Q&A with The UConn Blog

Kevin Meachem of The UConn Blog was happy to answer some questions about the Huskies as DePaul prepares to play a Saturday evening game against a Jim Calhoun-less Connecticut squad.

Even though they are ranked 47th in Pomeroy, the Huskies are seeing their NCAA Tournament hopes slip away in the very tough Big East. So of course Saturday night in Stoors will be key to getting back on track.

Big East/SEC Invitational

1) CCB: The Jim Calhoun (left) drama has been the big national story about
Connecticut for most of the season. How has it affected the team? Is
George Blaney doing a good job or is there a game you think you
would've won if Calhoun had been on the bench?

TUB: I'm almost positive UConn would have won the Marquette game (they led by three with under a minute to play at home) last week.

On
the other hand, I think it's possible that Calhoun's absence (and a
jacked-up Gampel Pavilion crowd) inspired UConn to beat then-#1 Texas.
But whatever inspiration there was has clearly faded over the last few
games.

As a head coach, George Blaney is a wonderful assistant coach. He
seems like a very nice man, and UConn fans are comfortable with in
short interim periods while Calhoun is away.

That being said,
he's 180 degrees the opposite of a firebreather like Calhoun. We've
joked on the blog that we're not sure Blaney's alive, since he waits
about four or five possessions too long to stop the other team's
momentum with a timeout. He's almost too nice and quiet for his - and
the team's - own good.

2) CCB: 3-6 in the Big East isn't typically where UConn sits. What is holding the Huskies back this season?

TUB: I actually just wrote a relatively long post
on this very subject. Short version: UConn just isn't dominating on the
boards as much as they have in recent years (see below question).

If UConn's going to score consistently, it needs lots of transition
points and second-chance points. The half-court offense has been pretty
atrocious all year (not having a reliable jump shooter will do that),
but UConn's been mostly successful getting out on the fast break (see:
the 88-74 win over Texas, when the Longhorns foolishly played man
defense for 40 minutes and foolishly tried to run with UConn).

But UConn is having issues rebounding on both sides of the ball
and, in a season in which the Huskies are 0-5 in games decided by five
points or less, every little bit hurts.


Connecticut v Duke

3)
CCB: This is the end of the line for Jerome Dyson (left), Stanley Robinson and
Gavin Edwards. How will UConn fans look back on their careers?

TUB: We'll always remember them fondly, but I can't help but think
that UConn fans will always feel a twinge of disappointment every time
their names come up.

After the loss to G*orge M*son loss in 2006
(still a touchy subject around here), UConn basically had to start from
scratch and play the following season with eight freshmen and five
sophomores. Of those eight freshmen, three transferred, one (Hasheem Thabeet)
went to the NBA early, and one never sees the court.

Thus, Dyson and Robinson (and to a lesser extent Edwards) have been
such a huge part of the program for so long, it's almost weird to
imagine UConn basketball without them. So to that extent those three
kids will always have a home among the UConn faithful.

On the other hand, this could end up being one of the poorer
four-year runs in UConn history since Calhoun made the program relevant
in the late 80's and early 90's.

If this season doesn't end
well, Dyson will be forever known as the best player on two of the
worst UConn teams of the last 20 years (the 06-07 team that missed the
NIT at 17-14, and this year's bunch). The team went on a 10-game
winning streak his sophomore year after Dyson was suspended for being
caught with alcohol; UConn struggled when he came back, and they lost
in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time under
Calhoun. Then, last year, after Dyson injured his knee in February,
UConn advanced to the Final Four.

That's the main argument of Dyson's detractors, although it ignores
that with Dyson, UConn probably beats Michigan State and plays for the
national title.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville vs. Connecticut, FEB 02

Robinson (left) is such an unbelievable athlete (he's
probably the greatest college dunker I've ever seen), but it took him 2
3/4 years to figure out how to produce consistently on this level. He
will always be an enigma to UConn fans. Rudy Gay used to be the same
way - you knew he had the talent, but he just never felt like showing
it. It would not surprise me at all to see Robinson bloom into an
solid-to-excellent NBA player.

Edwards was a late-bloomer who barely saw playing time until the
beginning of last season, and even then he was strictly seventh or
eighth in the rotation. This year, he's been a quality power forward
off the "bench" (he's playing starter's minutes without the label), and
I think UConn fans are pleasantly surprised with how he turned out.

The fact that the team is sliding this year, I think, is going to
lead many UConn fans to the conclusion that [A.J.] Price, [Jeff] Adrien and Thabeet
carried last year's Final Four team, and Dyson/Robinson were always
role players. I don't think that's completely fair (there's plenty of
blame for this season's struggles besides those two). But as I said,
those two have been stalwarts here for four years, and the relatively
bumpy road during that time is going to be their legacy, almost by
default.


4) CCB: The Huskies are on a three-game losing streak. Can the season still
be saved? What will be the biggest factor is avoiding an upset on
Saturday?

TUB: The
season can be saved, but the deadline for doing so is drawing near.
First and foremost, it's going to help a lot when Calhoun comes back.

Next,
it'd be nice to get a little bit from the post players. UConn's guards
rarely even look inside, choosing instead to drive wildly into traffic
and hope to draw a foul. Getting some easy buckets from Alex Oriakhi,
Gavin Edwards and Ater Majok would make a big difference.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville vs. Connecticut, FEB 02

Finally, I haven't mentioned Kemba Walker (left) yet, but he remains one
of the keys to UConn's future. He's struggled adjusting to being a
30-minute-per-game point guard. Walker will make some plays that just
blow your mind and make you think he could be the best PG in America
some day. And then he'll drive into three guys standing underneath the
hoop and turn it over on the next possession. If he figures it out,
UConn will be that much better.

Saturday, UConn's going to have to come out with a little intensity
and show that they want to turn this thing around. There appears to be
so much talent on this team that, if they ever developed a killer
instinct, they'd be back in the top 15.

Of course, and this is my cynical side talking, UConn will probably
overlook DePaul, sleepwalk through the first 30 minutes, and find
themselves down 10 in the last six or seven minutes.

5)
CCB: I really admire how UConn plays defense. They force you to take
difficult shots, almost never foul and often deflect a lot of them with
their height. But this season the rebounding has fallen off a cliff.
Why? Does UConn just miss Hasheem Thabeet that much?

TUB: Essentially,
that's it, assuming you add "and Jeff Adrien" to that last sentence.
Thabeet and Adrien - a double-double machine for his last three years
here - were arguably the best 1-2 rebounding punch in the country last
season. Thabeet had incredible size, Adrien was incredibly strong and
tough.

The players who have had to replace them - freshmen Alex Oriakhi
and Ater Majok and junior Charles Okwandu, previously a reserve - just
aren't there yet.

The kids have the tools - Oriakhi is built
somewhat like Adrien, and Majok, despite being 6'11, has amazing length
- and in time, they'll be crazy good at rebounding the ball.

But the dropoff from Thabeet/Adrien to Oriakhi/Majok this year is
severe. It doesn't help that Robinson is so inconsistent on the boards
(considering he's 6'8 and can jump out the gym) and Gavin Edwards tends
to have extremely soft hands that lend well to having a rebound tipped
away.

Thanks again to Kevin for these great answers. You can check over to The UConn Blog tomorrow to see my answers to his questions about DePaul. The game is at 7 p.m. CT.

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Tags: 5 questions, DePaul

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