Friday, November 03, 2006

Why the break needs to work

Against man-to-man defenses, UConn has enough athleticism to counter.


Maybe a problem.

Historically, Jim Calhoun-coached teams do not like playing against zones. The 1-3-1 zone American International played probably was a good thing. While knowing his UConn team has yet to practice against a 1-3-1 zone, Calhoun was a bit dismissive in his post-game press conference, but he understands it’s just another area his team needs to work on before the regular season begins.

Calhoun says his team is receptive to instruction, which, of course, is a good thing and obviously a necessity. But with one of his most athletic teams and one of his quickest, running the break may also be a necessity. He has the players to do it. With a handful of talented guards and athletic big men who understand how to fill lanes on the break, this should work.

There were signs of this during the AIC game.

First, overlook the 25 turnovers. It was the first exhibition game.

Now, look at the 20 assists.

A concern when practice began was the team’s collective unselfishness. A few poor choices were made on the break Wednesday night. Passes were made when a 10-foot jumper would have sufficed. An extra pass sometimes seemed to be one two many.

With A.J. Price and Doug Wiggins the only guards showing some decision-making savvy, the Huskies ran well at times. Each finished with four assists. Each also finished with three turnovers. Still, a better than 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Marcus Johnson led UConn with five assists, a small positive with his eight points. He also had three turnovers and a few times, opted to pass before attacking the rim and scoring. Is unselfishness a good thing? Sometimes. Not always. This will probably be addressed as well.

Another small positive was the interior passing. Jeff Adrien, Curtis Kelly, Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards each had an assist along with six combined turnovers. Not good, though, not bad.

Back to the break, though.

Hasheem Thabeet is still learning. A few outlet passes sailed from the 7-foot-3 freshman center’s hands. He will be a key component in this scenario. His four turnovers were somewhat expected but it’s a guard’s responsibility to direct traffic. This will evolve into a constant with familiarity.

Meantime, the most effective lineup while running the break against AIC included Price, Wiggins and Dyson, even though the freshman did turn in an unexpected less-than-average effort. Dyson added two assists and two turnovers, one of which was a poor decision on the break when an alley-oop pass sailed off Johnson’s fingers.

Analysis: In half-court sets, scoring shouldn’t be a problem if Thabeet stays out of foul trouble. UConn has more quality perimeter shooting than years past. Will the Huskies pass up open shots?

It’s November, we’ll see.

The Huskies only scored 13 fast-break points against AIC. Their break was slow developing at times because of where it started. Edwards, one of the more cerebral freshmen, understood the concept but was slow to adjust to the pace. This applies to Thabeet as well. Time and repetition will improve this.

Wiggins and Price and Dyson all knew how to run the break. Decision making is the next step – who to trust, who will finish, who will then make the correct decision in return.

This all comes with familiarity. If UConn’s guards learn their personnel, if they make correct decisions, the break could be a very viable tool.

The guards must also learn how to be a little selfish. A 10-foot jumper is just as effective as a dunk from a forward trailing the play.

Decision making by 18 and 19 year olds takes some time to develop.

Will the guards grasp it? If so, points could add up and add yet another dimension to an athletic team.

See you next week.

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.

3-5 FG, 2-2 FT, 3 REBS., 5 AST., 2 STEALS, 17 MINS., 8 POINTS

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.

15 OFF., 18 DEF., 33 TOTAL

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.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Good basketball reading

Only a few days remain until an entire state gets its first glimpse of the current installment of UConn men’s basketball.

After Wednesday's first exhibition against American International, we will be able to dissect and analyze everything about this team. Guard production. Offensive production. Interior defense. Defense. Defense. And, oh, defense.

With Hasheem Thabeet’s eligibility no longer a question, the Huskies’ front line not only grew but most believe it improved. Jim Calhoun said Thabeet has the ability to change games not only in the Big East but across the country. We will find out. In the meantime, read Tuesday’s Register to find out a little more about his past and journey to Storrs. It hasn’t been easy.

So before we delve into numbers and some news toward the end of the week, spend some time reading a few good finds from across the country from the past few days.

These stories say basketball season has arrived.

The winter begins soon. For UConn, it begins Wednesday.

1) The Kansas City Star’s Bill Reiter takes a look at what new Kansas State coach Bob Huggins did during his year off. How confident was he that he would land another coaching gig somewhere?

After this read, pretty confident. The man is driven but are his ethics questionable?

2) Old Saybrook’s Vin Baker has limited time remaining in the NBA. The Timberwolves know that. He knows that. The last decade has been filled with some ups and downs for the former Hartford standout.

Some problems were self-inflicted. Makes you wonder what his life would be like if he chose a different path. It’s a story about diminished skills and how he should have coped.

3) DePaul? Big East sleeper? Maybe.

4) Mike Wise of the Washington Post spends some time with Gilbert Arenas, one of the more intriguing players in the NBA when the league is in dire need of personality. It hasn’t been the easiest path for Arenas, but this two-part story has two sides. Here's the first part.

5) There is pressure to excel because of where you grew up or who you are or where you come from. What happens if an entire country wonders if you’re good enough? What happens if an entire culture feels the same way? Or what happens if an entire country and culture wonders if you’re turning your back on where you come from?

Introducing Yotam Halperin. He’s trying to break into a league where Israel has never had a stake - the NBA.

6) Finally, The Boston Globe’s retrospect on the one and only Red Aurebach. Never has one man been so synonymous with one organization. Steinbrenner is close, but he’s no Red.

For all of these, pack a lunch because they’re all lengthy.

Then light up a cigar.