The 2-5 New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) defeated #17 Michigan Wolverines72-70 yesterday in the biggest upset -in terms of point spread- since 2007 . A day earlier, Division II University of the Sciences defeated Division I Drexel becoming the first non-D1 school to beat a D1 opponent at home. My point? Don't panic. Yes, we lost to Yale for the first time in decades, and yes, once again, it was painful. However this was not the typical UConn-Yale match-up. Yale entered Friday's game at 7-2 having defeated Kent State on the road and losing to 6-2 Providence by just 6. Additionally, Yale coach James Jones is one of the most successful coaches in Ivy League History with his 209 overall wins good for third in league history. This was not a scrub team that came into Gampel and beat us. Yale executed. And when you execute, as evidenced by the last two days, any team can win any game.
Moral of the story, we didn't play well. More often than not, upsets occur when the underdog out-shoots the favorite. This was not the case Friday night as Yale shot a lowly 33% (18-55) from the field and a dismal 14% (3-21) from behind the arc. Instead, Yale beat us in every other aspect of the game. They out-rebounded us (36-25), out-blocked us (4-2), had more steals (10-5) and forced more turnovers (13-11). You know what this tells me? We didn't create and exploit favorable match-ups.
Ryan Boatright's missed 1-and-1
I don't care how poorly we rebounded or how lethargic we played, Boatright's missed free throw is far and away the most disturbing take away. He needs to make that shot. Kemba Walker makes it. Shabazz Napier makes it. Ryan Boatright missed it- twice. I know he played through pain and I appreciate his toughness, but as any athlete can attest, the adrenaline pumping from a potentially game-winning foul shot eliminates any pain in the body. We need Ryan Boatright to make that shot under any circumstance. He is our leader and he will have the ball late in the game. We don't need him to make 1, we need him to make 2. Every time. That is what separates a great point guard from a championship winning point guard. At this point in his career there cannot be any doubt when he steps to the line, especially in late game situations.
Lack of Urgency
Call it a championship hangover but losing two games in a row the same way on the same miscommuncation is troubling. As the defending National Champions we have a target on our back and need to bring the intensity night in and night out, from the beginning. On the year, UConn is -23 in the first half and +43 in the second half. Slow starts hint to a lack of urgency and not taking opponents seriously. Yale/Coppin State deserve the same respect as Texas/Duke. Once you give a team early confidence, it can be hard to overcome. Also, Yale shot more free throws. For a team that is shooting 28% from deep on the season, we need to attack the rim and stop settling for the outside shot. So far on the year we have shot only 5 more free throws than our opponents. With the talent/athleticism we have, this is unacceptable and a clear indicator we are settling for the outside jumper.
Three Guard Line Up
The benefits of a three guard line up are to create an advantage by having more shooters, play makers and ball handlers on the floor, effectively limiting turnovers. It can also be utilized to create a match-up advantage. So far this year, the three guard lineup has done none of the above. Boatright and Daniel Hamilton are playing 36/34 minutes respectively as the two primary guards with SCJ, Purvis and Terrence Samuel each playing between 22-24 mpg as the third guard. Between the three, they have 20 assists and 19 turnovers while shooting a combined 32%. UConn as a team has a dreadful 10:12 assist:turnover ratio. As I mentioned above, we aren't getting to the line, settling for outside shots we aren't making. What is the advantage of having a three guard lineup when the third guard isn't producing?
At least the third guard rebounds, right? Wrong. We were killed on the glass against Yale managing only 1 offensive rebound. On the year, opponents have a +6 offensive rebound margin. Kentan Facey alone has pulled down 39 rebounds in 146 minutes, more than SCJ, Purvis and Samuel combined in over 375 minutes of action. That leads me to believe the rebounding problem is more of a personnel problem. Also, remember all those years we led the nation in shot blocking? This year we are only at +2. Statistically speaking we need to abandon the three guard lineup and focus on getting the bigs involved. A perfect segue into...
Where do we go from here?
UConn basketball is defined by toughness and absolute dominance in the paint. Adrien. Boone. Okafor. Thabeet. Armstrong. In speaking with a former player, Calhoun started every game with a play for the bigs- typically a cross screen or back screen on the block. We need to get back to the inside-out game that defines UConn basketball, especially given our early season shooting woes. Once you have established a post presence, or at least show you are willing to look down low, the perimeter will open up for our play-makers. Yes Brimah/Facey/Nolan are young and raw but they have shown signs of progress. We need to get them involved early, even force the issue, to create a more balanced attack. Getting our bigs involved early builds confidence that will translate to the defensive end.
We are a team that is still putting together the pieces. According to ESPN stats and information UConn is the only team in the nation with seven players averaging 23.5 minutes per game (minimum 3 games played). These are not the UConn Huskies who will compete in the NCAA tournament this March, that rotation is still undecided. With early season injuries to Calhoun/Purvis, we are still trying to assemble the pieces to a winning puzzle. In that regard, the Yale loss is not nearly as worrying as it may seem from the headlines, as long as we make the necessary adjustments.