AAC Tournament Recap: Thank you Ryan Boatright

 (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

This team just didn’t have it.

There is no other way to put it. Ryan Boatright is not Kemba Walker, Ryan Boatright is not Shabazz Napier and the UConn Huskies fell short in the American Athletic Conference Tournament Championship game yesterday. Although our NCAA Tournament hopes rimmed around and bounced out, I saw something in Hartford this weekend that while not validated by a postseason berth, makes all the difference as a fan: we finally competed.

The 2014-15 UConn Men’s basketball season has been a bumpy road to say the least. Walking down a cobblestone Pratt street, under the official AAC Tournament arch and into the XL Center- you knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Though I have written about the relative lack of competition in the AAC, winning 4 games in 4 days is a challenge regardless of conference or level.

If there was one aspect of this team that left me perplexed to the point of frustration, it was the lack of competition. A lack of toughness that has become a staple of UConn basketball over the years. Call it a championship hangover, call it too many new pieces to the puzzle, this team struggled all season to find their identity.

No, we are not going on another magical ride through the NCAA Tournament but I will tell you one thing. We found our toughness in Hartford this weekend. Plagued by youthful miscues, devastated by injury and largely undersized but never once did we give in. It may have taken an entire season, but we found our identity. We found what it means to play UConn basketball.

Sure, Brimah’s backcourt violation in the closing minute against Cincinnati evoked groans from the crowd but even after the Bearcats overcame a five-point deficit in the final 1:25- we did not quit. Instead, guys stepped up and made winning plays when their number was called. Daniel Hamilton, mourning the passing of his grandmother, knocked down a clutch deep three that couldn’t help but remind me of this Taliek Brown prayer from the 2002 Big East Championship game (40 second mark).

Judging from the clear momentum swing, I don’t think we beat Cincinnati in OT. That’s when Captain Boatright delivered the final dagger with a lightning quick crossover-to-three-pointer for the victory. Kemba had his signature shot, Shabazz followed suit, and now Boatright will join them in UConn highlight reels.

Fast forward to Tulsa, a game that saw the Huskies outrebounded 40-28 and trailing for more than 32 minutes. Things were looking especially dim late in the second half, with Tulsa up 10 and only 6:35 to play. Instead of succumbing to the ball-hawking pressure, UConn came to life. Said Boatright:

“It was ugly for a second, I’m not going to lie. When we got in that under-4 minute timeout, we all looked each other in the eye and said we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to dig ourselves out of this hole and win the game.”

And win the game they did. UConn used a 14-1 run in the closing 3:30 to advance to the championship game. We didn’t hit many shots, but we hit the shots we had to. Earlier in the season (cough Yale, cough Texas) we found a way to lose. Against Tulsa, we found a way to win. That shows mental toughness but most importantly, that shows growth. However painful, sometimes doing it the right way is more important than the end result.

The Championship

SMU was always going to be our destiny in this tournament, it was inevitable from the onset. The Mustangs, entering having won 9 of their last 10, played with a chip on their shoulder from the tip. You could tell this team still felt the pain from last year’s tournament snub and was determined to seal their fate before the 6:00PM Selection Show.

SMU’s energy killed us on the offensive glass, taking advantage of both Kentan Facey’s absence (concussion) and early foul trouble from UConn’s front line. Our lack of depth was exposed with SMU’s bench outscoring our depleted Huskies 29-8. Boatright, clearly feeling the effects of two hard falls, was just not himself. You could feel the team rally around him, desperately trying to pull out a win for their Captain. From Rodney’s strong drives to the lane to Brimah’s rim protection late in the second half, the supporting cast did what they could. That is what you have to love about these Huskies. We fight for our own. Unfortunately this season, it was just not enough.

