Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Defensive trends, media day eve

Today, we’ll look at some of UConn's favorite defensive numbers.

Tomorrow, I’ll share pearls of wisdom from Big East media day at Madison Square Garden.

First, some odds.

Early odds on Baba Booey showing up at the Garden: 100-1
Early odds West Virginia coach John Beilein will be asked about life after Pittsnogle: 2-1
Early odds Villanova coach Jay Wright will be asked about how he’s adapting without Ray-Foye, who have now become one person: 2-1
Early odds Jim Calhoun will be asked how eight freshmen are adapting to college basketball: 2-1
Early odds A.J. Price will be asked about legal/health matters: 2-1
Early odds that the smallest media pack will be centered around South Florida: 1-1
Early odds that I will have a good time smelling a mix of perfume and Old Spice during rush hour on the MetroNorth in the morning: off the board

I love trains.

Media days are always interesting. Coaches abhor them. Some players love them. Some players are nervous and give the standard, “I think we’re going to surprise some people.”

Look for some deeper insight, though, later Wednesday night.

Until then, let’s look at some defensive numbers.

For the past five seasons, UConn has led the country in blocked shots. If Hasheem Thabeet is ruled ineligible, that streak could be broken. With Thabeet, it’s feasible. Of course, everyone who added to that number last year for UConn is gone, expect Jeff Adrien. It will be interesting to see how certain freshmen react to the coaching staff when they are asked for more defensive productivity. In early practices, Jonathan Mandeldove and Gavin Edwards look like they can add to this number, as well as Curtis Kelly. From there, it could get interesting. Maybe Stanley Robinson can add to the mix. Interestingly, Syracuse, Cincinnati and South Florida (South Florida?) were the only other Big East teams to finish in the top 20 in this category. Six teams finished .500 or below but only three earned at least 30 wins.

Texas will probably stay close to the top with the addition of Kevin Durant, an early candidate for national freshman of the year. Rick Barnes brought him to Big 12 media day, saying that the freshman is that polished. Based on defensive philosophy alone, UConn will probably break the top 20, but how close to the top will they finish? Seventeen teams in the top 20 finished with winning records. Fifteen won at least 20 games. Yes, defensive margin does make a huge difference.

A UConn staple, the Huskies have finished in the top 15 in nine of the past 11 seasons in this category. It’s amazing how some teams finish with sub-.500 records in this category. It means A) your offense needs a serious upgrade, or B) you have drained all your resources on defense (see La.-Lafayette at No. 8 or St. John’s at No. 16). Based on defensive philosophy, UConn should once again finish in the top 15, only if a few things happen. Calhoun has mentioned that Jerome Dyson is one of the better perimeter defenders to come through the program in a long time (he has mentioned Chris Smith in the same sentence. It’s still early.). Interior defense shouldn’t be a problem. Perimeter may be a question mark. We’ll see.

Georgetown is the only Big East team to crack the top 20 in this category. Princeton is No. 2. The Tigers haven’t moved from that spot in a long time. UCLA, if you remember its Elite Eight performance, fits well at No. 10. Seven sub-.500 teams. Even though UConn finished in the top 20 nationally in point differential (No. 4), the Huskies won’t show up in this category unless they want to sacrifice percentages for wins. With too much offensive potential, players will be expected to work both ends of the court.

Some of those players have found out the hard way at practice so far.


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