders and the strength to play through contact.  Calhoun had a freshman like game.  He couldn’t find the bottom of the basket, missing all his shots, didn’t get to the line, had 3 horrible turnovers, and could only contribute on the boards and defense.  Fans need patience with him.  He’s playing primarily in the three guard lineup and isn’t the primary ball handler. He only has a limited amount of plays to make his impact offensively and those aren’t dropping for him right now.

This game belonged to DeAndre Daniels.  He played a career game.  It started with a few lay-ups and he started getting confidence in his game.  He soon was hitting outside shots and getting to the line.  This could be the breakout game that he had shown glimpses of in the pre-season.  He’s got such a well rounded game right now and he still has a lot more room to grow.  Giffey had a strange game.  He struggled in the first half to find his rhythm, but book ended UConn’s run that sealed the game with two rare dunks.  He still needs to rebound better, just one.

Wolf deserved the start and got the team started with easy baskets but then disappeared.  He struggled defensively in the is game and was afraid of creating contact defensively.  He needs to use his 7-1 frame to clog up those driving lanes and send some of those slashing guards to the line instead of easy lay-ups.  He also didn’t get a single rebound all game which is unacceptable.  Olander matched Wolf’s play with 4 points but at least he had 2 boards.  R.J. Evans only played 7 minutes and only managed a personal foul.  He couldn’t find those patented lay-ups that he has been able to show in his limited minutes.

This is what this team is.  They are a team that is going to give their opponents more rebounds, no matter size, athleticism, or talent.  If they are going to counteract that rebounding margin then they need to create more possessions by winning the turnover battle.  In the end it is all about possessions and UConn won that battle getting 3 more looks at the basket than Harvard.  It should have been more, but this team is still searching for the right combination of consistent role players and it seems to shift in and every game.  Until they can find some bench consistency then they are going to have games like this.  So take a deep breath, put on some easy listening music, because this UConn team is going to be in tight ball games for much of this season.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Identity Crisis

This was a tough loss.  UConn came out of the gates strong, playing aggressive basketball, attacking the seams, and hitting their jumpers but as soon as they got a comfortable lead, they relaxed and became indecisive, letting N.C. State slowly creep back into the game.  Once the Wolfpack seized the lead, UConn began settling for the easy 3-pointers.  Sure UConn was out manned in the front court and N.C. State's forwards were getting second and third opportunities at the basket, but UConn lost this game because they failed to understand who and what they do best.  They have great slashing guards that can break their defenders down one on one, they are great free throw shooters, and they play solid defense.  Instead of playing down hill and creating contact, they settled for the easy and low percentage shots.  This team should always have more free throw attempts than 3-point attempts but it wasn't even close, ending the game with 11 free throw attempts to a whopping 23 3-point attempts. That's the game right there.

It looked like Michigan State all over again when Napier started the game aggressive, hitting several open shots, getting fouled on an offensive rebound, and playing tight defense, but those jumpers dried up in the second half and he never adjusted.  He had some costly turnovers that led to points and a momentum swing that UConn couldn't get back, but other than a couple of steals that he turned into lay-ups, his second half performance was near to non-existent.

Boatright's first half was quiet, hitting a mid-ranged jumper, and turning a steal into a lay-up, but he carried the team in the second half.  He started with a floater/bank shot, creating a steal then lay-up, dishing out a nice pass, getting into the lane for another floater, hitting another lay-up, and then sinking two 3-pointers.  He just didn't get much help in the second half to get UConn over the edge and get the lead, but he was the only one remaining aggressive.

Calhoun had a flat out bad game.  It looked good with an early 3-pointer and getting to the line, but after that  he had some costly turnovers and looked lost within the offense.  He did play quality defense and helped out on the boards, but this team needs more than 5 points from him.  Evans looked much better and was active early on with a nice steal but missed two easy baskets in the first half, but he did get two lay-ups in the second half, with one coming against the zone.  He is very creative in traffic and outplayed Napier in much of the second half.

It was a struggle for much of the night for Daniels.  He had a 3-pointer in the first half, but was a turnover machine in the second half, traveling on key possessions that swung the momentum back in N.C. State's direction.  He had a tough order though, going up against one of the most talented big men in C.J. Leslie, but this team needs more than one rebound from Daniels.  This might signal the changing of the guard for Olander.  He started the game but then sat out much of the first half and it wasn't because of foul trouble, only having 1 the entire game.  He missed some defensive assignments and was out of position for rebounds on several occasions.  He was a non-factor the entire game.

Wolf on the other hand was amazing.  He hit a sweet hook shot, created a steal that he gave right back, had an offensive rebound tip-in, a layup, a 15-footer, and an amazing offensive rebound off-balance jumper that he was fouled five times on but was never called.  Add in 9 rebounds and you have yourself a fantastic outing.  This is now two solid games so far this season, which is two more than Olander and should warrant not only more minutes but a possible change in the starting rotation.  Giffey was put into some tough situations, having to guard C.J. Leslie and struggled, fouling out of the game.  So its understandable that he didn't show up in the box score.

