Kevin Meacham writes for the “The UConn Blog”, focusing on well, UConn college sports!
I exchanged some questions for our matchup on Wednesday night.
Friarblog.com: Before the season started, someone at the “Daily Campus” wrote “We should all set our sights on the Providence College Friars as our most hated rival”. Does anyone even remotely really think that?
TheUConnBlog: I actually know the guy who wrote that, so I hope if he’s reading this he doesn’t take this the wrong way, but: that is a batshit insane proposition. That would be like Yankee fans concentrating on the Milwaukee Brewers as their greatest rival, or Laker fans suddenly turning every game with the Charlotte Bobcats into a blood feud. (Some offense intended.)
Reading Mr. Vellturo’s piece over once more, I think what he’s trying to say is “Providence inexplicably beats us a lot in sports they have no business beating us in, which is really annoying and I hate that.” Because that’s the essence of the Providence-UConn rivalry. You’re our next-door neighbor in the Big East, and if we somehow fail to win our game every year, you’re going to pelt our mansion with eggs from your apartment window in celebration. And that’s just a hassle to clean up.
Friarblog.com: First you were amongst the BIG EAST elite, then unranked, now you are beating #1 teams. In your best Seinfeld voice “What’s the deaaaaal with UCONN”? Are you elite, fake, somewhere in the middle, or just playing well right now for JC?
TheUConnBlog: I don’t discount the idea that the Texas win could be a mirage, and they were just playing inspired for Jim. It’s possible.
On the other hand, UConn’s struggles have been mostly on the margin, and I think everything finally just bounced our way/clicked on Saturday. When that happens, I think the Huskies can beat anybody in the country.
If you look at UConn’s losses, you’ll see a whole lot of games they could have won. They were tied with Kentucky with a minute left in MSG, Cincinnati beat us on a pair of free throws with under a second left, Georgetown came back from a 20-point deficit because Austin Freeman went nutso in the second half, the Pitt game was a one-possession game with 1:30 left, Michigan beat us after Jerome Dyson missed basically the whole first half due to foul trouble.
I think UConn has proven that it can play with any team in the country – unfortunately, they can also play down to any team in the country – and should probably be ranked somewhere in the teens for the rest of the season.
Of course everything could suddenly go to shit, too *cough*losstonight*cough*. But I think they’re a step below those elite teams (Syracuse and Villanova in the BE), with the capability of knocking them off on a good day.
Friarblog.com: What were the key factors that contributed to UCONN’s poor stretch earlier in the month?
TheUConnBlog: To continue from above, while UConn has been able to play with everyone, that isn’t to say there aren’t actual struggles. UConn still looks pretty bad in the halfcourt offense and hasn’t been able to figure out a zone since about November 2006.
UConn isn’t a very good free throw shooting team, so they’re leaving bunches of points out there, which is tough to do and still win when you play nothing but close games.
Those are the major structural concerns. Each game had their own issues, as noted above, but I’d like to think things like Freeman scoring 30 and Dyson being in foul trouble are just bad anomalies that happened in back-to-back-to-back games.
The real concerns have to do with teams who can slow down UConn and make them run crisp offensive sets to score which is….not Calhoun’s strongest point.
Friarblog.com: After seeing what Dominique Jones did to the Friars defense at the Dunk, is Jerome Dyson drooling? He takes a large percentage of the team’s shots (even more than Greedy Peterson!). Obviously the team has other weapons, but does the team go as Jerome does?
TheUConnBlog: That’s a fair assessment, although I would add in “and Kemba Walker” after Jerome’s name. Dyson’s the guy we rely on to score from everywhere on the court, and he’s going to get his points in just about every game. If his shot is falling – and he’s not a great outside shooter usually – then we are tough to beat, as Texas found out.
But Walker is the one who will determine whether the offense is good or frustratingly, eye-pokingly bad. If he’s turning the ball over like crazy (usually by overpenetrating and getting trapped underneath the basket) or unable to push the tempo, they’ll bog down and get frustrated.
Kemba’s shown flashes of unbelievable play this year, but he’s still learning and adjusting to being a full-time starter. We’re all waiting for ‘it’ to click in Kemba’s mind, because once it does, we think we’re going to have the best point guard in America.
To put it another way: UConn needs Dyson to be tremendous to beat great teams. UConn needs Kemba to be tremendous to be a great team.
Friarblog.com: One of Providence’s biggest strengths surprisingly has been their offensive rebounding numbers. How do you think the Huskies matchup against PC there?
TheUConnBlog: I think that’s bad news bears for UConn. The Huskies have been pretty bad at letting other teams hit the offensive glass (they rank 217th in defensive OReb% according to KenPom), despite having one of the tallest teams in America.
I think that’s in large part because, on most interior shots, UConn’s bigs will sell out for the block, and if the shot gets to the hoop, the other team will have a numbers advantage on the ensuing rebound.
You can win if you crash the offensive boards against UConn, although if you don’t actually get the rebounds (which apparently hasn’t been much of a problem for opponents), then Gavin Edwards will dunk on you on a breakaway.
Friarblog.com: Other than Thabeet’s blockfest last season, the Friars have inexplicably played well against the Huskies the last several years. Does that, plus the fact that Keno probably kicked everyone’s arse in practice the last few days give any worries of a PC upset?
TheUConnBlog: Yeah, other than last year’s immensely satisfying victory, Providence always seems to be a nightmare game for UConn, no matter what either team’s record is. I still don’t know how you got two of your six Big East wins against us in 2007-08. I have two theories:
1) UConn, especially since the current seniors arrived, is at its best when it’s in transition. Providence appears to be a team that makes a lot of shots, gets loads of offensive rebounds, and doesn’t turn the ball over. Thus, UConn can’t get out on the break often enough and their halfcourt offense has to keep up with both a frantic pace and an opponent that’s going to score often.
Thus, if Providence is hitting its shots, the situation kind of snowballs and UConn loses and we all get really angry. Or:
2) Keno Davis and Tim Welsh come from a long line of sorcerers who have put a hex on Jim Calhoun, which takes effect any time he enters Rhode Island, or they enter Connecticut.
Either way, yeah, I would just like to get this game over with and take a win any way UConn can get it.