This team didn’t have it, but am I disappointed? No. We put ourselves in a position to make the NCAA tournament and that is all a fan can ask for. A team that could not close out Yale to start the season beat three tough opponents in a do-or-die environment. My only regret from the weekend was not giving Ryan Boatright an appropriate applause when he exited the championship game. On the heels of a ferocious comeback- and questionable foul call- I don’t think it registered this was Boatright’s last game in Hartford. Luckily, we are fortunate enough to have one last opportunity to thank Ryan for his contribution to the program this Wednesday at Gampel Pavilion. Out of all the UConn greats, I have never seen more tenacity packed into such a small frame. Thank you Ryan for a great four years and best of luck in the future.

We now turn our focus onto the NIT. Though it’s not the NCAA Tournament, we are still playing basketball in March when the majority of teams are at home. This team has finally found its identity. Carrying that over for a few more weeks against tough competition will be huge for this young team moving into the offseason.

I will leave with one final question.

Do you remember what happened the year following our last NIT berth?

AP

AP

Just saying. 


Some pictures from the weekend:

UConn-USF

UConn-USF

UConn-Cincinnati

UConn-Cincinnati

UConn-Tulsa

UConn-Tulsa

UConn-SMU

UConn-SMU

Shoutout to this die hard UConn fan who made the trek from California

Shoutout to this die hard UConn fan who made the trek from California!

UConn Basketball Social Media Week in Review: Valentine’s Day Edition

As it will lead us into Valentine’s day, this week’s UConn Basketball Social Media Week in Review is all about the love…

NBA

Just when you think no one cares…

Someone cares too much…

Westbrook should really show some of that love to Kemba…

or maybe James Ennis, not sure who needs it more…

Definitely not Ray though, he’s got em lined up.

UConn

Patriot fans mistakenly show love for Darius Butler…

Butler shows he loves to troll… (UConn football is funny off the field too?) 

Doug Gottlieb will never love UConn…

but UConn loves NOLA.

Recruits

Jalen Adams kisses his teammate off the backboard…

next year, it’s to this guy.

International

7’4 Boban Marjanovic did not expect this early gift from Marcus Williams (#9)…

the Germans still love Niels Giffey…

Jerome Dyson has always loved to score (@sliceanddice)…

…but most importantly, shows he can give too.

UConn Basketball’s Week on Twitter Review

Here is a recap of UConn Basketball’s week on Twitter for Huskies past, present and future.

NBA

Kemba Walker may need surgery on meniscus (would miss 6 weeks)…

Jeremy Lamb to Brooklyn? Or maybe Charlotte?

LeBron James recruits Ray Allen to Cavs by staring until he agrees…

Shabazz Napier plays with Reggie Evans (peek-a-boo)…

Roscoe Smith records NBA D-League leading 20th double-double…

International

The German BBL begs the question of Khalid El-Amin for MVP (update to come) and other stuff I don’t understand…

Niels Giffey plays in the German BBL All-Star Game…

Jerome Dyson keeps it simple…

Marcus Williams shows play-making is not the only play he’s making…

UCONN

Ryan Boatright moves into 18th on the all-time scoring list…

…on a career-high 28 points.

Daniel Hamilton does a little bit of everything (turning the ball over included)…

…while Omar Calhoun does something (forgot he could dunk).

High School

UConn ESPN Top 25 commit Jalen Adams puts on at the Hoop Hall Classic…

…and future teammate Steve Enoch does the same.

Vote Kemba Walker to the 2015 All Star Game

 Kemba All Star 2015

It’s impossible to repay Kemba Walker for what he gave UConn fans in the Spring of 2011. However, voting him into his first All Star game (a NYC homecoming at that) is a great way to start. Walker is averaging 30+ points in the midst of a 5 game win streak, including 28 points in just 28 minutes during last night’s blowout of the New York Knicks. In addition, Cardiac Kemba ALREADY has three game-winning buzzer-beaters on the young season. Kemba Walker deserves to be an All Star, here are the many ways to vote him in:

Twitter

Tweet “Kemba Walker” with the hashtag #NBABallot, or, simply RT my tweet below. Might as well RT for Andre Drummond too while you are at it…

Facebook

Post “Kemba Walker” with the hashtag #NBABallot:

Kemba 2015 ASG

 Instagram

Post an original photo with “Kemba Walker” and the hashtag #NBABallot.

