Thursday, September 17, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Connecticut Huskies

Too Busy for the Details?
Blessed with a talented and veteran backcourt, Coach Calhoun's UConn program will be challenged to replace most of their front court in 2009-10 without stepping back too far from their Final Four standing in 2009. If Calhoun's "life experiment" with senior Stanley Robinson comes to fruition and classmate Gavin Edwards commuted exclusively between the weight room and gym as rumored, these two will provide the leadership and court presence necessary to carry the team (along with Walker and Dyson) while the entering freshmen come up to speed. They is much to learn, and quickly. Prognosis -- A 1st quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
Ah, the year not the returning minutes from 2008 and 2009 with the Huskies' record from those years, and you will see solid progress at each step. Even though the minutes fell off very slightly last season the Huskies improved their standing. The season not listed is 2007. UConn returned about 32% of their minutes and won 6 Big East games. And did not go to a post season tournament (BET aside).


Coach Jim Calhoun has to bring a sqaud whose returning minutes are the lowest since 2007 (that squad returned about 32% of the previous season's minutes). The difference (beyond the additional 9%) is that the 2010 squad's senior will contribute 64% of those returning minutes, about 3 times the percentage from 2007. The 2010 Huskie squad has seniors (and a junior or two) who can pass along the program's traditions and attitude. The very loaded freshmen class will not find themselves on the floor with sophomores who don't quite "get it".

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg116.615117.317104.3126
Overall DRtg84.8392.34185.87
Big East ORtg108.61110.8191.316
Big East DRtg92.72102.0793.31
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%51.38150.613946.3284
All Off. TOv%18.15019.37121.2166
All Off. OReb%39.91138.91741.26
All Off. FTA/FGA46.4648.1445.515
All Def. eFG%42.4244.2841.91
All Def. TOv%16.233616.933221.6139
All Def. OReb%30.15533.520732.8136
All Def. FTA/FGA19.5123.5531.060
Four Factors -- Big East Only
BE Off. eFG%49.9851.5450.66
BE Off. TOv%18.0618.9719.79
BE Off. OReb%39.2237.3242.21
BE Off. FTA/FGA41.8247.4139.46
BE Def. eFG%42.2145.7342.31
BE Def. TOv%16.21515.31615.316
BE Def. OReb%31.9434.51132.44
BE Def. FTA/FGA18.5123.8221.41
All Gms Cons21.020620.416527.1328
All Gms Luck+.01898-.009166-.117332

The Huskies' recovery offensively powered their return to the conference elite in 2008 and 2009. The jump from #16 (2007) to #1 (2008 & 2009) coincided with their jump from a #12 (BET) seed in 2007 to a #4 seed in 2008 to a #2 seed in 2009. When the team dominated however, it was through their defense. Coach Calhoun built his defense from the low post out. If the turnover rate appears shockingly low, consider that UConn blocked/deflected or otherwise caused their opponents to flat out miss the bucket more than anyone else in conference play. And when their opponent missed, the Huskies were there to rebound. And UConn did not allow their opponents to bail out the possession at the free throw line. They just did not get there. Note the same measures show through in the overall slate as in Big East play. UConn was pretty much the same whether they played an OOC opponent or a Big East opponent.

For the Record...
Big East1530.8331350.7226100.375
Post Season?NCAA/Rnd 5NCAA/Rnd 1BET/Rnd 1

The year-over-year progress is clear and very obvious compared to the "progress" made by other teams when they returned high percentages of minutes and points. Given the experience level of UConn's returning minutes should preclude the program's falling back as severely as 2007.

The Huskies's Nucleus
On Offense

Walker and Dyson will anchor the back court and wing. Note they both were efficient (but not super effiencient) with their offense, even as both participated as "Contributors" -- 2nd options -- on offense. The key to taking more offense efficiently will rest on their (collectively) ability to improve their accuracy -- each had an eFG% < 50.0, a sure sign they are missing shots. Pushing their eFG% over the 50.0 mark (preferably in the 55+ range) would boost UConn's offense. And help fans forget Hasheem Thabeet and AJ Price. There is room for growth for Robinson as well. He can have a strong positive impact on the team by garnering another 5+% of the possessions and shots without giving back much on his offensive rating. Edwards, a senior classmate of Dyson and Robinson, was very efficient in 2009, but the prospects that he will grow into a significantly larger role on offense is unlikely.

On Defense
Kemba Walker61.510.220.721.20.62.4
Jerome Dyson47.79.520.516.51.03.6
Stanley Robinson47.215.48.819.63.91.4
Gavin Edwards28.614.

