UConn- Duke Preview

thesportsfanjournal.com

thesportsfanjournal.com

Tonight, UConn battles #2 Duke at the Izod Center in the latest chapter of a storied rivalry. The Devils in Blue hold a slight 5-4 series edge although UConn’s victories have come on a much bigger stage (1999 Championship/ 2004 Final Four). Duke, featuring likely 2015 #1 overall pick Jahlil Okafor, enter tonight’s match-up at 9-0, having won all nine games by double digits. UConn, at 4-3, comes off a blowout win over Coppin State where sophomore center Amida Brimah exploded for 40 points and 12 rebounds. Thoughts on what UConn needs to do to compete:

First, set your timer to 4:54 and hit start…

Build off Coppin State

Coppin State was a step in the right direction for the Huskies. UConn made it a priority to get the ball inside and it paid dividends with Brimah/Facey combining for 65/106 points (who suggested that).¬†Through getting the bigs involved we relied less on the three ball and more on the free throw (18 3PA vs 33 FTA). Duke is known for great team defense and will pack it in when we drive- leaving the three open. WE MUST NOT SETTLE FOR 3’S. We don’t have the shooters to beat Duke on the outside and must continue to move the ball until we find an opening to attack (see pick and roll below).

Another thing to look for is how Boatright reacts to the defense collapsing. Will he force shots like he has done in the past? Or, will he play like a true point guard and move the ball?

Brimah/Boatright

Brimah will certainly have his hands full tonight against freshman big man Jahlil Okafor (18 points/9 rebounds on the year). Depending on the flow of the game, we may need to double Okafor at times to prevent Brimah from getting in foul trouble. Another way we can take heat off Brimah is by limiting entry passes. If our pesky guards can put pressure on Duke up front, that will severely limit their ability to find Okafor down low. The less touches- the better.

Offensively, Brimah does not need to score for us to win. Although I predicted tonight to be his breakout game, realistically we need Brimah to defend, box out and run the floor making Okafor work in transition. However, Brimah scoring is a good sign because much of his offense is created for him (think Hamilton/Boatright lobs). If Brimah/Facey are scoring that means our guards are penetrating and dishing which will free up the outside shot.

The pick and roll will be huge for us tonight as we do not have a big man who can challenge Okafor one-on-one. The bigs need to set solid screens and make Okafor defend the pick and roll. We have the athletic guards to challenge Okafor at the rim and get him in foul trouble (see X-factor). If Okafor picks up a quick 2, tonight becomes a whole different game. Looking back at Duke’s closest game (Wisconsin), Okafor battled foul trouble and put up a human 13/6. We can live with that. The 25/20 he put up in his most recent game against Elon? That will hurt us. Our guards need to attack the rim off the pick and roll and put Okafor in a position where he cannot beat us- the bench.

X-Factor

Rodney Purvis. I am so tired of the “Ferrari out of the garage” reference because you know what- HE IS STILL IN THE GARAGE. I have yet to see Purvis attack the defense – either in transition or half court- the way he did at NC State. Every UConn star has their coming out party on a big stage- what bigger stage than UConn-Duke? If Purvis can get out and make some plays in transition he will ignite the pro-UConn crowd in the building, creating a Garden-esque atmosphere a la last March.


 

Has your timer gone off yet? If it has, that is the amount of time Duke has trailed all season. 4 minutes and 54 seconds. Yes, we started moving in the right direction against Coppin State but if it doesn’t work against Duke, don’t panic, right now they may just be the better team. However, that’s not to say we won’t be the better team when it counts.

For good measure let’s end with One Shining Moment from 1999:

As always,

GO HUSKIES!

PS: Thanks to Pat/Katy Lenehan for the tickets!

UConn Basketball: Keys to the 2014/15 Season

 (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

November is here once again which means the return of my favorite season, college basketball. Here are a few keys for UConn to repeat as National Champions. It starts (and ends), of course, with point guard Ryan Boatright.

Ryan Boatright

This is finally Ryan Boatright’s team. Two years ago, I would’ve cringed at this idea but today I am much more comfortable given his progression. Here are two subplots to look for concerning Boatright this season:

Leadership

We know Boat can drive, we know Boat can defend- but can he lead? This is the most important question of the season and in my opinion, the biggest indicator of success. If you look at the last two National Championship runs, it was not the tremendous play of Kemba and Shabazz that made the difference but the leadership they exhibited. Both were able to elevate the performance of their teammates, whether it was making the extra pass or an inspiring defensive stop. A telling sign will be body language. Pay attention to Boatright after a missed defensive assignment or botched layup- does he throw his hands up in disgust or encourage his teammate with a pat on the back? We need the latter.

Boatright/Purvis floor relationship

I think we can all remember the painful offensive sets in the beginning of the Napier/Boatright years- long possessions ending in a deep 3 or forced drives into traffic trying to draw contact. Either way it hurt the eyes to watch. It took Boatright and Napier 2.5 years to learn to complement each other. Boatright and Purvis don’t have that luxury. While Purvis could not suit up for the Huskies last year following his transfer, he practiced with the team everyday which should eliminate some of the learning curve. We need both to perform, but most importantly, we need them to complement each other.

Identity

Top Dogs vs Underdogs

Last year we were the Hungry Huskies, the underdog, the misfits. This year, as defending National Champions, the expectations are much higher. Playing as the underdog is much different than playing as the defending National Champions. We have a target on our back. It is essential we keep the same hunger while avoiding a championship hangover. Humble Huskies. With Kevin Ollie behind the wheel you know we will defend and you know we will compete, that is a given. However, with different pieces than last year it remains to be seen how the puzzle fits together. Early season tests against Duke and Florida will be a good gauge.

Emergence of Role Players

We need to defend and we need to rebound for 40 minutes over a span of 6 months. It doesn’t matter who the production comes from, it just needs to be there night in and night out for the duration of the season. It could take the whole season to learn the shape of the puzzle but we know the result when all pieces fit come tournament time.

Inside Presence

Amida Brimah is good. Really good. We know Brimah can defend the basket but can he do so without getting himself in foul trouble? If so, he has the potential to be a lottery pick in next years NBA Draft. If not, Philip Nolan, Kentan Facey and newcomer Rakim Lubin will need to pick up the slack. Keep a close eye on the Brimah- Jahlil Okafor matchup when UConn battles Duke in mid-December. Every big time player has a breakout game against a big time talent on a big time stage (Kemba in Maui, Bazz vs Florida). This could very well be Brimah’s coming out party.

Resiliency

In 2011 we lost 4 out of 5 games entering postseason play. In 2014 we were manhandled by Louisville before the AAC tournament. As any season, this season will have its highs and lows. A team is not defined by their lows, a team is defined by their response. I am less concerned with the blowout loss and more concerned with the attitude at practice the following day. Resiliency starts with leadership which brings us back to my first point: Ryan Boatright.