Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Beating Cincinnati would be a huge start if UConn plans on a late-season run

My flights out of Bradley got cancelled Wednesday, so I'm flying out to Cincinnati (very) early Thursday morning. UConn took off at about 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, so the Huskies should be in the Queen City by about 8-8:30 p.m.

No other way to slice it, this is a HUGE game for UConn. The Bearcats represent one of their final Top 25-level RPI opponents the rest of the way (Cincy was No. 28 in RPI as of Wednesday afternoon). A win on the road against an NCAA tourney-level team would be huge for UConn. Then again, the Huskies need to win just about every one of their remaining games if they want to earn an at-large NCAA tourney bid. But not necessarily every game. Maybe 10 of its final 12, and they still could be in business without having to win the AAC tourney.

And, of course, the AAC tourney is in Hartford this year, so that should give the Huskies a bit of hope if that's their only route to the Big Dance.

It starts Thursday night. UConn really needs to beat the Bearcats to keep hope alive.

(UPDATE: According to the beat guys who were able to get to Cincy on Wednesday, Sam Cassell has a stress fracture in his right tibia and will be out for a while.)

https://twitter.com/neillostrout/status/560622700662902784

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My AP Top 25 ballot this week

Nothing more fun on a Sunday night than to completely ignore the Pro Bowl and figure out my AP Top 25 after another nutty week of college basketball.

It doesn't take much for me to bounce a team from the rankings. There's simply too much parity, too many good teams in the four-, five- and even six-loss club that merit consideration. Really, there are about 25 teams that could fill any of the final 10 or 12 spots in the Top 25, and none would be wrong.

Anyway, this week I say goodbye to Oklahoma (two losses), Stanford (loss to Arizona), San Diego State (loss to Colorado State), Dayton (17-point loss to Davidson) and Seton Hall (goodbye forever). I've added Georgetown, Baylor, Miami, Ohio State and Providence.

Watch out for the Friars, people. Any team that has two great players (Kris Dunn, LaDontae Henton) can do serious damage come tourney time.

Once again, I seriously considered Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane are 14-5 overall, 7-0 in the AAC and boast nice wins over Memphis, Temple and, of course, UConn. Tulsa could easily get to 10-0 over the next two weeks, before hosting SMU, then playing UConn at Hartford on Feb. 12.

The Huskies, of course, have a long way to go before they're ranked again. But I'm sensing Cincinnati could be vulnerable on Thursday night. The loss of Mick Cronin has to hurt them at some point, right? If UConn wins that one, it could easily have a nice little seven-game win streak heading into its Feb. 14 showdown at SMU.

1. Kentucky
2. Virginia
3. Duke
4. Wisconsin
5. Arizona
6. Gonzaga
7. Villanova
8. Wichita State
9. Notre Dame
10. Kansas
11. Louisville
12. Utah
13. Iowa State
14. Maryland
15. West Virginia
16. VCU
17. North Carolina
18. Georgetown
19. Baylor
20. Northern Iowa
21. SMU
22. Miami
23. Ohio State
24. Providence
25. Texas

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Ryan Boatright: "I didn't come back to school to play in the NIT"

Some video and quotes off UConn's 66-53 win over USF on Sunday:

KEVIN OLLIE:

(on Ryan Boatright's 13 straight second-half points and career-high 28 points overall)

“That’s what senior leaders are supposed to do, and that’s what he’s been doing the last two games.”

(on knowing when to keep a player on the bench or inserting him back in the starting lineup -- a la Rodney Purvis)

“It depends on a lot of variables. You want to see what his mindset is, so we always have constant communication, and that stays between me and him. You want to see how the team’s playing. We have analytics, too, that shows us the best team out there. It’s not like I go off of that (only), that’s the last thing I go off of. I go off my feel for the game. But we do have analytics that show different lineups and which one’s playing the best.”

“Rodney provides instant energy off the bench -- attacking the rim. Whatever it is, he’s playing better, Omar’s playing better. This game, I just didn’t see the punch, I just went with Rodney a little bit more in this game, and inserting Sam a little bit.”

(on what Ollie said to Boatright before he came back in and made his personal 13-point run)

“I just told him, watch the game for a little bit, took him out. Most players don’t like getting taken out of the game. He came in, he had fire in his eyes, he made great shots ... he took them with confidence. He got a great steal, great passes, got a layup, that’s what got him, too.”

