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Connecticut Huskies

by Andrew Force | February 17th, 2009

Good Wins: N-Gonzaga, Villanova, @Louisville, Syracuse
Bad Losses: none.

Strengths:

1. Urgency. The players have not changed in the past two years but the level of success is night and day. Flashes of brilliance have given way to a steady stream of illumination. For a team that has never sniffed postseason success, their legacy is steadily drawing to a close.

2. Rebounding. The Huskies were not outrebounded in their first 31 regular season games. Thabeet is not the only force on the glass. Owner of the most frightening physique, Adrien rebounds powerfully with two hands. He holds on like a senior to his last game. Elbows out to create space and gnashing his mouth guard, no one will wrestle away the ball. The only active player with more double-doubles than Adrien is Jon Brockman of Washington.

Weaknesses:

1. Outside shooting. These dogs like the outside less than your pet in the winter. Price and Walker are reliable but typically patient, almost hesitant. Neither frontcourt player passes out of the post and Price does not drive and kick. For these reasons open shots are hard to come by against a man defense. Thabeet still has not learned how to victimize collapsing defenses.

2. Free Throws. The FT shooting is average, not awful. Facing a big crowd of enemy fans, which is a likely scenario in the first few rounds, the maturing dogs need to fight on. In the role of the giant killer UConn has be careful not to let their confidence wane. Their posture crumbles and their offense loses spark.

Other Factors:

Bench: Who is honestly their sixth man? The Northeast has been good to Coach Calhoun. In Kemba Walker (Bronx), Craig Austrie (Stamford), and AJ Price (Long Island) he has three point guards who each garner decent minutes this season. The saucy perfectionist has two steady, dependable backups. Because neither force shots the two generally find more minutes than starting SF Stanley Robinson who often slips into a malaise. One unexpected bright spot has been Gavin Edwards. Finally in his junior year he’s become both strong enough and assertive enough to contribute. Never to be confused with Emeka Okafor, Hilton Armstrong, or even Jake Voskuhl, Edwards has a soft touch and a refined game.

The Departing: Hasheem Thabeet, a junior, will leave for the NBA. Jeff Adrien will have his hard hat retired. The lap bars are rising on AJ Price’s roller coaster career. And Austrie, perhaps the least talented starting UConn point guard in the last 15 years has only a handful of battles left in his basketball life. His marriage to Coach Calhoun was similar to the couple that stayed together because they knew they couldn’t do any better. With this many impact players departing, urgency is paramount.

Tournament Prediction:

The Huskies are a Final Four team. They have great players, great coaching, and a defensive stopper. Unlike most shot-blockers Thabeet almost never fouls out. The only player UConn can’t afford to lose is AJ Price. With him, fewer than five teams in this country can beat them.

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