UConn received its second loss of the week on Sunday afternoon, a close game against Arizona that could have easily gone the other way with one more bounce in the right direction. As the Huskies move forward, they’ll aim to bounce back in tonight’s contest against Patriot League opponent Lafayette.
The Huskies (6-2) seem like they’ve figured a lot out. They’re mostly healthy—Mamadou Diarra will be sidelined for a while longer, but Isaiah Whaley is good to go—are getting contributions from the recently-added Sidney Wilson, and Dan Hurley has gotten a handle on his team’s strengths and weaknesses against quality opponents.
Lafayette (2-5), however, has a long way to go. Longtime coach Fran O’Hanlon is overseeing his team’s worst stretch in at least a decade, and there haven’t been many signs of improvement so far. The Leopards are 0-3 at home, have only beaten one team with a win on one of the weakest schedules of any Division I team.
Worse, they just plain look bad, struggling to score while failing to stop opponents on the other end. The Leopards’ turnover rate isn’t that bad, which might be the one positive aspect of their play, but it comes at the expense of ball movement, as they rank among the nation’s worst in assists.
Of course, no Division I team is entirely without merit, and there are some to the Lafayette side. First of all, Justin Jaworski and Kyle Stout can both shoot, each offering three-point percentages over .400. Stout, the team’s clear best offensive player, moves the ball well too in a marked difference from his teammates; his assist-to-turnover ratio is over three, a sign that he helps create opportunities for the other Leopards.
Secondly, there is a defensive standout—junior power forward Lukas Jarrett. He’s undersized for the position against power programs like UConn, but he moves his feet well, shows shot-blocking ability, and doesn’t foul very often. Jarrett doesn’t play as often as he should in a lineup that often features four guards, but always has a real impact on the game.
Speaking of fouling, there’s one other statistic where Lafayette ranks very well as a team. The Leopards shoot .791 from the free throw line, good for eighth in the nation. The problem is that this is another attribute that they seem allergic to maximizing, attempting only 91 free throw attempts in their seven games so far, one of the very worst rates in the country.
Maybe this reticence to enter the efficiency era of basketball is because of O’Hanlon, very much a member of basketball coaching’s old guard, or maybe it’s because of the personnel he has to work with. Either way, the Leopards seem particularly reluctant to upgrade their offense. While they attempt three-pointers at an acceptable rate, too many of them have been taken by players who show little ability to make them.
Leading scorer Alex Petrie averages five and a half more attempts per game than any other player. Petrie also ranks tenth out of twelve Leopards in true shooting percentage. Simply put, players converting so few of their attempts, especially compared to the rest of the team, cannot take so many attempts if you want to have any sort of offensive success.
The defensive struggles are a bit more nebulous—the Leopards aren’t terrible in any one area, their opponents just make all their shots—which makes it tough to point to an area that lowers their defensive rating so much. Maybe the problem is just that they’re not good in any defensive area either.
There are a lot of questions about Lafayette’s play this season, and there aren’t many answers. That’s good news for a team like the Huskies, who have only this tune-up game before another major test against Florida State. They shouldn’t have any trouble dispatching the Leopards tonight.
What to look for
When UConn has the ball: After an excellent game off the bench, does Eric Cobb get more opportunities with the ball? The same question could be asked of Wilson, who slotted into the lineup very nicely against Arizona. Jalen Adams and Christian Vital struggled to protect the ball against Arizona—does their offensive gameplan change if the UConn lead is big enough?
Also, and perhaps most importantly, keep an eye on Alterique Gilbert, who really struggled with his shot on Sunday. Injuries messed with his mechanics in his previous two seasons, but this year he had shot well—was that just a cold streak or did he revert to a more comfortable form?
When Lafayette has the ball: Short form, does Petrie finally start knocking down his shots? Long form, this team was much better at shooting last season—when does that start to turn around?