“Ryan is a leader. He stepped up with a little fire in his stomach, because I wanted him to play a little harder. And I think he did that.”

(on USF being without Chris Perry)

“You look at the stats, (o) Zeigler’s been playing great. I think the last couple of games, in conference play, he’s been 17-for-26. He brings a lot of energy. He actually changed the game when we were down (in Tampa). He’s a real energy basketball player. Of course, Chris Perry is a great player, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to worry about our energy, our focus, and make sure we go out whoever we play against and play UConn basketball.”

BOATRIGHT:

(on Ollie sitting him on the bench for a significant stretch in the second half)



“We get up sometimes, and we let off the gas pedal.”

“I didn’t come back to school to play in the N.I.T.”

(on Purvis)

“He’s coming off the bench, playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of energy. His defense has picked up tremendously. His ball pressure is great. In the beginning of the year, he wasn’t playing ‘D’ like that. For me, what I realized going into the postseason last year is if you play defense like that, it gets you into the game more. Me playing hard defense like that got me in the game, it got my head in the game and it got my rhythm, versus, you wait and take a few shots.”

“When he was starting, by the time that first media timeout came, he was gassed.”

PURVIS:



“That’s the difference between being a good or great team. The great teams put teams away. We’re working towards trying to be great.”

“Omar, he’s a really good shooter. He opens things up for me, honestly. It’s all about the team. I’m just coming off the bench, helping the team in whatever way I can. We won our last two games with this new change, so that’s what it is. No blow to the ego or anything like that, it’s all about the team.”

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Quotes, video off UConn's win over UCF

Some video and quotes off UConn's 67-60 win over UCF Thursday night at Gampel:

KEVIN OLLIE:

“Start of the game, I really liked our aggressiveness. We wanted to get back to playing UConn basketball.”

“We just relaxed. Good teams can’t relax. But, I was proud of our guys in the second half. To hold that team to 60 points, when they were averaging 75 in the American Conference, that’s a pretty good job by our defense. Now, we’ve just got to understand, to win games in big-time environments, we’ve got to do a better job at the free throw line.”

(on UConn's 21 assists to eight turnovers)

“I’ll take that ratio, any day ... It’s hard to guard when you’ve got 21 assists.”

(playing at Gampel)

“It felt great. Our crowd was great. The student section was jumping up and down, and we felt the energy. It’s just great to be back home. It seems like we haven’t been home in like a month, and we haven’t played here in, like, two months. Just to get a little home-cookin’, come out here and play, and let our fans know we’re gonna come out and play with energy and passion.”

“Hopefully, they keep coming out, because we need them."

(on Omar Calhoun's powerful, where-did-that-come-from? slam dunk)

“That was pretty nice. Then Daniel came back with a dunk after that. To see that explosiveness, I know Omar’s getting back to himself. To make that play was big-time.”

RYAN BOATRIGHT:

“That’s what we’ve been looking for all year, man, to come out like we did in that first half, with that intensity and that ball pressure on the defensive end. It was fun being out there. Everybody was sharing the basketball. There was a lot of energy in the crowd. I tell the guys all the time, if we can start the game like that, we’ll be in every game.”

“That’s always disappointing when you make the game harder than it’s got to be. Once you get a team down 18, you’ve got to step on their neck and put them away. That’s what teams do to us. You get down 13, they try to kill us and put us away. But, young team ... it’s a learning process.”

“If we can get the big man to take one step forward, he’s gonna catch that lob all day long.”

“I love playing at Gampel. To get the students here early, they’re rowdy, and then the crowd is magnificent when we play in Gampel. I don’t know why we don’t play as much in Gampel, but I wish we did, definitely.”

HAMILTON:



(on his steal that thwarted a 3-on-1 UCF fast break that could've cut its deficit to four with just over 7 minutes left)

“I knew he was gonna pass the ball. I knew he was gonna try to dish it to the big man so he could get a dunk. I acted like I was gonna play him, and I slid back and got a steal, and we got a fast break.”

(on Calhoun's dunk)

“That caught me by surprise. That caught me by surprise. I’ve seen him do a couple of dunks in warm-ups, but I’ve never seen them in a game, so that caught me by surprise a little bit.”

