Friday, December 08, 2006

Big East conference call

The first Big East conference call with coaches took place Thursday morning. Here are a few selected thoughts from some in the group. The other eight coaches speak next week and will continue to do so through the season on an every-other-week basis. UConn coach Jim Calhoun will speak with the national media next Thursday.

Tom Crean, Marquette

The Golden Eagles face in-state foe Wisconsin on Saturday in one of the top non-conference rivalries in college basketball. This year the Badgers have some depth and will figure prominently in the Big Ten standings. As for Marquette, its guard-laden lineup fell to No. 20 in the AP poll this week. Wisconsin enters the Bradley Center at No. 12.

The 113th installment of the game will air at 2 p.m. on ESPN.

Crean, though, was asked about all the early-season upsets around the country. He has a few theories. After all, Marquette fell to North Dakota State, 64-60, on Dec. 2.

“It’s happening all around the country with so many games,” Crean said. “One of the reasons why, I think, is that basketball started a week earlier this year and football runs so much later now. Everyone is excited to play games, but those games are now needed for learning. And there is still so much learning to do this early in the season.”

Also, why paying homage to current Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight, who is five victories away from passing Dean Smith as the all-time leader in victories in Division I men’s basketball, Crean discussed how much the coach has impacted the game with his motion offense.

“It’s something that is often imitated, but never duplicated,” Crean said of the motion offense. “He’s not the one who invented the game, but he's had a heck of an influence on how the game is played.”

Jamie Dixon, Pitt

The Panthers remain at No. 2 this week in the AP poll, but have done so in a unique way. They travel to Buffalo on Saturday after defeating cross-city rival Duquesne on Wednesday night.

Pitt has four non-conference road games before dipping into the Big East schedule, one of the most among conference teams. Dixon said he was warned by other coaches not to schedule Buffalo at Alumni Arena and called the matchup "dangerous".

Also, when asked if games like these eventually hurt Pitt when seeds are announced for the NCAA Tournament, Dixon used the Big East schedule and the school’s three regular-season titles from 2002-04, both outright and shared, as leverage.

“Sometimes I don’t know why those things happen,” Dixon said. “I did the research and over the last five years, we’ve had the fifth highest seed in the country on average. I’d say that’s pretty good.”

Fred Hill, Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights are trying to claw their way up the Big East much like their football colleagues at the school, but over the last few years, and perhaps decades, Rutgers has never been able to keep top in-state recruits within the borders of Jersey, now a fertile recruiting ground with 26 current Big East players.

Hill would like that to change. Also, he mentioned that the football team's recent success may help with recruiting and improve the overall perception of the school.

“There’s no question Jersey has some great players, in the metro area, down the pike, but we’ve been very fortunate to sign four players early this year and two are from Jersey,” Hill said. “There’s great awareness out there of Rutgers. You want to capitalize on that.”

Tim Welsh, Providence

After a loss to Brown earlier in the season, the Friars bounced back with a few easy non-conference wins before falling to Florida the other night.

Still, skeptics have wondered when Welsh will revive the program and elevate it to the next level. In his ninth year at Providence, Welsh has led the Friars to three NCAA Tournament appearances but has never advanced past the first round. They also have won just one Big East Tournament game since his arrival.

This year, he is trying to improve with a very young team.

When asked how crucial this season is for Providence, Welsh said, “Every year you try to build a program and establish that winning feeling and put yourself on the map a little bit. But we really don’t talk about it being crucial. … I don’t care what they say about our basketball team. … We keep our feelings within the family.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Notes from Northeastern game

Some notes from last night's game that made the print edition but not the Web.


By Brett Orzechowski
Register Staff

STORRS – As with most early seasons, the non-conference schedule is used as a litmus test for young players and allows coaches to figure out a concrete rotation before the Big East portion begins.
The University of Connecticut’s, though, remains a puzzle with little calculation.
Against Northeastern on Wednesday night, UConn head coach Jim Calhoun distributed a majority of the minutes to his starting five for most of the first half, much like the first seven games this winter. Doug Wiggins was the first guard off the bench while Craig Austrie played his role.
Then, the only question that remains with UConn’s rotation was left unanswered again.
Calhoun continues to look for minutes for Stanley Robinson and found some in the post for the freshman forward. The time once reserved for Gavin Edwards and Curtis Kelly was used by Robinson while Jonathan Mandeldove did not play any quality minutes.
The tinkering and the head games continue.


With the victory, Calhoun moved into a tie for 13th with former Temple head coach John Chaney on the all-time Division I coaching wins list with 741.
Next on the roll at No. 12 is legendary Kansas coach Phog Allen with 746. Lurking behind the group is Jim Boeheim. The Syracuse coach sits at No. 15 with 733 victories since arriving at the school in 1977.


