Saturday, November 11, 2006

Perspective from UConn/Quinny

Some things that didn’t make the print edition after Friday night’s UConn-Quinnipiac game.

First, from the Quinnipiac side.

Before UConn head coach Jim Calhoun questioned Joe DeSantis’ decision to talk about game plans with media outlets and then proceed to stray a bit and play zone instead of man-to-man, the Quinnipiac coach shared some praise for his program, which has struggled in recent years.

Even though freshman point guard Casey Cosgrove finished with just three points, two assists and four turnovers, he did play assertively against a stifling UConn backcourt with Jerome Dyson, Doug Wiggins and Craig Austrie. DeSantis said it could have been worse if Cosgrove folded. But he didn’t, giving DeSantis hope for the upcoming season.

DeSantis also talked about DeMario Anderson’s performance. The junior guard finished 5-for-20 from the floor and forced too many shots in the second half, but Anderson will be a key player for the Bobcats. After the death of his mother this week, Anderson returned for one practice before playing Friday. Anderson is another reason why DeSantis is optimistic.

Lastly, it appears DeSantis is somewhat pleased with the direction his program is heading. It hasn’t been a productive last few years in Hamden. He has noticed some progress not only in his team but in the program.

A few years ago, he counted maybe one or two assistants. With the new basketball arena in Hamden, his office will overlook the Long Island Sound on a clear day from its elevation.

After one game, DeSantis likes where he is heading.

He hopes his team follows.

Now, for UConn.

No one was pleased leaving Gampel Pavilion on Friday night. Not Calhoun. Not his players.

Let’s look at some surface numbers today and then delve into some deeper statistical issues over the next few days.

Free-throw shooting is a concern. With Hasheem Thabeet, Calhoun and his staff know improvement will come with time. The freshman center finished 3-for-7 from the line.

The team output was a different story.

The final stats say UConn finished 15-for-34. Jerome Dyson, who led all UConn scorers with 16 points thanks in large part to his three first-half 3-pointers, also was 5-for-12 from the foul line. Craig Austrie and Doug Wiggins each went 0-for-2.

On a team which expects to thrive on its backcourt productivity, they must focus on their performance at the free-throw line late in the game. If Jeff Adrien did not pick up three of his game-high seven rebounds off free-throw misses late in the game, momentum may have gone in a different direction.

Actually, if Adrien did not pull down a career-high 16 rebounds, momentum may have gone in a different direction.

Final backcourt free-throw numbers: 8-for-21.

Moving on to turnovers.

After committing 12 in the first half, UConn cut the number to nine in the second. Did conservative play or faulty shooting lead to just 18 first-half points? Only the game tape will show the answer and only the coaches will offer a subjective view.

With Thabeet and Adrien coupled with Quinnipiac’s Karl Anderson going to the bench early in the first half with three fouls, it gave UConn so many opportunities to capitalize on the differential.

Points in the paint: Quinnipiac 18, UConn 16.

Yes, the Bobcats switched to a zone and pushed Thabeet away from the basket while Adrien constantly dealt with three defenders collapsing on him. If anything, Quinnpiac played solid help defense. It could only happen with a zone, though. Athletically, playing man-to-man, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Finally, Calhoun has mentioned inferior guard play. One last thing to think about before more evaluation tomorrow.

Fast break points: Quinnipiac 10, UConn 4.

Friday, November 10, 2006

UConn v. Quinnipiac

With a new college basketball season beginning in about eight hours, here are some things to note.

First, let’s begin with the Register’s preview.

Now that he’s reached his mid-60s, people wonder how much longer Jim Calhoun will coach. His current and former assistants say they do not know, but each give an interesting perspective on why he has been able to endure.

Also, you can find a feature on Jeff Adrien, who has been in a similar role before: upperclassmen who shaped him are now gone and he is left to become a leader. Quiet on the floor, the introspective sophomore now understands his purpose at UConn.

In addition to the men’s preview, UConn women’s basketball writer Jim Fuller takes a closer look at Geno Auriemma’s program. Some great features and analysis of the upcoming season.

Now, tonight.

Today, we looked at a few freshmen who are making noticeable pushes for starting roles, leaving some sophomores to elevate their game.

Jerome Dyson will start over Craig Austrie but Marcus Johnson remains in his starting slot while freshman Stanley Robinson comes off the bench. Calhoun believes Robinson will come off the bench in the same capacity as Rashad Anderson to start the season, but two things to note:

- With the way Robinson is playing, he will not start games on the bench much longer.

- Robinson will not stick around UConn for four years.

Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price and Adrien round out the starting five. Look for Gavin Edwards and Doug Wiggins to earn significant minutes as well.

The coaching staff has been slightly impressed with Edwards’ performance but his strength is still a concern. After Monday’s exhibition win over Bryant, Calhoun said he noticed Edwards was boxed out beyond the lane three different times. This won’t fly in the Big East. But Edwards is one of the smarter players on this year’s team. He knows how to read rebounds, how to use his still-developing body and when to take smart shots. Strength is developed over time.

As for Wiggins, he has earned his minutes with creative play and some flashes of physicality that are deceiving because of his 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame. He takes chances, but said he is quickly learning what flies at UConn and what doesn’t.

On the Quinnipiac side, head coach Joe DeSantis said he will use 6-foot-9 forward Karl Anderson accordingly. The junior does have range beyond 10 feet, therefore, the UConn defense may be extended.

But Thabeet was able to step out and defend the jumper and even blocked a jumper from about 15 feet out. This is not an easy test for Thabeet. In both the American International and Bryant games, Thabeet covered a number of players who do not have Anderson’s offensive capabilities.

Even though Anderson is not Pitt’s Aaron Gray or Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert, he does give Thabeet a chance to play against a different type of frontcourt player.