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Kevin Ollie on finally returning home; Phil Nolan on his struggles; Ryan Boatright on being "last four out"

So the media gets parking passes for all Gampel Pavilion home games. It took a while for me to find my pass for tomorrow's game, however, since it's been so long since I've had to use one.

Hard to believe it's been six weeks since the Huskies have played a home game in their on-campus arena. But it has -- since that Dec. 5 loss to Yale. UConn finally returns to Gampel on Thursday night against UCF. The Huskies even practiced in Gampel today, rather than the new basketball practice facility, to reacquaint themselves with the gym a little bit.

Here's some video and quotes from after practice:

KEVIN OLLIE:



“Hopefully our home crowd will bring the juice. I know we had it against Cincinnati, at the XL Center. It’s just good to be back home. We’ve been on the road. I think we came back from the Florida trip, seemed like we stayed about 12 hours and we were out again. It’s the schedule, you’ve got to play those games. We’re not making any excuses about how we played against Stanford, or Tulsa. We’ve got to play tough, with a sense of urgency. We didn’t have that at all. That’s my job as a coach, to get these guys prepared. And it’s their job as players to go out there and execute that toughness.”

(on UCF's Justin McBride)

“We knew about him after those first five minutes, because he changed the whole complexion of the game. He’s a big boy.”

(on Phil Nolan)

“I’m just trying to stay with him and believe in him. Our guys are putting him in great situations. He’s just got to finish the layups and have confidence with it. My job is not a psychiatrist, but I’m gonna try to help him and build him up. Because we need him. He’s organized on defense, he’s organized on offense. I’m very confident in him in our defensive rotations. But at the end of the day, when the ball is getting to you right at the rim, you’ve got to finish that. Because that helps our momentum. That keeps a run going, or it stops their run.”

(on whether Nolan's extra 30 pounds of bulk this season has affected his play)

“I have no idea. He looks good. He looks a little bigger. He still seems to be nimble, he’s still taking more charges than anybody, that means his feet are still moving. That means his feet are still moving and his mind is still there. You’ve got to finish plays.”

(on team's NCAA tourney hopes)

“We’ve got 14 games. We’ve got to start right now. If we want to be happy on Selection Sunday ... (that’s their) dreams and goals. When you get in there, everything is done. No more, ‘Oh, you barely got in.’ It’s a new season, a new life. But we’ve got to understand we have to take care of today and not worry about that. Because if you keep letting games slip, we’re not going to the NCAA tournament. We’ve got to start taking care of the small things.”

(on UConn's recent schedule)

“We’re a no-excuse team, but the schedule’s been tough. But everybody’s going through it. Everybody in our league is going through it. It is what it is. February is going to be a challenge, too, because we’ve got some long trips where we’re going back and forth, back and forth. Three straight weeks in February, we’re going back and forth. It is what it is. We’ve got to go out there and create a way.”

(on any possible tweaks to the starting lineup)

“I did like our start a little better than the other starts we’ve been having. Rodney (Purvis) played 32 minutes. He did a lot of good things off the bench, coming in and giving us some scoring options. It’s about who finishes the game.”

PHIL NOLAN:

(on whether he's going through a lack of confidence)

“I wouldn’t even say that. I had all the confidence going into the season, I’ve just got to play better.”

(on his knack for taking charges)

“Something happened in the middle of last season. Coach Ollie said something about nobody on the team taking charges. I saw an opportunity one game, I took the charge, and it’s been history since.”

“If I see it, I’m definitely gonna take it. If I see somebody driving to the hole, as hard as they can, I know they’re not gonna stop, so I just try to step in front of them.”

(on how his extra bulk's affected him)

“At the beginning of the season, I kind of felt like I was a little less athletic. I’ve just been trying to figure it out.”

RYAN BOATRIGHT:

“I’ve been on teams where we’ve lost a few games, but I’ve never been in the talk of last four out, last four in. I was watching TV yesterday, seeing our name on there, something was burning inside of me. I didn’t like it. It’s frustrating. I’m putting it on my shoulders to get this team back on the winning side of things.”

“It’s been a while since we’ve played in here, man. It’s gonna be fun being back home. Hopefully, the crowd will come out and support. Either way, we’re gonna come out and take care of business. Because we’ve got to.”

