Thoughts from UConn-Yale: Is it time to panic?

uconn.edu

uconn.edu

The 2-5 New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) defeated #17 Michigan Wolverines 72-70 yesterday in the biggest upset -in terms of point spread- since 2007 . A day earlier, Division II University of the Sciences defeated Division I Drexel becoming the first non-D1 school to beat a D1 opponent at home. My point? Don’t panic. Yes, we lost to Yale for the first time in decades, and yes, once again, it was painful. However this was not the typical UConn-Yale match-up. Yale entered Friday’s game at 7-2 having defeated Kent State on the road and losing to 6-2 Providence by just 6. Additionally, Yale coach James Jones is one of the most successful coaches in the Ivy League with his 209 overall wins good for third in league history. This was not a scrub team that came into Gampel and beat us. Yale executed. And when you execute, as evidenced by the last two days, any team can win any game.

Moral of the story, we didn’t play well. More often than not, upsets occur when the underdog out-shoots the favorite. This was not the case Friday night as Yale shot a lowly 33% (18-55) from the field and a dismal 14% (3-21) from behind the arc. Instead, Yale beat us in every other aspect of the game. They out-rebounded us (36-25), out-blocked us (4-2), had more steals (10-5) and forced more turnovers (13-11). You know what this tells me? We didn’t create and exploit favorable match-ups.

The Bad

Ryan Boatright’s missed 1-and-1

I don’t care how poorly we rebounded or how lethargic we played, Boatright’s missed free throw is far and away the most disturbing take away. He needs to make that shot. Kemba Walker makes it. Shabazz Napier makes it. Ryan Boatright missed it- twice. I know he played through pain and I appreciate his toughness, but as any athlete can attest, the adrenaline pumping from a potentially game-winning foul shot eliminates any pain in the body. We need Ryan Boatright to make that shot under any circumstance. He is our leader and he will have the ball late in the game. We don’t need him to make 1, we need him to make 2. Every time. That is what separates a great point guard from a championship winning point guard. At this point in his career there cannot be any doubt when he steps to the line, especially in late game situations.

Lack of Urgency

Call it a championship hangover but losing two games in a row the same way on the same miscommuncation is troubling. As the defending National Champions we have a target on our back and need to bring the intensity night in and night out, from the beginning. On the year, UConn is -23 in the first half and +43 in the second half. Slow starts hint to a lack of urgency and not taking opponents seriously. Yale/Coppin State deserve the same respect as Texas/Duke. Once you give a team early confidence, it can be hard to overcome. Also, Yale shot more free throws. For a team that is shooting 28% from deep on the season, we need to attack the rim and stop settling for the outside shot. So far on the year we have shot only 5 more free throws than our opponents. With the talent/athleticism we have, this is unacceptable and a clear indicator we are settling for the outside jumper.

Three Guard Line Up

The benefits of a three guard line up are to create an advantage by having more shooters, play makers and ball handlers on the floor, effectively limiting turnovers. It can also be utilized to create a match-up advantage. So far this year, the three guard lineup has done none of the above. Boatright and Daniel Hamilton are playing 36/34 minutes respectively as the two primary guards with SCJ, Purvis and Terrence Samuel each playing between 22-24 mpg as the third guard. Between the three, they have 20 assists and 19 turnovers while shooting a combined 32%. UConn as a team has a dreadful 10:12 assist:turnover ratio. As I mentioned above, we aren’t getting to the line, settling for outside shots we aren’t making. What is the advantage of having a three guard lineup when the third guard isn’t producing?

At least the third guard rebounds, right? Wrong. We were killed on the glass against Yale managing only 1 offensive rebound. On the year, opponents have a +6 offensive rebound margin. Kentan Facey alone has pulled down 39 rebounds in 146 minutes, more than SCJ, Purvis and Samuel combined in over 375 minutes of action. That leads me to believe the rebounding problem is more of a personnel issue than an actual rebounding problem. Also, remember all those years we led the nation in shot blocking? This year we are only at +2. Statistically speaking we need to abandon the three guard lineup and focus on getting the bigs involved. A perfect segue into…

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? 

UConn basketball is defined by toughness and absolute dominance in the paint. Adrien. Boone. Okafor. Thabeet. Armstrong. In speaking with a former player, Calhoun started every game with a play for the bigs- typically a cross screen or back screen on the block. We need to get back to the inside-out game that defines UConn basketball, especially given our early season shooting woes. Once you have established a post presence, or at least show you are willing to look down low, the perimeter will open up for our play-makers. Yes Brimah/Facey/Nolan are young and raw but they have shown signs of progress. We need to get them involved early, even force the issue, to create a more balanced attack. Getting our bigs involved early builds confidence that will translate to the defensive end.

We are a team that is still putting together the pieces. According to ESPN stats and information UConn is the only team in the nation with seven players averaging 23.5 minutes per game (minimum 3 games played). These are not the UConn Huskies who will compete in the NCAA tournament this March, that rotation is still undecided. With early season injuries to Calhoun/Purvis, we are still trying to assemble the pieces to a winning puzzle. In that regard, the Yale loss is not nearly as worrying as it may seem from the headlines, as long as we make the necessary adjustments.

As always,

GO HUSKIES!

