Wednesday, December 31, 2008

UConn No Longer Invincible

#8 Georgetown 74, #2 UConn 63
I don't think anybody expected UConn to go undefeated, so it's not a shocker that they lost a game. I'm sure they'll lose a couple more games this year too, and it's never embarrassing to lose to a Top Ten team. And even in the loss, some of UConn's strengths were on display, specifically their depth. The Huskies kept losing ground with the starters on the floor, but their bench was clearly superior to that of the relatively thinner Hoyas. One problem that I saw which can be fixed is court awareness in regards to rebounding. Too often they seem to expect Hasheem Thabeet to just grab every rebound, and he actually doesn't get too many defensive rebounds because he's always trying to block everything, and attempting to block shots always takes you out of position for the board. When UConn focused on rebounding they were able to dominate the boards, but when they got lazy they gave up a ton of offensive rebounds to a clearly smaller Georgetown team. But concentration can always be improved, so I don't view this as a huge problem. The larger problem was shooting, which has been a problem for UConn for quite a few years now. The shooting percentage doesn't look bad (45% from the field), but half of those made baskets were dunks and layups. They just tend to get in these ruts where they can't hit anything for long periods of time. In the first half of this game, for example, UConn made zero shots from the field in the first 5:29 or the final 5:49. You can't do that against a quality team like Georgetown, which opened up a 9 point lead by the half that they basically sat on the rest of the game. That all said, I still think that UConn is the favorite in the Big East, but it's going to be close. And Georgetown has clearly put themselves right in what I now see as a three-way battle atop the conference (along with Pittsburgh). It should be fun to see how that plays out over the brutal Big East season.

#13 Villanova 62, Temple 45

Despite the final score, Temple actually led most of the way here. But halfway through the second half, Villanova went on a 22-2 run that blew this one wide open. For Temple, this is just another in a string of missed chances. At this point they are pretty far out of the bubble picture, and are going to need to go on quite a run to get back into it. This game meant more for a Villanova team that I still feel is overrated. They are 12-1, but they lack any wins over any BCS conference teams. So they continue to move up the Top 25 each week, but eventually they'll run into reality, since you can't escape tough opponents in the Big East. In fact, I would expect reality to hit tomorrow, when they head to Marquette. Villanova has an excellent shot to make the Tournament and to get a good seed there, but I just can't see them as in the league of UConn, Pitt, Georgetown or even Notre Dame.

Memphis 60, Cincinnati 45
The Memphis offense continues to be dreadfully inefficient, but their pressure defense and rebounding ability is enough to dispatch of a quality team like Cincinnati even when they're struggling to score themselves. Last year's team, of course, was explosive enough on offense that they could run away from teams. But this year's team will win many more games like this, grinding out wins by holding their opponents to poor shooting (26% shooting from the field here for Cincy), and by earning more possessions with offensive boards and turnovers (they took 18 more shots from the field than Cincy here). It's going to be a lot harder to go undefeated in Conference USA this year, but Memphis has done enough in the out-of-conference that they can lose a game or two in conference and still be in competition for something like a 5 seed. For Cincinnati, this isn't a bad loss, but it would have been a very solid win. In my opinion, they are clearly 10th in the Big East pecking order right now (trailing the five mentioned in the last game recap, along with Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville and Marquette), and that's not going to cut it. It's possible that the Big East will be the first conference to get nine teams to the Tournament, but they're not going to get ten.


Unknown said...

I think the problem with UConn is more than just shooting. Either they don't know how to use Thabeet on offense, or he's not very interested in being an offensive threat.

4 shots, no assists and only 1 turnover? Did he even touch the ball? Not even anything from offensive rebounds?

This raises huge questions about their guards ability to distribute the ball and run the team. You can't be a Final Four team if your guards only know how to get their own shot and don't know how to get shots for their team mates.

Or, if your 7 foot center doesn't even show interest in receiving the ball and either going strong to the basket or feeding teammates when the ball goes inside.

I admit, I didn't see the game. But stats like that point to some kind of glaring weakness you wouldn't expect to see in a team this highly ranked.

Jeff said...

Well I watched most of the game. Not all of it, but probably enough to get a good feel. I wouldn't say that Thabeet is uninterested in scoring, but I think it's more that he has no confidence. I can't think of the last time I saw him shoot from beyond 5 feet. So unless he can dunk, he just passes the ball away.

I think he views himself as a defender, so he gets most excited about blocking shots. But as I said, this is almost a problem because blocking shots is the most overrated skill in basketball. By attempting to block a shot you open yourself up to fouling more, getting fooled by a pump fake, and taking yourself out of position for the rebound. Thabeet doesn't get fooled much, but he does have fouling problems. And when the rest of the Huskies sprint up the floor for the outlet pass rather than securing the rebound, the fact that Thabeet takes himself out of position is a big problem.

I do agree that they have some glaring weaknesses for a team that is so talented and highly ranked. I don't think it's that the players are selfish, because they do tend to show good teamwork on the defensive end. I always feel like Jeff Adrien sets the psychological tone for the team, and he's most definitely not a me-first player. But I think it might just be, as you said, that these guys simply don't know how to create on offense for their teammates.

If it were up to me, I'd try to run the offense through Thabeet. Not so that he'd take a lot of shots, but simply to get the defense to collapse. It could potentially create mismatches on the perimeter that UConn's quick guards could take advantage of. If you can't shoot from the perimeter, you need to find a way to do more than just rotate between which player gets to try to take his defender one-on-one.