UConn played well enough to get the win despite being dominated on the glass, but just couldn't find enough consistent offense in the second half to match N.C. State's.  This team has an identity crisis right now.  They want to be a sharpshooting team when they just aren't.  They don't play to their strengths and allow way to many back-to-back empty possessions.  They need to realize that good teams sprinkle in free throw attempts throughout a half to help stop offensive droughts and to do that they need to attack early and get into the bonus which they failed to do.  Once this team figures that out then they just might have something special.

Monday, December 3, 2012

November


No one knew what type of team UConn would truly have heading into the season.  They had lost a lot from the previous year and other than Omar Calhoun and a few unheralded additions, the team would be fairly limited from what UConn fans were used too.  Not to mention a brand new coach who was being evaluated in each and every game.  So it was a bit of a surprise when UConn opened the season against Michigan State, a team that some had in the Final Four, and beat them in an entertaining and convincing fashion.  That win might have set the bar higher than it should have, because they then struggled to find that same intensity and confidence that had them beating up on an elite team.  They fell behind to Vermont before turning it on late, they had a back and forth affair against Wake Forest, needed double overtime to beat a pesky Quinnipiac team, then they had their first encounter against a hot shooting team in  New Mexico and promptly lost, made a come back against Stony Brook, and struggled to the finish line against New Hampshire.  It left UConn fans with a bit of trepidation, unsure of what this team's true potential actually is.  Is it the team that beat Michigan State or is it the team that struggled against mid-majors?

Napier’s slow starts have been well documented.  Other than the Michigan State game, Napier has done little offensively in the first halves.  There is no one answer to this.  Teams are skewing their coverage over to him, not fearing the frontcourt, but the main culprit is that he just isn’t aggressive.  He doesn’t even try to penetrate in the first half.  When that second half whistle is blown, he is a different player though and becomes that down hill player that Ollie is always preaching him to be.  He gets to the line, makes plays in transition, and takes in rhythm 3-pointers, but if he wants to be an elite point guard, he needs 40 solid minutes.

Boatright has been the one constant for this team. With Napier’s struggles, the offense flowed through him and he delivered.  He found ways to get to the line, attack the lanes, get others involved, and has taken over the leadership of this team.  His outside shot is still a work in progress and his turnovers seem to come in bunches, but he has carried this team for much of the month.

Calhoun has shown flashes of stellar play, but he is adjusting to the speed and competition of this game.  He has a quirky and quick release that goes in.  He’s disappeared in  the second quarter of games, and doesn’t know when to assert himself into the offense, but that will come in time.  He’s getting better in each and every game and should be a major factor heading into December.

DeAndre Daniels has been the most improved player so far.  He’s stopped becoming a perimeter shooter and started becoming a more well rounded wing player.  He’s been a menace on the boards, attacked the baseline for dunks, and has hit the mid-ranged shot.  He’s supplanted Olander as the team's best rebounder and is the glue guy of the team.  He needs to do a better job of not picking up that second foul in the first half, because his absence on the court usually coincides with the opponent's run.

Olander has struggled in his role as the starting center of the team.  He’s in a tough spot, playing out of position.  He’s more of a power forward than a center and he’s found himself in foul trouble in most of his games. This team needs him to be a position rebounder and he hasn’t gotten it done so far.  He's got to keep his head up and stay confident because this team desperately needs him on the court and playing well.

Giffey makes up a large portion of the bench and has done a much better job of taking open shots and getting more involved in the offense.  While his rebounding isn’t his strong suit, it has been much improved, though it could be a better.   He is unique because he can slide into several positions from the wing to a two guard.  That has allowed him plenty of playing time to get the confidence he needed to improve in November.

R.J. Evans is the other major piece to the bench and had a great start to the season, finding unique ways to get the ball through the hoop, but he suffered an injury midway through the month that halted his solid play and the team struggled to find that bench contribution elsewhere.

Wolf has done an adequate job, but just hasn’t put together a series of games to warrant biting into Olander’s minutes.  He has active hands on defense and has shown the ability to block shots and make effort plays, but needs to rebound better, especially for his size.

Tolksdorf has struggled mightily to find his place on this team and looks lost out there.  His injury came at the wrong time and has set back his progress and Nolan has filled that roll.  Nolan has shown improvement in rebounding and defense but has found it difficult to get the ball through the basket.

This team is not going to blow teams out of the water.  They just don’t have the firepower to do that.  If they want to have a shot at the Big East regular season title then they need Napier to be more of a presence early in the game, Olander has to rebound and play defense without fouling, and they need to have an attacking mentality in the half court sets.  The defense has kept them in these games, but they have flirted with losses throughout the month.  December will be the final tune-up for UConn before playing conference games and they need to clean up some of these deficiencies or it could be a tough couple of months.