At 7-foot-3, UConn freshman center Hasheem Thabeet approaches shot blocking unlike most players his size.
Most of his blocks are directed toward guards on the wing and very seldom does he leave his feet on ball fakes. But never, until the eighth game of the season, had Thabeet been called for goaltending.
At the 16:10 mark of the first half, Thabeet caught a shot on the way down from Northeastern’s Bobby Kelly.
The whistle was followed 10 seconds later by another call.
Calhoun and the UConn bench were assessed the first technical foul of the season.


Granted all were guarantee games, but Northeastern has woven through the Big East before Wednesday night at Gampel Pavilion against UConn.
"I think we're the 17th best team in the Big East right now," coach Bill Coen joked after the game. "It sometimes feels that way."
Northeastern opened its season at Syracuse, an 81-58 loss, before traveling to Pittsburgh two nights later. Pitt handed Northeastern a 78-52 defeat. Now, before it jumps into its Colonial Athletic Association schedule, it will play one more Big East team with a Boston connection.
On Dec. 27, Louisville and former Boston University coach Rick Pitino will be another gracious host. If Boston College remained in the Big East, Northeastern would have played five conference teams this season. Instead, the Eagles defected to the Atlantic Coast Conference.


Marcus Williams, now a rookie guard with the New Jersey Nets, attended Wednesday night’s game at Gampel Pavilion. It was the first return this season by a former UConn player from last year’s Elite Eight team.

Brett Orzechowski may be reached at

Monday, December 04, 2006

Notes and numbers – TSU

Some statistical analysis after the UConn-Texas Southern game


1. Hasheem Thabeet – 10 blocks/UConn – 10 blocks
Against Texas Southern, the freshman ties the school’s single-game record with Emeka Okafor and Donyell Marshall. He has been very high (Quinnipiac, Fairfield) or very low (Mississippi, Albany, Sacred Heart). Look for a happy medium as the season continues.

2. Opponent’s field-goal percentage through seven games – 32.6 percent
A Calhoun staple over the past few years. The trend does not seem like it will stop this year.

3. Perimeter defense – opponents from three-point range – 27.1 percent
An aspect of UConn’s defense that Calhoun touted in the early season. With four quality guards who are always somewhat defensive minded, the trend was spotted early.

4. Turnovers
UConn 15.4/opponents 17.7
This differential should be wider. Turnovers tend to decrease as the season wears on. With guards taking better care of the ball, the turnovers on the perimeter should decrease, but the double teams in the post will not. Teams will eventually collapse on players like Thabeet, forcing the 7-footer to make more decisions. The same applies with other post players. They will need to adapt.

5. In all but one game (Quinnipiac), UConn has shot at least 50 percent from the floor
Quality shots. Consistent shots. Only a positive seven games in.

6. Thabeet has not pulled down more than 10 rebounds since the Huskies’ opening-night victory over Quinnipiac
Blocks are consistent. Scoring and rebounding are not. Thabeet said Sunday that by game 18 or 20, he wants to be a complete player.

7. Only two players (A.J. Price, twice, and Jerome Dyson) have registered 20-point games
Dyson said after the Sacred Heart game that someone does not have to be a star every night. With a number of offensive options, this seems to be a reality and a season-long trend.

8. Marcus Johnson’s field-goal percentage – 51.1 percent
Calhoun said his sophomore is best utilized on the break. Johnson has not found his stroke from the outside. Beyond 10 feet, that percentage is cut in half. One positive in his game – he is shooting 70 percent from the line.

9. All four guards have at least 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio
Craig Austrie’s five-turnover outing against Albany is in the past. Price is now up to 34:14. Dyson is 17:9. Wiggins, who was erratic a few weeks ago, is 16:13. Austrie is 10:10.

10. Games in which Thabeet has picked up four fouls – 0
This will become a huge factor and will test UConn’s frontcourt depth as the season continues. He has only picked up three fouls once (Mississippi) in perhaps his least-productive outing. Thabeet stays grounded and has picked up fouls while leaving his feet only twice this season.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

McClain visit postponed

Anthony McClain, the 7-foot high school senior from National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md., postponed his visit to Storrs today.
The visit has not been rescheduled.
The center appears to be the logical successor to Hasheem Thabeet if the UConn freshman opts to declare for the NBA draft in the spring and McClain commits to the Huskies. He is UConn's top, and in many ways, only senior recruit.
So far, Georgetown, Pitt and Maryland have offered McClain with the Hoyas showing considerable interest in the center. Georgetown is in a similar situation as UConn with junior center Roy Hibbert, who may declare for the NBA in the spring.