Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT
Time: 12 PM ET
Radio: WTIC 1080
What to watch for:
1. Who guards Jonathon Holmes?
While freshman Myles Turner may be Texas' most talented player, Jonathon Holmes is their most important. Transitioning to the small forward position, the 6-foot-8 senior has the ability to play on the perimeter and bang down low with the big men. So far this season, he is averaging 13.4 PPG and 7.2 RPG while shooting 59.5% from the field and 4-7 from three.
This is where we miss Lasan Kromah and Niels Giffey so much from last season. Both had the ability to lock down a taller perimeter player. My initial thought is that Daniel Hamilton will get the assignment at first to guard Holmes, but with Hamilton being just a freshman, it can be risky. Hamilton has the size, length and athleticism to guard Holmes but tends to be overaggressive when guarding the ball. The freshman swingman has the tendency to play way past the three-point line, something that will burn him against a player like Holmes.
Kentan Facey is also someone who will probably get a shot at Holmes as he matches up well with his 6-foot-9 frame. The only issue would be Holmes bringing Facey away from the hoop, opening the door for offensive rebounds, but if it means stopping Holmes, Ollie is probably fine with it.
2. Handling the frontcourt of Texas, including Myles Turner
Yes, Texas has Myles Turner, the No. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2014, who is an unbelievable talent, but they also have Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert, and Prince Ibeh, all of whom get time for Rick Barnes' squad. Turner stands at 6-foot-11, 240 pounds and is averaging 12.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 2.6 BPG off the bench.
On offense, he gets position on the block, calls for the ball, and then has a variety of ways to score. Starting over Turner (for now) are Ridley and Lammert. Ridley, at 6-foot-9, 285 pounds, is a very big boy with a soft touch around the hoop. So far this season, he is averaging 8.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 1.6 BPG. Lammert is 6-foot-9, 240 pounds but plays the power forward position rather than center. He is averaging 6.6 PPG, but his job is to rebound. Finally, there is Ibeh, who is the fourth man in the rotation only playing 12.0 MPG. He gives quality minutes averaging 3.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 1.2 BPG.
The UConn big men are going to need to step up big time, and we are going to need guys like Phil Nolan to get rebounds and defend. This could potentially be a big game for Nolan, as he can finally show off why he put on 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. Amida Brimah is going to need to stop going for blocks every time or else offensive rebounding is going to be a major plus for the Longhorns. I'm not too worried about Facey, since he has proven to be an effective rebounder. And although Rakim Lubin is coming off a one-game suspension, Ollie may need to go to him if rebounding is an issue.
3. Backcourt Play
While Texas has the advantage in the frontcourt, UConn has the advantage in the backcourt, especially with Isaiah Taylor being out for the Longhorns. The starting backcourt for Texas will be 5-foot-11 junior Javan Felix and 6-foot-2 junior Demarcus Holland.
Felix is the team's primary ball handler and will run the halfcourt offense for Texas. Holland is the team's best defender while also showing improvement to his offensive game. Not known as much of a scoring threat, Felix is still averaging 9.0 PPG, but on 38.7% shooting. Ryan Boatright will most likely get the start on him, trying to disrupt his offensive flow as much as possible, as well as Texas's. Rodney Purvis will probably guard Holland which should be fine, but he can't get caught sleeping too much on defense as Holland loves going back-door.
On the flip side, Felix will start most likely on Boatright, something UConn's leader should take advantage of. From watching Felix play, he is nowhere near as quick as Boatright, so the senior should be able to create his own shot as well as make plays for others. Holland should get the start on Purvis, which could potentially take him out of the game offensively. Purvis definitely has the ability to score on some great defenders, but he can't force it. If Holland guards Boatright, which could happen at some points, and Felix guards Purvis, we should clear out and let Purvis go to work. Felix isn't a terrible defender by any means, but Purvis should be able to get to the hoop against a guy like him.
4. How will we respond to our first loss?
Obviously Texas is a very good team as they are ranked seventh in the nation-- this is another great early test for the Huskies before conference play. Especially after our first loss of the season, it is going to say a lot how we respond in such a big game. Ollie probably worked these guys hard after Puerto Rico, but now coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, everyone has to be rearing to go. A victory, or at least an extremely competitive game, will give great optimism for future games against Duke, Florida, Memphis, and SMU. A loss will only create more questions, but still wouldn't be the end of the world.
Prediction: The Huskies get some help from their home crowd, and Ryan Boatright doesn't allow us to lose two games in a row.
UConn 65 Texas 61