Online

Create an account and vote online here.

Texting

Vote by texting “Walker” to 69622 (MYNBA). Message and data rates apply.


 

Fans can cast up to 10 votes per day on each voting medium, but only one per player. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts must include the player’s first/last name AND the hashtag #NBABallot. Voting ends January 19, 2015 so let’s get to it…

Kemba Walker does it again for Hornets…

If you thought Kemba’s game couldn’t translate to the NBA you are a fool. As I have said all along with Kemba- winners win. Regardless of the level, winners will find a way to win (ie Shabazz). This is Kemba’s third buzzer-beater on the season and third straight game with 30+ points. Most importantly? Charlotte is 3-0 in those three games. Here is Kemba’s circus finish over 2013 NBA All Star Jrue Holiday. For those of you familiar with the Walker-Holiday rivalry- this isn’t close to Kemba’s most impressive finish over Jrue (see second video)…

2008 McDonald’s All American Game: BOO-YAH

Huskies capture Final Four rematch

uconn.edu

uconn.edu

It wasn’t pretty, but we won. Most importantly, we won how we need to win big games- clutch free throws, production from role players and the emergence of the X-Factor at just the right time. It would have been easy to throw in the towel after Florida’s last run with 12 minutes remaining. The Huskies, coming off a disappointing home loss to Temple, could not seem to buy a basket or get a call. The turning point in the game belongs to Ryan Boatright on a play straight out of the Book of Kemba. Down 52-41 with 10:30 remaining, Boatright missed short on a deep three. However, instead of admiring his shot, he crashed with a vengeance and came up with his own miss, finding Calhoun for a triple that sparked an 11-4 run. That is exactly the type of inspiring effort that can change the course of a game, as it did this afternoon.

Free Throws

This is the most important takeaway from today’s game. We simply will not win big games without knocking down clutch free throws. There is no way around it. Our last three losses- Temple, Duke and Yale- saw FT%’s of 42%, 54%, and 67% respectively. Today, we shot a 2014-esque 85% including a perfect 6-6 in the final minute. I’m not going to lie, when Boatright stepped to the line up 61-59 with 4 seconds remaining, visions of Texas and Yale danced in my head. This time though, he made them count in a difficult environment on the road. We need this trend to continue if we want to win big games…

…which looking at the schedule is basically just Cincinnati (Woo AAC!).

Role Players

The puzzle is finally starting to piece itself together. Boatright, the clear leader, did a little bit of everything with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists- numbers at this point we can expect to be a given. What has not been a given, is where we get the remaining production. Tonight, it came from two unexpected sources – Omar Calhoun (12 points) and Terrence Samuel (10 points)- while Daniel Hamilton struggled to find his shot. Also, Amida Brimah contributed 10 rebounds and 2 blocks, showing the length and mobility on the defensive end that has scouts drooling. As I said last year time and time again, it doesn’t matter who we get it from as long as we get it.

X-Factor

Rodney Purvis. Yes, he had a few big games against mediocre teams but today was his true coming out party. With just 2 points in the first half, Purvis caught fire in the second knocking down both the three to give us our first lead as well as the three to put us up for good. Purvis needs to be our #2. It can’t be Daniel Hamilton- it needs to be Purvis. Hamilton is talented but he is young and has been plagued by costly late game turnovers. Purvis needs to step up as the reliable number two option like Deandre was to Shabazz and J-Lamb/A.O. were to Kemba. The reduced late game pressure will serve both Hamilton and fans well.


