Cincinnati plays 2 of the next 3 games against Connecticut. That starts tonight. To get a crash course on the Connecticut Huskies, I talked to my good friend Andrew Porter from the UConn Blog. The guys at the UConn Blog are awesome on twitter, so you should give them a follow ahead of the game. You should also check out their site because there might be something on it involving me.
Andrew and I talked about a lot of things. Things such as Kevin Ollie, Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, depth, the ACC and more. Questions are in bold.
We are nearly through with the first season of the Kevin Ollie era. How has it been?
It's been great so far. Sure, the postseason ban is a drag, and that's probably turned off some casual fans, but for the hardcore, the Kevin Ollie era has been a blast so far. He's a great motivator, very likable and a good coach to boot. Expectations weren't high with UConn's roster this year, but the Huskies have more than lived up to them and pulled off a few marquee wins (against Michigan St. to open the season, Syracuse last week) along the way.
UConn has some trouble rebounding. They were out-rebounded by 31 I believe in one of their wins. Have the Huskies found a way to work around this, or is it something that bites them in the ass?
It's a constant problem and easily UConn's biggest flaw. Things didn't get any easier when junior center Enosch Wolf was suspended either, and I don't think anyone expects him to return to the team this season. UConn can mitigate the problem by outhustling opponents for every loose ball and using their speed to cause a few extra turnovers, but if the Huskies match up against a team that's strong inside they're almost certainly going to get outrebounded.
Shabazz Napier was good last year and he's turned it up a notch this season. He's improved all of his shooting percentages, his rebounding and his steal percentage. What has he done to get better? Besides be naturally gifted at basketball.
I think part of it is just the natural maturation process. Last year was Shabazz's first chance to really run the show (he played behind Kemba Walker his freshman season) and with it came the usual headaches. He'd make a great play one second, then do something equally boneheaded the next. The loss of Jeremy Lamb in the backcourt has probably done a bit to boost his scoring (because he's relied on more), but more than anything else he's simply embraced the role of team leader and welcomed his larger role.
Ryan Boatright is awesome and one of my favorite players. How awesome is it watching him every game?
It's almost always great -- last Saturday's game against Villanova may have been the rare exception. He's almost always the smallest player on the court, but he's also the fastest and he uses his incredible motor to his advantage. He's a solid outside shooter and he's also got some fantastic leaping ability. They don't break it out every game, but he and Napier have gotten into a pretty solid alley-oop rhythm (with Boat as the dunking half), which is a blast to watch.
Boatright and Napier are joined by Omar Calhoun in the backcourt. What does Calhoun bring to the table?
He got off to a slow start this year, but over the last month he's really come into his own as an outside shooter, and he hit some really crucial 3s to spark the break that broke open UConn's game with Syracuse last week. Napier and Boatright can both get into the lane more or less at while, which usually sets Calhoun up for some good looks on kickouts. He's also got a good deal more size than Napier and Boatright, which helps on the defensive side of the court.
DeAndre Daniels is the only frontcourt player for UConn it seems. Considering all the hype he had when he came to campus, how would you rate Daniels' tenure?
I'd say it's been slightly disappointing, but only because every few games Daniels will have a run where he looks like an all-conference talent. He's really UConn's X-factor, if he gets going early and is shooting well it makes everything fit together much easier for the rest of the team. The problem is that he can disappear, especially if he misses a few shots early.
UConn doesn't go deep. That's even more true with Enosch Wolf suspended. Is a deep rotation overrated?
I'm not sure it's a requirement to succeed, and UConn's conditioning is pretty solid, which helps. The lack of depth is a big problem if UConn gets in foul trouble though. If any of the five starters pick up two fouls early in the first half it'll wreak havoc on the rotation.
If last year's team played as hard as this year's team, would that squad have had a chance at repeating instead of getting ingloriously dumped in the first round?
Certainly, though I'm not willing to pin all of last year on effort. It was a really flukey season for the Huskies: Boatright was suspended by the NCAA twice (including a ludicrous mid-season suspension that had him miss most of January), Calhoun missed two separate stretches, Andre Drummond broke his nose to start the season which hindered his development, etc. That's not to say last year's team didn't under perform -- it did -- but sometimes you just get a year when nothing goes right.
What would you rather do than talk about realignment? Will it ever end?
Mostly I'd like to talk about UConn's luxurious new home in the ACC. I don't know if it'll ever end, but I do know that I want it to keep going until UConn is out of the Big East.
Thanks a lot, Andrew.
The cheerleader photo is from SI