If you'll permit just a tad bit of overreaction: the stunning news that Jerome Dyson is out for the year with a torn meniscus is probably the most depressing thing to happen to UConn basketball since the loss to George Mason.
I know I exaggerate a bit claiming that Kemba Walker is better than Dyson, but Dyson's injury is an absolute disaster for a team that seemed primed to return to the Final Four.
The injury turns a national title contender/favorite into just another good team; a great perimeter defending team into an OK one, and a deep guard rotation into a shallow one.
I feel sick to my stomach. What a punch in the gut.
Some people might say that it's not as bad as I say, but I think the panic button is the proper response.
John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus recently wrote a fantastic article detailing why UConn's defense has improved so much. In it, Gasaway turns his attention to Dyson, saying:
"Another response, however, is to note something very valuable about Dyson: he's Calhoun's only backcourt option who combines a prominent role in the offense with a very low turnover rate. Without Dyson, Connecticut might make a higher percentage of their shots, but they'd almost certainly take fewer shots."
Dyson is a slasher, a shooter (albeit "iffy," according to Gasaway) and (this year, anyway) has been able to avoid turning the ball over. With his spot needing to be filled by some combination Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker, we'll see if Gasaway's prediction comes true. I'm certainly not optimistic in light of the guards' performance against Syracuse yesterday.
Speaking of which, get read for lots o' zone the rest of the way and, more ominously, lots o' turnovers as the guards and Stanley Robinson force passes into Thabeet.
This is not to say that UConn is no longer a great team. They are. But they have no margin for error now. Between Walker and Austrie, at least one of them needs to step up and give starter-quality minutes. And at least one of Donnell Beverly and Scottie Haralson will need to step up to replace the off-the-bench minutes provided by Walker or Austrie.
Walker has shown that he's capable of pestering perimeter defenders (see Harris, Paul last night), and Austrie is an average-to-above-average defender, but the question is whether they can sustain that for 40 minutes every night.
On the offensive side of things, this leaves UConn in a very grim position. UConn's success will now count on Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien's ability to own the inside (a reasonable bet which will be tested against Pittsburgh) and A.J. Price's ability to create.
Make no mistake: this is now Price's offense. He'll have to play mostly at 2-guard and focus on scoring while Walker and Austrie share the PG duties. Inasmuch as UConn will need to score to win in March, Price will have to be brilliant for the next month and a half. It might be unfair to put that much weight on his shoulders, but then this is sort of an unfair situation.
Another reason to worry is depth. UConn had an almost exclusive 8-man rotation until Beverley came in last night (after Dyson's injury). Now, it's a 7-man rotation: Price, Adrien, Thabeet, Robinson, Walker, Austrie, Gavin Edwards. That is UNC-like in its shallowness.
Of course, much of this stems from the fact that three out of UConn's five freshman are unavailable, thanks to legal trouble, academic trouble and a BS string-along by the NCAA. Do you trust any of Beverley, Haralson or Jon Mandeldove to provide anything? Does Calhoun?
Dyson's injury is a game-changer. Last year, Dyson was suspended for 10 games, and UConn went on a 10-game winning streak. This year, Dyson is such a key part of the team that, barring a superhuman effort by a guard not named Price, I can't see that happening again.
At the very least, the now-Dysonless Huskies deserve a chance to prove themselves before we can officially kill off any Big East or national title hopes. After all, that chance comes in about four days in the XL Center.
But for now, this sucks. This really sucks.