Again, it wasn’t pretty and we have much to work on. There were still plenty of late game defensive lapses and communication issues that left me scratching my head. However, we won the way we will need to win big games and that is a HUGE step in the right direction.

The season is still young. We play in a weak conference and host the conference tournament aka the automatic bid will always be a possibility regardless of record. It doesn’t matter how we played in December, how we play in January or how we will play in February, all that matters is how we play in March.

As always,

GO HUSKIES!

 

Google Hangout with Charlie Villanueva

I did my first Google Hangout yesterday with former UConn National Champion and 9 year NBA vet Charlie Villanueva of the Dallas Mavericks. Villanueva was a McDonald’s All-American out of Blair Academy (NJ), leading Blair to 3 straight Mid-Atlantic Prep League Tournament Championships. As a freshman, Charlie was a key contributor to the 2004 UConn National Championship team averaging 8 points/5 rebounds. That team, arguably the most talented team in UConn history, included future NBA players Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Josh Boone, Marcus Williams and Hilton Armstrong. Following a solid sophomore campaign, Charlie declared for the 2005 NBA Draft where he was taken 7th overall by the Toronto Raptors.

My Questions

4:15- Who had a more impressive championship run, Kemba or Shabazz?

19:25- Imagine a Final Four of all UConn Championship teams- who wins?

Learning from Champions: A Comparison of Boatright, Napier and Walker through 5 games

Jessica Hill, AP

Jessica Hill, AP

Shabazz Napier was entrusted with the same responsibility Kemba Walker had before him- lead the UConn Huskies to a National Championship while doing, well, basically everything. By now, we know what it will take emotionally for Ryan Boatright to return us to the promised land, we witnessed it with Walker and Napier. Instead, let’s examine what it takes statistically.

Taking into consideration unpredictable variables such as team chemistry, opponent and injury/suspension, the three situations are eerily similar. Don’t believe me? Below are game logs from Kemba’s 2011, Napier’s 2014 and Boatright’s 2015. Try to guess which season belongs to which player (answer at bottom of page):

MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS
34 6 17 35% 1 4 25% 5 6 83% 6 3 1 2 18
37 15 24 63% 4 9 44% 8 10 80% 8 3 3 1 42
23 8 16 50% 1 4 25% 14 15 93% 2 2 0 3 31
38 10 19 53% 4 11 36% 6 7 86% 3 4 4 3 30
38 10 17 59% 3 4 75% 6 6 100% 2 6 2 2 29
MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS
33 5 12 42% 2 3 67% 6 6 100% 7 7 3 2 18
37 5 7 71% 1 1 100% 3 5 60% 11 10 1 1 14
22 3 4 75% 1 1 100% 3 4 75% 8 8 3 1 10
38 3 9 33% 2 2 100% 4 4 100% 12 6 3 2 12
38 6 17 35% 0 3 0% 8 10 80% 4 2 0 1 20
MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS
37 7 15 47% 3 6 50% 7 7 100% 8 5 3 4 24
37 6 14 43% 1 4 25% 6 6 100% 6 5 3 0 19
36 6 12 50% 0 2 0% 8 9 89% 5 4 3 3 20
35 6 14 43% 0 4 0% 5 9 56% 5 4 3 0 17
37 8 21 38% 1 5 20% 7 8 88% 7 2 2 1 24

While all three guards undoubtedly possess their own unique strengths, they are one of the same mold- inspiring defensively, unrelenting offensively with a knack for hitting the big shot. What separated both Napier and Walker was their ability to balance top play-maker with primary scoring option. Boatright will need to strike a similar balance for his name to be hoisted at Gampel following the season. Throughout the year I will compare Boatright’s numbers, to those of Napier and Walker at similar points in their championship winning season, in hopes the statistics give an early indication on what Boatright needs to do in order to bring another National Championship to Storrs, Connecticut. Eventually, once more data is collected, we can learn from the adjustments of past champions to fill the spot next to Napier’s banner.