Thoughts from UConn-Texas

David Butler, USA Today

David Butler, USA Today

Yes, we lost. And yes, it was heartbreaking. But no matter how bad it hurts it’s always better to get these games out of the way in November than March, just ask Pittsburgh. There is really only one way to look at this game: we shot 30% and lost to the #7 team in the nation on a buzzer beater. As always, there is room for improvement though the loss itself is more shocking than troubling. In my opinion, the only true cause for concern stemming from Sunday? Ryan Boatright’s ankle.

 The Bad

Points in Transition

Although we made a remarkable improvement in the second half, Texas scored far too many points in transition. Many of these points came from long rebounds off missed threes which again, leads back to the 30% from the field (3-16 3PT). SCJ (Sam Cassell Jr) was a main culprit. I’m not worried about the missed shots, this was his first big game at Gampel, that is to be expected. He needs to keep shooting and without hesitation. However, there were a few instances where he leisurely skipped backwards observing his shot as opposed to crashing for the long rebound or rotating back to prevent the fast break. If A). crash for a long rebound, B). rotate back to prevent the break, and C). DO EITHER JUST DON’T STAND THERE, the answer is C everytime.

Jump Passes

Please stop. Daniel Hamilton stop. Ryan Boatright stop. Everyone stop. I realize Boat has a 35″ vertical which allows him more time than most to bail himself out, but still stop. Not only do jump passes hurt the spirits of your fans and your assist/TO ratio, they also hurt your teammates. With 14:18 to go in the second half Boatright’s jump pass was intercepted by Javan Felix who drew Kentan Facey’s second foul on the ensuing fast break. Granted, it didn’t have much impact on the outcome of this game but on a team short big men (ha), it could in the future. We can’t afford to get our bigs in foul trouble, especially when it’s bailing out a guard on a jump pass.

Terrence Samuel

Terrence Samuel as a player is NOT in the “bad” section. The reoccurring Terrence Samuel “drive-with-my-head-down-into-7-footers-with-no-idea-of-what-I’m-going-to-do-with-the-ball” IS in the bad section. I love that he can beat guards up front and penetrate the defense but his NYC instinct takes him all the way to the rim. Pull up Terrence. Develop a mid-range game. Take the mid-range jumper so Myles Turner doesn’t get 5 blocks and Brimah can lead the country.

The Good

Defense

The defensive intensity in the second half was classic UConn, that is the only way to describe it. Daniel Hamilton disrupted Texas from the start and finished with two steals and multiple disruptions*. At one point in the second half he implemented his own personal press and only relented when KO furiously motioned to retreat. Nolan, Brimah and Facey played outstanding post defense on imposing big men Myles Turner and Cameron Ridley. A few of my favorite defensive plays:

  • 2nd Half, 14:37: Nolan takes charge on Myles Turner resulting in his 3rd foul and removal from the game.
  • 2nd Half, 10:34: Off a switch on an inbound play (too soon, I know), Samuel anticipates Ridley’s shoulder drop and takes the charge. A very smart play on a clear mismatch.
  • 2nd Half, 10:07: One way to stop the ball from getting to the paint- deny the entry pass. Here, Samuel’s anticipation of Jonathan Holmes’ pass leads to a Hamilton steal and Boatright jumper. The less the ball is in the paint, the more fouls we preserve.
  • 2nd Half, 3:57: Brimah shows his length on a ridiculous block of Ridley’s hook.

*Disruptions are not a recognized statistic but should be.

Kentan Facey

Kentan Facey is quickly becoming my favorite player on this UConn team- turning in another solid effort with 4 points/8 rebounds. Facey crashes the boards with reckless abandon and unlike other UConn bigs- he finishes! You can’t underestimate the value of a player who can get himself involved in the game without having his number called- ever. With 7:30 to go in the second half, Facey collected a SCJ miss and dished to Boatright for a reverse layup that would be our last field goal of the game. With a struggling offense, those are the types of plays you need to get momentum swinging. Not to mention, Facey, at a mere 206 pounds out-rebounded both Turner (6-11, 240) and Ridley (6-9, 285), COMBINED!!! Obviously Facey is still a project and has a long way to go but I am impressed with his production thus far.

Hamilton/Boatright

Daniel Hamilton is the real deal. I have been impressed with his offense since the beginning but thought his feet were slow on defense. That changed yesterday. Hamilton is clearly more suited to guard the SG/SF position and proved that with his relentless hounding of Holland and Holmes. He is also tough, UConn tough. After taking an elbow to the nose midway through the 2nd half Hamilton returned with less blood but the exact same defensive intensity. He can finish too- Hamilton scored 9 of UConn’s first 11 points in a game where points were hard to come by.

Ryan Boatright turned in another emotional performance leading the team with 24 points. Yes, it took him 21 shots but aside from a lone high-arcing three with a hand in his face, none felt forced. Boatright is doing a little bit of everything for the Huskies -averaging 20 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.6 steals- just as Kemba in 2011 and Shabazz last year. In addition to bringing the ball up the floor against an athletic press- that’s a lot to put on one man’s shoulders, especially when they are supported by only one good ankle. Speaking of the ankle, no news as to whether Boatright will suit up Friday vs Yale but keep that chicken leg in your prayers. We need Boatright and we need him healthy.

As always,

GO HUSKIES!