Thursday, November 02, 2006

AIC and enthusiasm

First, a few observations from last night. Then some numbers.

1) American International was picked 12th in the Northeast-10 preseason coaches’ poll. For all of you living in the southern part of the state of Connecticut, that’s three spots higher than Southern Connecticut State, which is projected to finish last.

The Yellow Jackets are young, but not as young as UConn (or even as young as the Huskies looked last night at Gampel Pavilion). AIC, Jim Calhoun’s alma mater, has just two seniors, one of which, forward Magen McNeil, played well even though he was undersized.

What AIC coach Art Luptowski has to look forward to are two freshmen, Aikeem Vanderhorst and Brandon Carter.

Vanderhorst is a 6-foot-3 physical forward who also can put the ball on the floor. Of course, he also seemed undersized against 7-foot-3 UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, but even Jeff Adrien does. But Vanderhorst is physically mature for a freshman. He’s one of those players who will pose a matchup problem throughout the NE-10 season.

Also, Carter led all AIC scorers last night with 14 points, including three 3-pointers. The freshman from Wilmington, Del., played under control but also erratic at times to match the flow of the game. He is a viable outside threat. AIC will surprise some people in the NE-10, not because the Yellow Jackets led by one at halftime against a Big East school. They have decent balance in one of the more competitive Division II conferences in the country.

What this also means is that UConn will see a much better NE-10 team Monday night at the Hartford Civic Center when it plays Bryant, which is picked to finish second in the conference. Bryant has enjoyed a great stretch of basketball. First with a Final Four appearance two years ago. Then last night, when it lost to Syracuse by just six.

2) As Calhoun tried a number combinations last night (I lost count at 17), he did see some production from a three-guard set late in the first half of UConn’s game against AIC.

With A.J. Price and freshmen Doug Wiggins and Jerome Dyson, the Huskies were able to run with some results. After the game, Calhoun said he was a bit disappointed because Dyson was not his usual self. He plans on Dyson getting this game out of his system, then returning to form.

Calhoun has said throughout preseason that with one of his quickest team ever (and youngest) he plans to run because he has the personnel. At times, they showed they were capable of doing this. Other times, the test was negative (25 turnovers). Dyson threw an errant alley-oop pass at an awkward time. Wiggins drove the lane and threw a no-look pass that was picked off in the first half. In the second half, he did the same thing but learned. He floated a split second longer and found a cutting Adrien across the lane.

3) Marcus Johnson has pushed Stanley Robinson and vice versa throughout practice, but Calhoun only first used them together a few minutes into the second half when Robinson replaced Adrien in the post.

Now, with Robinson at an athletic 6-foot-9, he can be useful on the boards, but he seemed out of place last night. He favors a wing position, but if Johnson is on the floor, that leaves just two guards, which is feasible. With Robinson’s mind set on the wing that leaves just one player in the paint. Thabeet was on the floor, but he is not a physical presence. Yet.

With both in the lineup, UConn can exploit some weaknesses, but against most teams, this will be difficult. If the Huskies have two players in the post, and both Johnson and Robinson on the wing, that leaves one guard who is also one ball handler. This would give an appearance of last year’s team but much less experienced and not as athletic. Yet.

Interesting to see what happens.

JOHNSON’S LINE
3-5 FG, 2-2 FT, 3 REBS., 5 AST., 2 STEALS, 17 MINS., 8 POINTS

ROBINSON’S LINE
2-4 FG, 0-1 FT, 3 REBS., O AST., 0 STEALS, 13 MINS., 4 POINTS

Tough to compare after the first game. Both played at different points of the game. Robinson played out of position for a few minutes. Johnson also fouled out but played well enough to earn Calhoun’s praise.

More tomorrow.

Let’s look at some quick numbers.
Here are a few certainties that need little analysis.
12-25 from the foul line
25 turnovers
58 percent shooting from the floor (not bad)

This one statistic, though, will eat away at everyone in the UConn program until Monday, when you will most likely see a big difference.

This was obvious.

REBOUNDING
AIC
15 OFF., 18 DEF., 33 TOTAL

UCONN
10 OFF., 32 DEF., 42 TOTAL

Yes, UConn outrebounded AIC. But take a few mitigating factors into consideration.

AIC did not dress one player taller than 6-foot-8. AIC played a 1-3-1 zone, which should be a shooter’s dream. And UConn did shoot 58 percent from the floor, a pretty decent shooting night. The Huskies’ finished 5-for-16 from beyond the arc. Slightly below average. Decent for Nov. 1.

Now, with fewer opportunities for second-chance points because of a somewhat quality shooting night, the number of offensive rebounds may have been low. But the shots that were missed against a small, but at times, more physical AIC team, should have been accounted for.

With longer shots comes longer rebounds. With a zone, especially a 1-3-1 zone, more gaps are exposed. Players are taught to box out the closest player, but with players crashing, this should have been a problem for AIC, but it wasn’t. Calhoun noted that they have not prepared for a 1-3-1 yet, but instincts sometimes take over, and that's what only Price and Wiggins did.

Also, Adrien made a living last year on second-chance points. Calhoun was a bit disappointed with his effort as well.

UConn was bigger and by far, more athletic. So the problem lies within the one factor that Calhoun pinpointed last night: enthusiasm. And maybe some experience.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the running game and why it needs to work.

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