Texas goes into Storrs, Connecticut looking to rebound after suffering its first loss of the year at the hands of Kansas State on Big Monday.
We've hashed out some of the things the Horns need to do to get back on the winning track including moving with and without the ball on offense, foul shooting, and making point bank bunnies around the bucket. The good news is that it sounds like Rick and company know exactly what they need to do to right the ship. Perhaps they read the blog or Kafka's legion of basketball pointers. With that typed, let's talk UCONN Basketball.
The Huskies come into this game having lost 3 of their last 4 contests. On the year, Uconn is a mediocre 12-6 and 3-3 in Big East play. If you're a Husky backer you've been forced to hang your hat on close losses to the likes of Kentucky, Duke, and Georgetown for your ray of hope. UConn has been right there at winning time against several top 10 opponents so they have the talent to compete and beat the Longhorns tomorrow.
The Huskies came into the 2009 season looking for a new identity with the departure of frontcourt studs like Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien who both averaged double doubles last year. This year the club is led by dynamic backcourt duo Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson. Kemba Walker is an electrically quick player who's averaging 12 points and nearly 6 assists. Unlike last year, Walker has developed the shooting stroke to threaten the arc to compliment his ability to absolutely blow by opposing guards on the dribble. Kemba has already made more 3's this season than he converted all of last season, but his bread is still buttered by quickness and attacking the rim. I make him make a couple perimeter shots before I close out aggressively.
The other guard, Jerome Dyson, is a more dynamic scorer than Walker because he has a terrific midrange game, is a decent deep shooter, and has the ability to get into paint with the dribble. He's also the Huskies leading scorer averaging nearly 19 points a contest. Both guards are susceptible to turning the ball over as they both average over 3 TO's per contest. Dyson gave up the basketball to the tune of 3, 5, 5, 5 and 6 turnovers vs. Duke, Kentucky, Pitt, Seton Hall, and Georgetown respectively. In those same games Walker gave it up 6, 2, 3, 5, and 2.
It's important to note that none of the listed teams have the defensive backcourt talent that Texas has, so this may be a way for the Horns to steal some possessions. Donnel Beverly is the other guard in the rotation but he's only playing 9 minutes per contest. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel is a 6-7 wing and he, along with Beverly, are the only other significant ball handlers on the club. In reality, Dyson and Walker get all the ball handling minutes with each playing 35 minutes a game. This could be a wheelhouse game for the Texas guards because there's the likelihood that they can wear down the UCONN backcourt if the tempo is right.
Not unlike most years, the Huskies have a wealth of big, talented athletes in the frontcourt who thrive in the black and blue conference that is the Big East. The bellcow of the frontcourt is 6-9 senior super athlete Stanley Robinson. Robinson can jump out of the gym and score around the rim. The bad news for opposing defenses is that Robinson has added a deep shooting game to his arsenal knocking down a torrid 20 out of 44 attempts from deep on the year. Gavin Edwards is a 6-10 bruising power forward who leads the team in rebounding and gives the Huskies their one true back to the basket threat. Alex Oriakhi is a 6-9 freshman center who is in there to bang and rebound but is not much of scoring threat shooting under 50% from the field and the foul line. Ater Majok gives the Huskies a 7 foot body off the bench and a suitable golfing partner for Doge Balbay.
Keys to the Game
1) Who can establish their style and Tempo? If there was a game when Texas' depth was going to be a huge factor it's this one because the Huskies have little depth especially in the backcourt. Walker and Dyson's problems with the turnover are a function of fatigue due to this lack of depth. If Texas can get the Huskies into an up and down contest and maximize the number of possessions, UCONN will be plagued by turnovers and tired legs when shooting the ball. UCONN will look to play halfcourt to halfcourt and pound the Horns with their size. I'm betting that UCONN will play some zone to slow the game down and I look for Texas to pressure and even trap to speed the game up.
2) Matchups along the Frontcourt. Kind of along the lines of point number 1, but the way these coaches matchup their frontcourts vis a vis the opponent should be an interesting cat and mouse game. You know Texas is winning the battle of tempos if Damion James is playing a bunch at power forward. Conversely, if Texas is going big for significant minutes and James is playing alot of 3, you'll know the Huskies are in their comfort zone. If you're a Texas fan, you hope this game plays out like the UNC tilt. In that game, Texas was able to hold its own on defense with James at the four vs. a talented post, and they reaped the rewards on the offensive end with Damion attacking slow 4's on the perimeter.
3) Jordan Hamilton. If Texas is forced to go bigger, Hamilton is a terrific answer along the frontcourt because he gives you a decent defensive matchup size wise on Robinson. This allows Damion to guard Edwards, and allows Pittman a defensive pass with a matchup against the punchless Oriakhi. If Texas can guard with this lineup it gives them several mismatches on the offensive end.
4) Pressure. We've discussed softening wing pressure to aid the younger players in their helpside responsibilities, but wing pressure is a must when playing a team with frontcourt punch. For the sake of dissuading post entry, wing pressure and wing denial to deny ball reversal and good post entry angles is a critical. If I'm Barnes I soften ball pressure a bit when guarding Walker because there won't be a lot of bodies to help with dribble penetration. Force Walker out of his comfort zone by making him beat you over the top. As for Dyson, his lack of elite quickness allows Balbay or Bradley to get right in his Jersey.
5) Ring the Bell. Uconn is big and physical, so when the Horns get point blank looks or they're sent to the foul line they must take advantage. There won't be many second chance points to make up for poor shooting against this athletic Husky frontcourt. And while the Horns may make up for a bad shooting game by turning over the Huskies, it's not something I'd count on.
Prediction. I look for Texas to come out with their hair on fire and turn this game into an up and down affair. Their energy alone should be just what the doctor ordered to win the battle of tempo, plus UCONN's guards don't take care of the basketball well enough to control the Longhorn's transition game. Horns win by double digits and get back on track.