Monday, November 06, 2006

What to watch for against Bryant

Before we look at some things to watch for before UConn’s second and final exhibition tonight against Bryant at the Hartford Civic Center, check out some non-required reading from Sunday.

Let’s start out west with L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke, a man who spins a gem once in awhile. We have reached the day when naming rights show up in the most unusual places and most of the time, in all the wrong places.

But recently, an anonymous donor chipped in $5 million to USC to name the court after a longtime friend who passed away almost a decade ago. The player averaged nine points his senior season. The tale is bizarre, but I agree with Plaschke who sums it up best at the end. Don’t look early. Don’t. Give it a chance.

The rest of the docket was thin with features but perhaps some game stories of interest.

In Syracuse’s second and final exhibition, the Orange coasted past Cal State-L.A., not to be confused with UCLA. Syracuse had no problem with a Division II team coached by former Orange guard Stephen Thompson, who sported a little tail on the back of a shaved head - a vain attempt to start a fashion craze that could only take off in Syracuse.

But it never did.

Anyway, the effort was much different than Wednesday’s victory over Bryant, UConn’s opponent tonight.

Finally, Pitt closed out its exhibition schedule with another California team, but the one from Pennsylvania, yet another Division II team that gave Maryland a problem last week. The Panthers had few problems with this one, though.

An interesting side note appeared to that game regarding Pitt coach Jamie Dixon.

Wondering when Pitt will reach the same level as other Big East schools under Dixon, the writer quoted Jim Calhoun generously throughout the piece. Comparisons are tough, even more so when the expectations are so high for the Panthers this season.

Now, for tonight.

1) Game two of the Hasheem Thabeet project is tonight. The 7-foot-3 center posted some decent numbers against American International and will not find too much competition in the post until the Big East season begins in two months. But his development will be interesting to watch.

Against AIC, Thabeet played timid at times. He did pick up four fouls, something that will always be a concern with a 7-footer. But at 263 pounds, his strength will be tested by players six inches shorter than Thabeet. Will he respond? Will his basketball IQ jump that quickly after just one exhibition?

Maybe. Still, patience.

2) Jerome Dyson. Maybe it was first-game nerves but Dyson’s ineffectiveness has been noted the past few days at practice. With guard play so crucial this season, Calhoun hopes one bad game is all Dyson has in his system. His defense has also been noted, but he does possess some offensive explosiveness. It was a non-factor against AIC. With Bryant guard Chris Burns, Dyson may be called upon to bottle up the Providence transfer who dropped 33 points on Syracuse. But Calhoun wants a complete effort on both ends.

3) How will Calhoun use Marcus Johnson and Stanley Robinson? It was obvious Robinson was not comfortable playing alongside Thabeet in the post against AIC. The freshman forward and Alabama’s Mr. Basketball favors the wing, but his range has been questioned so far. His first shot as a Husky was a 12-footer that sailed over the rim, but his nerves calmed. Will Robinson be used more on the wing across from Johnson, giving UConn an athletic frontcourt?

On the other hand, Johnson played well against AIC even though he fouled out. He scored eight points and handed out five assists. He did play more confident. The coaching staff hopes that will continue.

4) How unselfish will UConn play? Handing out 20 assists as a team was a nice showing, but at times, the UConn guards played too unselfishly. If the Huskies expect to run, their guards will need to make better decisions. Conservative is not a bad concept in November. By January, they will take a few more chances. By then, the comfort level will be established.

5) Turnovers. Half of the 25 turnovers were just poor decisions. Those mistakes have been addressed.

6) Empty seats in the Hartford Civic Center. Keep the exhibitions at Gampel, but with a young team that will play there three straight days in two weeks, it’s not a bad idea but they do open at Gampel on Friday. Scheduling. Bucks. Seats. The Civic Center. The cavernous home away from home.

Bring a sweater.

One last thing to note. The first Associated Press poll of the season was released this morning. UConn begins the winter at No. 18.

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