John F. Silver
It’s another oddball stage for the UConn men’s basketball team with a game against Wake Forest today at 6:30 p.m. (TV is CBS College Sports Network, radio is WTIC-1080AM). First off, UConn is coming back from playing in airplane hanger in Germany to playing on an island with one home game in Storrs sandwiched around it. It’s an odd start of the season, with the Huskies slated for three games in the Paradise Jam (which it won in 2008), but anytime the team can get away and bond that’s a good thing. The other participants in the Jam are: George Mason, Iona, Mercer, New Mexico, Quinnipiac, UIC, Wake Forest. Quinnipiac could be UConn’s opponent in the second round. Quinnipiac is coached of course by former UConn assistant Tom Moore.
As far as today against Wake Forest, the HUskies face a team in Wake that is 1-0 after a win over Radford. There is some size on the Demon Deacons’ roster with 6-7 F Travis McKi who had 11 pts and 9 rebs in the opener and a pair of 6-9 players in Devin Thomas (10 pts, 8 rebs) and Tyler Cavanaugh (6 pts, 4 rebs.)
Wake Forest is led by the ACC’s leading returning scorer in guard C.J. Harris at 17.6 points per game.
Here are some things to look for tonight:
Rebound, rebound, rebound: The Huskies have lost the rebounding battle in both games this season, 40-29 to Michigan State and 39-32 to Vermont. The problem is the offensive glass as the Huskies have given up 33 offensive rebounds in two games. This isn’t a surprise as UConn is small on the front line with 6-9, 220-pound forward Tyler Olander(6.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) the only power player. The Huskies don’t have size, but that’s not the only ingredient of rebounding. UConn has to do a better job of boxing out and securing the rebound and make up for the physical limitations with fundamentals and effort. UConn’s initial defense is holding teams to 34.2 percent shooting. The Huskies are playing great defense led by the ball pressure from guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. They have to finish off the possessions by securing the defensive rebounds. That’s a part of defense too.
Get Napier scoring: Shabazz Napier (19.0 ppg) had 25 points in the opener against Michigan State then put up a goose egg in the first half against Vermont. He finished with 13 points in UConn’s 67-49 win on Tuesday. Napier has to become a consistent scoring threat for the Huskies. He is playing more of a lead guard position, which means he is off the ball with Boatright at the point as the two share duties. The Huskies don’t have many options on offense and Napier can’t go in and out of scoring funks like he has in the first two years of his career. UConn is good when Napier looks to score and takes good shots. He has to be a double digit scorer for UConn.
Easy baskets: The Huskies have to continue to play at a frenetic pace. UConn is forcing 15.5 turnovers a game and has come up with 20 steals in two games. That’s easy offense for the Huskies. UConn has to have its defense turn into offense with the transition game off of defensive rebounding and in quickly changing the floor with turnovers. UConn’s backcourt of Boatright (11.0 ppg)and Napier is one of the quickest in the nation. Both are terrific ballhandlers and passers and in an open floor game are impossible to handle. UConn has to play at that pace.