Leaving Texas

Cooper Neill

After a 2 game road trip through the Lone Star State, UConn is now 11-3 and 0-2 in The American.

It's taken me a little while to write the last few game recaps, and for that I apologize. It was a combination of the Holiday season and because if I had to write something immediately after Tuesday or Saturday's games, it would have been a string of four letter words.

If I had to write something the day after, you would have read the outpouring of a 26 year old man with the emotional composure of a teenage girl who just had her heart broken.

It has taken me nearly 48 hours to collect my thoughts, pick up the pieces, and figure out what to make of the recent decline by Kevin Ollie's UConn Huskies.

The Huskies have lost three of their last five with a very tough stretch coming up. Three of the next four games are against Harvard, Memphis and Louisville. Could we have six losses by January 18th? I don't think so, god I hope not, but it is a genuine possibility.

The frontcourt was absolutely abused Saturday afternoon, and everybody is figuring out just how vulnerable it is. SMU was having their way in every facet of low post basketball. The Mustangs held a 37-29 rebound advantage, 15-10 on the offensive boards. Even worse, they also beat us in our own game: guard play. The 5-foot-9 Nic Moore had 20 points and 6 assists and his back-court mate Nick Russell had a Shabazz-ian 14 point, 7 rebound, 4 assist performance.

Speaking of Shabazz Napier, our team's unquestioned leader needed to come out strong after a sluggish start in Houston. Instead he had two points and one field goal attempt at halftime, and didn't hit his first field goal until halfway through the second half. Overall he ended up with 12 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds, but the casual observer saw very little besides behind the back passes and one handed lurches across the court from the Naismith Award candidate.

PAGING OMAR CALHOUN. After a freshman campaign where he averaged 11 points per game, the highly touted Sophomore has been mostly ineffective all year, particularly against quality opponents. We know he's capable of much more, if he can pick it up this team could still turn around this season. So far though, I can't help but be dismayed by his performance thus far.

Unlike any other game this season, UConn put together a full 40 minutes of pure crap. There was no point during that game where I thought, "Hey- UConn might pull this one out, they are playing well! I'm not going to spend the next hour in my room with the lights off fighting back tears!"

After losing to Houston in such horrific fashion, and playing so poorly against SMU, are we even sure UConn can beat UCF? I haven't seen them play, but the Knights have three guys between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8 who average double digit points and around 6 rebounds per game. They have three senior starters and four players averaging double figures and just saw Houston and SMU steal program defining wins against this national power.

For whatever reason, maybe the road trip, maybe being on winter break, this looked nothing like the team that took the court against Maryland or the one that stuck with Florida until the end and earned a hard fought win. Ryan Boatright and Lasan Kromah were the only players worth a damn and for the second straight game Shabazz Napier got off to a quiet start. DeAndre Daniels couldn't get much going either, but the biggest culprit from Saturday's loss is the complete blackhole that is the UConn front court. In 25 minutes, starting Center Tyler Olander had 2 points and 1 rebound. Phil Nolan only played two minutes in which he managed to make a basket and Amida Brimah had 4 points, 4 rebounds and 5 blocks in 13 minutes. Defensively teams are going to attack us down low and offensively our opponents can key on the guards and beef up perimeter D knowing that the ball is unlikely to go down low, and if it does we'll be treated to the Tyler Olander mix tape.

***

Mac has painstakingly detailed the poor circumstances leading to UConn's front court woes. Certainly the combination of head coaching uncertainty and the post-season ban had an effect on recruiting and we are feeling the pinch right now. With no competent big man, we are nothing more than one of those shitty Villanova teams that have too much talent from 1-3 but no big men and gets owned in March. Gross.

Harvard, our next opponent, doesn't seem to have much of a presence down low, so maybe coming back to Gampel against a favorably matched opponent can help the Huskies get on track. The issue is that beyond the post problems, UConn has played with a marked lack of fire this entire season. The Florida game is the only time this team put together a high quality performance against a decent opponent. Beyond that, even wins against teams like BU, BC and Washington felt like incomplete performances.

There are a lot of question marks for Kevin Ollie going into the upcoming game against Harvard with a crucial sequence against Memphis and Louisville on the horizon. His team needs to get better quickly or we are looking at an ugly state of affairs by the end of this month. Hustle and discipline are two of the greatest problems afflicting the Huskies in their three losses and other close calls- this falls squarely on coaching and leadership.

Our frontcourt is simply the hand that we are dealt, the coach can only do so much. But he really needs to do something about the body language, effort and  focus that his team is delivering. Perhaps a person so intrinsically motivated to succeed is having a hard time getting a variety of personalities to buy-in, but it's more likely that these are the trials and tribulations of a second year head coach.

Any season can have an ebb and flow like this. You are winning a certain way, opponents start to figure it out then you adapt and evolve. Right now it's very clear that opponents have figured out the recipe we used to build an 11-1 record. UConn needs to turn the page quickly on these demoralizing losses otherwise we may be looking at a team that finishes the season on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament.

Despite all of the pessimism, I am certainly not advocating we give up on this team. The point of this whole thing is to peak in March/April, and if Kevin Ollie is using these games as his test lab to have a refined product by March that is fine. But this team needs to show some life soon. Still, through thick or thin, the Huskies need all the support we can give on Wednesday in Gampel lest we as fans appear fickle to the national audience. Tickets are still available, please do everything you can to support the squad.

GO HUSKIES!

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