Not a Big East test, but still, a good test.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Additional Quinny notes, recruiting news

First and foremost, Anthony McClain, the 7-foot center from Fort Washington (Md.) National Christian Academy, has postponed an unofficial visit to UConn originally scheduled for Friday.

Instead, the Huskies’ top recruit in this year’s class is tentatively scheduled for another unofficial visit Dec. 3 when UConn plays Texas Southern.

Moving on ...

Quinnipiac coach Joe DeSantis said he will not deviate from his team’s up-tempo style to counter UConn's 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet in the middle.

“I have to believe that with them being so quick, we can’t concentrate on one guy,” DeSantis said. “If we wind up taking 30 3-pointers in order to win, that’s what has to be done.”

DeSantis, who may or may not be with the services of transfer guard DeMario Anderson because of the death of the junior’s mother, said he believes in his system and will not change. Quinnipiac is 0-7 all-time against UConn.

“Why do upsets occur?” DeSantis asked. “Because you either have one guy who scores 50 or you’re playing the system and we haven’t had a guy score 50 here in a long time.”

UConn forward Jeff Adrien, who has been bothered by an ailing hip, will wear knee braces Friday night against the Bobcats. Calhoun said he is fine but the staff will keep watch on the sophomore preseason all-Big East selection.

If you want a little more insight into this year's Quinnipiac program, check out New Haven Register College Sports Editor Sean O'Rourke's preview of the Bobcats.

After noticing a different vibe at the west end of Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago at Big East media day, a few media outlets sense a change in Jersey. If not this year, then in the years to follow. Check out this piece from the New York Times on Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez and Fred Hill of Rutgers.

Also, a few weeks ago, I checked out a few Rutgers' notables from years past, that is, on the infamous side. After reading this story on the Rutgers football program, a sense of guilt surfaced.

Finally, for all those hoops junkies out there, I know this site has been around for a few years, but check it out. There are some great tidbits of info even though it focuses on mid-majors.

Appropriately called "The Mid-Majority" , it has everything you need to know about George Mason before they dance on scorer's tables in late March.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Things to note on the Quinnipiac side

Eight freshmen fill the UConn roster. Quinnipiac head coach Joe DeSantis brought in four of his own. And aside from a few frontcourt freshmen, the most crucial first-year players are at the guard spot for both teams.

Casey Cosgrove, the 5-foot-8 starting point guard for Quinnipiac, will make his college debut in Gampel Pavilion Friday night. He can shoot. He can handle the ball. He was a member of the Boston Globe’s Dream Team, the same honor Jeff Adrien received just a few years before.

Over the summer, he was asked if he was looking forward to starting his career at Gampel against UConn. It was the first time he smiled during the interview.

He said, “Absolutely.”

Also, DeMario Anderson, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Central Connecticut State, has missed the last few days of practice to be with his family after the death of his mother. As of Wednesday afternoon, DeSantis was unsure of Anderson's status for Friday night.

One last early observation from Quinnipiac. The Bobcats prefer an up-tempo style and will try to run on UConn. It’s one of the reasons why the Huskies plays the Hamden-based school, aside from this being a guarantee game. On Wednesday, DeSantis said he would not waver from his program’s style, asking, “If you believe in the system, why change it?”

Last season, Quinnipiac kept this game close for awhile before the Huskies’ athleticism proved to be too much. At the time, DeSantis considered switching from man to zone but decided against the move. UConn then went on to win by 36. He stands by his system, even when asked how to defend a 7-foot-3 center like Hasheem Thabeet.

Really, one last note. Quinnipiac shot 29 3-pointers in last season’s game.

Expect much of the same.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Things to ponder after the Bryant game

Some numbers from Monday night’s game against Bryant to ponder before UConn opens its season at home against Quinnipiac on Friday.

Doug Wiggins had five turnovers for the game, four of which were committed in the first half. Since he played 10 minutes in each half, obviously the learning curve ran through him.

But the East Hartford product also added three assists in the second half while pulling down seven (yes, seven) rebounds for the game.

Head coach Jim Calhoun mentioned in his post-game thoughts that at times, Wiggins plays out of control. This contrasts his thoughts on sophomore Craig Austrie, who Calhoun believes plays too conservatively.

After the first day of practice, I asked Austrie if he was willing to take more chances now that he has played one year of college basketball. He said yes, but the one aspect of his game that he takes pride in the most is his assist-to-turnover ratio.

Numbers from last night:
AUSTRIE – 12 minutes, three points, two assists, one turnover.

What numbers don’t show is this.

Calhoun would like to run with this group of guards. All are proven playmakers and all have legitimate shooting range. At times, Austrie pulled up on the break to set up the offense. He also had trouble working through screens to start the game against Chris Burns, who then calmly sank two 3-pointers within the first minute.

Calhoun also mentioned that Austrie is 11-0 as a starter last year.

He also had guys named Gay, Boone, Armstrong and Brown to help out.

Now he has eight freshmen and two of those players are guards who showed quality flashes over the two exhibitions. Even though UConn committed 22 turnovers, the emphasis is not on conservative play, it’s on learning from mistakes and taking chances.

It’s a theme that runs continuously through this year’s team.



Jeff Adrien is not the same player he was last year right now. Calhoun said he is not pleased with the sophomore’s effort and has been displeased with his performance in practice as well.

Adrien said he is physically fine, just adjusting. His line from last night:

23 MINS, 15 PTS., 5 REBS., 9-12 FTs

Most of his points were from the foul line and all but two of his second-half points were scored from there. He only pulled down one rebound in the second half and had trouble elevating on short jumpers and put-backs.

Statistically, Adrien played well, but Calhoun also mentioned that he struggled with 6-foot-6 forwards on a Division II level. In other words, Adrien had trouble with players he had his way with last season.

More later.

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.