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

My AP Top 25 ballot: Standing by SMU ... for now

I was the only person to vote for SMU last week, giving the Mustangs their sole point with my No. 25 ranking. Not sure how much longer I'll be able to vote for them as their season appears in danger of coming apart at the seams, what with the academic-related departures of Keith Frazier and Justin Martin, as well as an NCAA investigation in the works.

Still, the Mustangs won twice this week, including at Temple and a 23-point home wipeout of East Carolina. So I'm moving them up a pair of spots. (I actually gave Tulsa some brief consideration, but there are simply too many other teams ahead of the Golden Hurricane at this point. Not UConn, obviously).

Anyway, Arkansas, Wyoming and Providence get the boot. Stanford, San Diego State and Dayton take their spots. Yeah, I think Stanford is pretty darn good.

1. Kentucky
2. Virginia
3. Villanova
4. Duke
5. Wisconsin
6. Arizona
7. Gonzaga
8. Maryland
9. Wichita State
10. Notre Dame
11. Iowa State
12. Kansas
13. Louisville
14. Utah
15. West Virginia
16. VCU
17. North Carolina
18. Texas
19. Oklahoma
20. Northern Iowa
21. Stanford
22. San Diego State
23. SMU
24. Dayton
25. Seton Hall

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Jason Smith on Jalen Adams: 'If you called K.O. right now, he'd say, 'Drop him off on the way home'"

Jalen Adams was impressive at the Hoophall Classic at Springfield College on Sunday morning. He scored 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting (2-for-5 on 3-pointers) and was a bundle of energy all over the court in Brewster Academy's 100-69 win over Montverde Academy Prep (note: this was Montverde's postgrad team, not its more talented varsity team, which plays Monday and features the top-rated big man in the country, Ben Simmons).

Got a little frustrated at times when he was open and didn't get a return pass from a teammate, but overall he's a good kid, effervescent personality who can do a little of everything on the floor -- run the point, score, 'D' it up. He'll help UConn immediately next season -- and would be a help right now if he could.

Kevin Ollie and assistant coach Karl Hobbs, fresh off Saturday night's loss out in Stanford, California, were at the game to see their prized commit.

"He texted me, told me he was gonna take a red-eye, come see me play," Adams said of Ollie. "That's what I love about him, coming to support me ... I just like that about him. He's a real loyal guy."

Adams said he didn't see the Huskies' loss to Stanford.

"I couldn't watch it. I tried to get some rest."

Here's a quick snippet of Adams in action:



And here's what Adams and Brewster coach Jason Smith said afterward:

SMITH:

(on whether Adams can step right in and help next season as a freshman)



(on how Adams has progressed so far this season)

"I think that Jalen has definitely shown people that he's not just a scorer, he's able to run offense and facilitate and make great decisions to become more of a point guard. I think that's ultimately what he's gonna have to do for Coach Ollie at UConn. And he's been phenomenal doing that for us."

"I think that the fact that he knows, some games he can go off and score 25 or 30, but he's taken the mindset of, 'I have to make sure that I get others involved. I have a lot of these other pieces around me that I have to distribute the ball (to).' We're routinely six, seven guys in double figures. Very balanced."

ADAMS:



"Playing against the top talent every day is helping us a lot. Even the guys who aren't committed. The un-committed guys, they're tough, too. Every day, you're playing against tough competition, and that prepares you for the next level."

(on what Kevin Ollie has said to him lately)

"He says that at UConn, they don't have any positions. The guards all move around and shift. But I'm definitely gonna have to be a vocal leader and put guys in the right position."

(does being a vocal leader come naturally to him?)

"No, because I played on the wing growing up, so it's been tough. But last year, playing with Kaleb Joseph, he taught me a lot. And Coach Smith, he's a great coach. He's made that a big thing this year, so it's become a lot better."

(on comparisons to Shabazz Napier)

"I saw him play a couple of times at Charlestown, because that's where my father went to school. We went to a lot of games. He was unreal, shooting from halfcourt, practically. But I've never really idolized him that much or tried to compare my game to him. But, it's amazing how he went to UConn, did big things, and now he's in the NBA. And now, I have the chance to do the same thing."

DONOVAN MITCHELL, a Louisville commit and Adams' backcourt mate at Brewster:

"(Adams) might be the funniest dude I've ever met in my life. He's always making jokes, whether it's in practice ... he made Coach Smith even laugh, which last year I thought was the hardest thing possible. He manages to do it a lot."


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