2008 Connecticut Huskies
Key Wins: @Indiana, Marquette, Pittsburgh, @Syracuse, Notre Dame, West Virginia
Key Losses: Memphis, N-Gonzaga, @Notre Dame, @Georgetown, Providence, @Providence
Key Stat: 8.7. The Huskies as a team average nearly 9 blocks a game, with 7’3″ Hasheem Thabeet swatting approximately half of those.
Most Important Player: A.J. Price.
“It’s my job to be the head of the team and keep everybody focused,” reveals Price. The caustic, often-snippy Jim Calhoun concludes every game with resolutely positive words for Price’s play. Rightfully so.
The unflappable point guard currently resides second in the Big East in Assist/TO ratio. His rarely emoting face hides the tremendous resilience of UConn’s leader. In the aftermath of the Jerome Dyson/Dougie Wiggins scandal Price eagerly took on a greater personal responsibility for the team.
Defensive Principles: Everything begins with the last man offenses encounter. Thabeet has incredible shot-blocking skills, deflecting, dissuading, and discouraging even the most courageous shooters. Syracuse missed 18 shots in the paint. Indiana’s DJ White feebly missed eight against the tallest Big East tree. The last six years UConn led the nation in blocked shots with studs like Emeka Okafor, Josh Boone, and Hilton Armstrong. Thabeet defends more like Boone than Okafor. He lets the opponent release his shot before he even jumps enabling him to stay out of foul trouble. Okafor had a strong upper body, which allowed him to body up more often, sticking his chest into the challenger. Opponents are shooting a meager 37% from the floor. Contesting shots has become a habit. It is easier to do on the shoulders of a giant.
X-Factor: Stanley Robinson. On a team loaded with talent, Robinson still needs to surface.
As Jerome Dyson sits idly by serving a 30-day suspension (for failing a drug test) Robinson indubitably is the most versatile scorer.
Stanley kills ‘em from mid-range, the 3-point arc and even filling fast break lanes. Currently Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood excludes the free throw line (59%).
Though Thabeet rightfully draws defensive attention Robinson’s play proves to be the best indicator of team failure. In the losses, Stanley “The Indicant” Robinson averages 6 points and 2.4 turnovers.
A dramatically different S Rob, 11 ppg and 1.3 turnovers per, shows himself during Husky victories.
How They Crumble or Stumble: The Huskies have severe problems breaking presses. Though Price can handle them fine, teams often direct the inbounds elsewhere. The “safety” valve is anything but safe. Power forward Jeff Adrien committed five turnovers at Cincinnati, many of them in the backcourt. One instance saw Adrien attempt a behind the back dribble with a spunky guard on him and another retreating through his area.
Deepest Run Last 3 Years: The 2005-2006 Huskies advanced to the Elite 8 on the strength of Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and some serviceable seniors. Giant killer George Mason derailed a surefire Final Four team.
Current juniors Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie did play for that team, but only offered twenty shots combined during the entire tournament run.
From He Who Knows Them Best: Jim Calhoun.
“The is a very fragile team becoming less fragile certainly. These guys, the character they displayed, make me proud that they wear the uniform that says ‘Connecticut’ on it. I couldn’t be more proud of what they are doing.”
Know This: UConn traditionally features a daunting unit capable of winning big games. The facet this team has that early teams did not is the ability to hit free throws. Craig Austrie, in particular, finds the ball during the endgame. Indiana, Marquette, Cincinnati, and Louisville games ended with Austrie draining free throw after free throw. Get this. He nailed 28-31 free throws through the stretch of tight UConn wins.
Editor’s Note: UConn has the potential to reach San Antonio. The win in Bloomington earlier in the year, back when Indiana was still playing its best basketball, proved their ability to go into a hostile environment against a quality opponent. Thabeet and Adrien give UConn the most well-rounded frontcourt in the Big East, and A.J. Price has turned into that league’s best point guard. Another Elite Eight or Final Four run is not out of the question. My only concern is that Brent Musberger likes the Huskies to reach the Final Four, which isn’t exactly the SI curse, but close…