Tomorrow's New Year's Eve tilt against the U Conn Huskies pits the young St. John's Red Storm against the fairly young U Conn Huskies. Yes, they won a national championship last year and return a lot of pieces... but for many of those players, it's still their second year.
To find out a little more about Jim Calhoun's charges, why teams might shoot so well from outside the arc against the Huskies, how Lamb and Drummond are doing, and what this team's ceiling is, we reached out to the U Conn blog with some questions. They did the same, and our answers to questions about St. John's basketball are there.
Read on, below the fold.
Q: Why is South Florida U Conn's kryptonite? What is it that they do that holds the Huskies down, and is it replicatable?
I wish I knew and if you have any ideas please pass them along. I don't think its that the Bulls do anything special against UConn, the Huskies just have an unbelievable ability to play their absolute worst when the two teams face off. Jeremy Lamb was the only Husky in double-figures and it probably didn't help that the game was the first road and first Big East game for UConn's freshmen.
Q: Opponents have shot a healthy percentage from outside the arc against U Conn. Why? What's the issue with the defense, and who are the main culprits?
It's simply a style issue. Jim Calhoun teams, despite usually having one or two very skilled perimeter defenders (like Shabazz Napier), play a style that places a big focus on shot blocking, rebounding and controlling the paint. It can be maddening as a fan because the team has a tendency to let opponents have career nights where they score 30 points on 6-8 shooting from beyond the arc, but in the long run the results speak for themselves.
The problem is heightened this year because of the makeup of UConn's roster. There are two guards who are under 6', Jeremy Lamb is 6'5" and everyone else on the team is at least 6'7", which means if a team throws out a small shooter-heavy lineup it can be difficulty for UConn to match them on the perimeter.
Q: Who has been most impressive for Calhoun's Huskies this season? Who has been least impressive? How have the Huskies replaced the scoring and playmakiong of Kemba Walker?
Jeremy Lamb. He was a preseason All American and so far he's lived up to the billing. Coming into the season I was concerned about how he would react to being the focal point for opposing defenses but that worry was unfounded, he's averaging 19.3 ppg and shooting 40% from 3, and doing it in a way that looks effortless.
Drummond has been fantastic so far and he's getting better by the game. His presence has really brought out the best in Olander, who's come out of nowhere to average six boards and almost seven points per game.
Oriakhi has struggled though. In theory he should be a great complement to Drummond who draws a lot of defensive attention and creates space for Oriakhi to work under the basket, but it hasn't worked out like that. Oriakhi has struggled to receive the ball in the post and when he does get he rarely goes up strong. His minutes have been significantly cut and he's not playing up to his potential. It appears to be a mental thing more than anything else, so UConn fans are hoping that he'll eventually be able to string together a few nice games and snap out of it.
As for Bradley and Wolf, Bradley needed foot surgery at the start of the season and only recently got cleared to start practicing with team and Wolf is still very raw. I'm sure they're both fine players, but right now they're projects and playing behind Drummond, Olander and Oriakhi means there aren't nearly enough minutes available for either of them to expect to see the floor.
Q: Just how good is this U Conn team, really? Are they Final Four contenders?
I think they can be, but they're a work in progress. Objectively they have more talent than last year's team, but they're still working on how to put everything together. Despite a few scares they haven't faced an elite opponent yet or had to fight someone wire-to-wire, but those tests will come, if a few guys step up, become clear leaders and embrace those opportunities, UConn will be in good shape.