Robinson and Edwards have never been more than average defensive rebounders. The Connecticut defense relies heavily on gathering a large percentage of the defensive rebounds, so both will have to improve, and the low post newcomers will have to contribute defensively immediately.

Significant Additions
Had everyone recruited to play in 2008-09 suited up, the Huskies would stand very well going into this season (they probably would have done better in Detroit last April). A day late, but just about everyone is in Storrs now. The assembled group, late comers and true freshmen, numbers 6. The immediate needs are in the front court, and this cohort has several answers. At the #5, Coach Calhoun will look to 7-1, 255 lbs Charles Okwandu, a JUCO from Lagos, Nigeria by way of Harkem College, PA. Okwandu arrived at Storrs last December, but could not clear his paperwork with the NCAA. "Big Chuck" took the semester to attend to academics and practice with the team. Summer reports suggest his biggest contributions will be on defense. True freshman Alex Oriakhi, at 6-8, out of The Tilton School (NH) will provide the team with another back-to-the-basket option. Another academic casualty in 2009, 6-10, 233 lbs #4 Ater Majok from Sidney, Australia, flirted with the NBA draft before deciding to fulfill his commitment to the Huskies. Majok will, when his eligibility begins after the fall semester, combine with Okwandu, Edwards and Oriakhi in the low post rotation. True freshman Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, a McDonald's All American 6-7, 210 lbs #3 will split time with Robinson on the wing. Two additional guards, 6-2 Darius Smith and 6-5 Jamaal Trice will no doubt get time in the early rotation to impress the staff. Coach Calhoun tends to reach 10 or more deep into his bench, especially in the OOC. Whether that will help or hinder the development of team play remains to be seen.

Explode If...
1. Coach Calhoun's gamble on Stanley Robinson pays off & Robinson grows into the leader Coach Calhoun believes he can be. And Ater Majok proves to be worth the wait.
2. Okwandu and Oriankhi do not need to contribute a lot of points, but they do need to block shots and rebound. The more they prove to be effective stoppers, the better Connecticut's defense can become.
3. Kemba Walker learns to stick the 3. Connecticut has considered the 3FGA an integral part of their offense, typically using it for about 30% of their FGAs. Last season, with shooting woes suffered by Price, Walker and Dyson, the Huskies leaned heavily on Adrien, Thabeet and penetration from the guards. Consequently their 3FGAs, as a percentage of all FGAs dropped to a low of 23.0. Shockingly low and very predictable. UConn would be more effective if the 3FGA percentage was higher.

Implode If...
1. Oriakhi and Okwandu are ok (or maybe downright bad), but in any event, not dominant low post players.
2. Dyson is forced to take on too much of the offensive responsibility. Dyson is accurate, but he cannot put the team on his back (offensively) night in and night out.
3. Kemba Walker struggles at the point. AJ is gone, and Donnell Beverly is not going to breakout next season. This one is on Walker, and if he struggles, the Huskies will sputter.

Crucial Stretches/Bellweather Games
Historically, Coach Calhoun has developed young teams by bringing mid/low majors into Storrs (and Hartford) for a series of confidence building home games. The strategy backfired in 2007 when the team collapsed in Big East play after running the table in November and December. A new team and a new approach this season as the Huskies committed (as a regional host) to the NIT Preseason Tip Off. Should UConn survive pool play they will advance to New York City to face (most likely) a championship bracket of Arizona State, Duke and LSU. The field, even in the regional pools, contains a "higher fiber" variety of mid/low major. The NIT, along with Connecticut's face-off with John Calipari's much hyped Kentucky Wildcats in the Big East-SEC Challenge (December 9 in Madision Square Garden) will provide a better early season barometer on the Huskies' progress. 13-0 against that slate of opponents would mean a bit more than their unbeaten run through their 2007 OOC, and would establish the Huskies' credentials for post season play.

UConn will open the Big East slate with a road trip to Cincinnati on 12/30, and play 9 games in January (7 versus conference rivals and 2 versus national rivals). The front end of their conference schedule sets up very nicely, to accommodate those two nationally televised games at Michigan and versus Texas perhaps? Other than road games at Cincinnati and Georgetown, The more challenging conference opponents (the Hall, Pitt & St. John's) travel to Storrs (or Hartford). Running the table in through that section of their schedule (10-0) would put UConn in the top 10 nationally (at the very least), but anything less than 7-3, especially if combined with losses in the OOC, would suggest that a return to elite DI status may take another year or two.

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