Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Individuality concern

A concern during the first few days of UConn’s season has been the reliance on individuality, a common practice that is caused by 1) NBA influence, or 2) a summer filled with showcase tournaments, or 3) a little bit of both.

Obviously, this won’t fly in any college program. And yes, that will have to wait for David Stern’s league. Three weeks are needed to break these perceived bad habits. We’ll wait and see if that happens.

In the meantime, let’s look at point distribution compared with assists during the past decade (note: I have focused on the past decade for a few reasons. Success. Overall change of basketball culture. And personnel, which was much different 10 years ago).

Players averaging more than 5 ppg.
2005-06 - 6
2004-05 - 6
2003-04 - 7
2002-03 - 6
2001-02 - 6
2000-01 - 6
1999-00 - 6
1998-99 - 7
1997-98 - 6
1996-97 – 6

Players averaging more than 2 apg.
2005-06 - 2
2004-05 - 2
2003-04 - 3
2002-03 - 2
2001-02 - 3
2000-01 - 2
1999-00 - 2
1998-99 - 3
1997-98 - 3
1996-97 - 2

Simple math. Simple chart. Most productive years: 1999 and 2004. National championship seasons.

Now, most college teams will normally have at least five players averaging more than five points per game. At least four starters, even on mediocre teams, will put up those numbers. But to have that one extra unselfish player.

Think basic: two or three baskets over two halves. Not that difficult unless you play every night against elements of the flex or as some refer to it as, the Princeton offense.

This always bothers me a bit because most teams do not run the true Princeton offense, per se, they run elements of it, mostly the flex.

Hall of Famer Pete Carril is considered the godfather of this concept, and rightfully so, but his system used so many other elements. So fluid. So complex. Yet so easy at times. But when fans now see a backdoor layup, they think Carril and Princeton invented the concept.

There is one reason why this misconception has now become fact to too many fans: the 1996 NCAA Tournament when the Tigers upset then-defending-champion UCLA.

The power of look-in games during the NCAA Tournament.

I digress.

But since most UConn teams owned a somewhat deep bench, the Huskies consistently place six players in this category every year.

Here’s the problem. Two assists per game is not difficult when you’re a point guard, or even a perimeter player. A third option changes everything.

In 1999, Khalid El-Amin and Ricky Moore both averaged well over two assists per game while the missing component was Richard Hamilton, who averaged close to three. That means one extra pass a game led to two or three more points.

In 2004, Ben Gordon and Taliek Brown each did their job from the backcourt while Marcus Williams came off the bench for a spell, even though it was only for 16 games because of academic problems. Still, it evens out but with three true guards.

In 2001-02, Caron Butler, along with Gordon and Brown, added a third dimension to the ever-important distribution list. But where Butler thrived, UConn struggled, going maybe six players deep. Also, Maryland was not too shabby in the NCAA Tournament if I remember correctly. An Elite Eight appearance is more than a foonote for UConn.

In 1997-98, the same applies with El-Amin, Moore and Hamilton. Elite Eight loss to North Carolina. And in that game, Monquencio Hardnett had four assists. Hamilton had three. The rest of the team had four.

With this idea, the final stats are Two Elite Eight finishes along with two national titles.

Now, take this year’s team. Jim Calhoun can play five guards, all of whom have enough point-guard savvy in them. On the wing, Stanley Robinson or Marcus Johnson have the ability to create, but will they be unselfish?

This leaves the interior. Hasheem Thabeet, if eligible, does not own this offensive attribute. It’s not his style. Jeff Adrien does have this ability, but his focus has always been straight ahead on the boards. He is needed there.

Watch Curtis Kelly, though. Assistant coach George Blaney said a few weeks ago that Kelly possesses some of the same qualities as Charlie Villanueva from a few years back. In his only season, Villanueva averaged 1.3 assists but also led the team in scoring and averaged 8.3 rpg, just .1 off of team-leader Josh Boone in that category.

The point Blaney was trying to make is that the interior court-sense is there. At times, Kelly has been caught employing his New York style while players tend to stand and watch.

He is capable of becoming this balance. Will he be the needed piece? And will unselfishness become the norm instead of the exception?

Find out in a few weeks.

Clarification: In my A.J. Price story on Sunday, I wrote that Price was a McDonald's All-American his senior season. He was not. He was only a consideration before his high school senior season began.


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