Welcome back to the Blog people, been a while. Turns out being gainfully employed hurts the amount of time one can devote to sitting down and writing rants about how terrible their favorite collegiate team is at (fill in either football or basketball). When last discussed on this particular blog the men' basketball team was 4-0 against terrible teams who only were a part of the schedule because of the money involved, and UConn continued to march through this level of competition besides a slight slip up against Central Florida in the Battle for Atlantis tournament to start the season 12-1. Now there are a despicable 14-7 going 2-6 in the last 8 games including a 4 game losing streak.
What's wrong you ask? How could a team with more talent at every position than last year's championship team struggle so much with inferior competition? The answer isn't simple, oh wait, yes it is. There is no Kemba, and under Calhoun's motion offense (don't even get me started on the motion offense) there needs to be a player in the event that at the end of the shot clock nothing has worked that can work his way to his own open shot and score. This team doesn't have that presence anymore, and while I agree with everyone reading that Shabazz has been just about the worst incarnation of a point guard I've ever seen it really comes back to the offensive system that dictates that if there is a breakdown someone has to do it themselves. With the focus that opposing defenses are giving Jeremy Lamb, who was slated to take the role of Kemab, it has to fall to Shabazz and instead of embracing the strategy of making sure to run through the offense before taking matters into his own hands he has decided to consistently throw up terrible contested 3's with about 20 seconds on the shot clock. Here's why Shabazz isn't at fault, even when he waits until the entire shot clock has run down he's forced to take awful contested 3's because no one is doing their jobs around him in the offense. Motion isn't an offense, it's a strategy used when an offense breaks down and without a dominate guard to fuel that it's a bad strategy at that. Here's an example of why it's a bad system for this particular version of UConn basketball, in their last game against Georgetown (beautiful place, terrible place to be as a UConn fan when they get crushed) the Huskies shot an astoundingly bad 2-20 from beyond the arc and as a team shot 30% for the game (on top of less than 50% from the free throw line) now because of the motion offense the play on the outside is more in focus than on the inside even though Andre Drummond was quietly having his best game of the year going 9-12 for 18 points. In any other system the offensive strategy adapts to how the team is playing, Calhoun doesn't adapt to situations. Last year that was fine because Kemba could, and very often did, carry the team through long stretches of poor offensive play.
With the improved play, at least from a year ago, of Roscoe Smith and Tyler Olander the limitation of their minutes has also been confusing for the casual and passionate observer, I understand Giffey has defensive skills but the defense hasn't been the disappointing part of the season by any stretch. With the size and athleticism that this team possesses there should be matchup problems for almost any team they play, and instead of playing on that by using our tall and lanky forwards we play small and fast to try to outrun them as is the UConn way. Granted I have an affinity for teams that play four players with forward bodies, but on this team there are enough athletically gifted players to maintain that style and still have no problems defensively with smaller quicker teams. Imagine for a minute the lineup of Napier, Lamb, Smith, Olander, and Drummond where the only player under 6'5'' is Napier at the point. What team in America has that kind of size and skill at every position? The answer is probably 3, with UNC, Kentucky, and Syracuse being the most likely candidates. That puts this team in pretty elite company, and gives the freshmen the time to mature on the bench and in practice rather than in game where their mistakes are much more costly. Other pluses include the fact that plugging Smith in pushes Lamb to the shooting guard instead of the small forward he often is forced to play while Boatwright and Napier are on the floor. Don't get me wrong I'm as excited about Boatwright as the rest of UConn country, but he doesn't possess the same passing skill I've seen from Napier and he seems like the change of pace guy for when the big guy lineup comes off the floor for a rest.
All in all the season has been one giant disappointment, but it is also eerily similar to where every fan was last year wondering why a team which has moments of greatness fails to live up to that potential every night before they turned it on late and everything finally clicked. I'm not saying this team will win the championship, only that it has the same potential to find it's identity at the right moment (now?) and becoming something great and formidable.
As I write this UConn is absolutely crushing Seton Hall, but the answers don't lie in this game so don't allow yourselves to be fooled. This Seton Hall team has been a mediocre Big East team this year but are without their star playing a hungry and angry Husky team coming off 4 straight losses. Let us all wait until Monday's game against Louisville to see how this team will respond to all the questions being asked of it.