UConn Readies to Enter Conference Play

It’s been an interesting first part of the season for the Connecticut Huskies. While the Huskies lost arguably their most important games against Syracuse and Maryland, they also picked up a pair of underrated wins against Michigan and Texas. The Huskies, sitting at 9-3, don’t have a bad loss at this point in the season. At the same time, they don’t appear to have a win against a top-20 caliber team. The next part of the season, conference play, will go a long way towards defining whether UConn can be a serious player in a national landscape that doesn’t appear to have any elite teams.

The biggest problems for the Huskies have been general consistency and perimeter defense. The Huskies can play at the level of the best teams in the country, while also appearing to look utterly uninspiring. A cursory glance at the Maryland game is all one needs to confirm this. Kevin Ollie’s team came out flat and soft, losing by 16 at halftime. Down double digits midway through the second half, UConn looked like they were going to be run out of the gym. But, the Huskies battled back, cutting the Terp lead to one possession late in the game (before a technical foul halted all momentum). Over the course of the Maryland game, we saw glimpses of UConn’s disappointing 2014-15 team, and looks at the vast potential this year’s team could have.

Even in other games, whether it be as good an opponent as Gonzaga or as poor an opponent as Sacred Heart, the Huskies have often appeared to be two completely different teams. Going into the rigors of conference play, which will feature many long road trips, more consistency and focus will be needed to ensure this team gets the seed it deserves come Selection Sunday.

UConn’s perimeter defense has been a major strength the past couple of years, led by two of the best guards in the program’s storied history. However, so far this season, UConn’s guards have looked slow and lazy when defending their opponents. Part of this may come from the sense of security a shot blocker like Amida Brimah can give the guards playing in front of him. But, the Huskies are only averaging four blocks a game over the contests Brimah has missed with injury.

In the first nine games of the season, all of which Brimah played, UConn averaged six and a half blocks. Without that kind of shot blocking prowess on the back line, the perimeter defense needs to be better. The slow perimeter defense is also a major factor in the three point shooting effectiveness UConn opponents have showed. The low percentage, 31%, is a result of teams jacking up absurd amounts of threes against the Huskies. Opponents have made over seven a game against UConn, a number far too high for a squad that has played multiple low level teams. Against better competition, such as Gonzaga (shot 10-24 against UConn) and Syracuse (shot 9-20), that kind of defense has hurt UConn dearly. In both of those games, if one of those threes does not go in, then UConn and their opponents are going to overtime (the Huskies lost both of those games by three points).

Tonight’s conference-opening clash with Tulane won’t be a great test for these Huskies, due to the lower level of competition Tulane provides. However, its importance cannot be understated. Over the past two seasons in the American, the Huskies have dropped long road games early on in the conference schedule (at Houston in 2014, and at Tulsa in 2015). Avoiding that let down and starting conference play off on the right foot will be huge for the Huskies. There’s no denying the American is not on the level of the old Big East. The Huskies will have very little room for error if they want a favorable seed when the tournament begins. A good start in conference play will be of paramount importance.

Nick Schwartz

University of Connecticut

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University of Connecticut
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Nick Schwartz
Senior History major at UConn, and planning to attend graduate school in the future. One of the best moments of my life was winning a national title my freshman year. Husky basketball is a lifestyle! Avid New York sports fan, as well: Yankees, Giants, Knicks, Rangers! Also root for Manchester City and NYCFC.

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