Averages through 5 games:

Player MP FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS WINS
Walker 34 52% 41% 88% 4.2 3.6 2.0 2.2 30.0 5
Boatright 36.4 44% 19% 86% 6.2 4.0 2.8 1.6 20.8 3
Napier 33.6 51% 73% 83% 8.4 6.6 2.0 1.4 14.8 5

Here is how Boatright, Napier and Walker shape up head-to-head-to-head on a number of different statistics:

MP FG% 3P% FTA FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS
Boatright  36.4 Walker 52% Napier    73% Walker         8.8 Walker  88% Napier       8.4 Napier 6.6 Boatright 2.8 Walker   2.2 Walker     30
Walker      34 Napier   51% Walker    41% Boatright     7.8 Boatright 86% Boatright 6.2 Boatright 4 Napier        2 Boatright-1.6 Boatright 20.8
Napier    33.6 Boatright 44% Boatright 19% Napier          5.8 Napier     83% Walker     4.2 Walker 3.6 Walker        2 Napier    1.4 Napier   14.8

Breakdown of categories led:

  • Boatright: Minutes, Turnovers
  • Napier: 3P%, Rebounds, Assists
  • Walker: FG%, FTA, FT%, Steals, Points

Notes:

  • Kemba’s numbers are more impressive (if possible) when you consider they came against #2 Michigan State (Kalin Lucas/Korie Lucious) and #7 Kentucky (Brandon Knight).
  • To no surprise Shabazz is by far the best three point shooter
  • Though it felt Napier and Walker never rested, Boatright leads in minutes
  • All three are shooting over 80% from the foul line
  • Napier easily led in rebounds and assists

1). Walker

2). Napier

3). Boatright

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.

 

UConn stars return for 2014 Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic

7,000+ crowded Mohegan Sun Arena Friday night for the 2014 Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic. Featuring heroes of UConn past, the game is more than just a UConn All-Star game, but raises money and awareness for the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at the UConn Health Center. According to their website, the charity is dedicated to “research on new non-invasive techniques to diagnose and treat patients at risk for heart disease and also endows a cardiology research fellowship.” Since 1999 the Celebrity Classic has raised over $6.5 million for cardiology research. You can learn more here and like the event on Facebook.

Jim Calhoun watches his charity game.

Jim Calhoun watches his charity game.

Friday’s game featured current NBA players Andre Drummond, Ray Allen, Kemba Walker, Jeff Adrien, Ben Gordon, Jeremy Lamb and Charlie Villanueva as well as former stars Taliek Brown, Khalid El-Amin and Donyell Marshall. The White Team came away with a dramatic 114-112 victory on an all-but-too-familiar game winner from ’99 Champ El-Amin. Drummond led a stacked White Team with 24 points/12 rebounds while Walker (21 points), DeAndre Daniels (18), Allen (15) and El-Amin (13) all scored in double figures. Villanueva led the Blue Team dropping 24 points with Rashad Anderson (22), Lamb (21 points/8 rebounds) providing help in the scoring department and Jeff Adrien (12/13) handling the dirty work as usual. Lamb was originally on the White Team roster but crossed sides after Rudy Gay was was deemed ineligible due to language in his contract with the Sacramento Kings. It should be noted that although Gay was unable to participate in the game, he is rumored to have dropped $80,000 on a private plane to sit on the bench and support the cause. Caron Butler and Shabazz Napier were not in attendance due to prior commitments.

Pictures below:

Ray Allen Pregame

Ray Allen Pregame

Tip Off

Tip off at the 2014 Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic.

Andre Drummond rises for a dunk at the 2014 Jim Calhoun Charity Classic.

Andre Drummond rises for a dunk at the 2014 Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic.

Rudy Gay poses for a selfie with Jeremy Lamb.

Rudy Gay poses for a selfie with Jeremy Lamb.

After party with Kemba Walker

After party with Kemba Walker