Monday, July 10, 2017

Mick Cronin, Gregg Marshall talk about addition of Wichita State to AAC, as well as league itself

Say what you want about Mick Cronin (and UConn fans say a lot about him, mostly negative), the guys makes great conversation.

Spoke with Cronin for about a half-hour this morning about his team and, more to the point, the American Athletic Conference. Had a similar conversation with Wichita State's Gregg Marshall late last week.

Marshall's Shockers will be a consensus national top-10 pick this year and without question the pick to win the AAC in their first year in the new league. But don't sleep on Cincinnati. It loses Troy Caupain and Kevin Johnson, but returns everyone else, including its top three scorers (Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington and Gary Clark). And, let's face it, Caupain was pretty disappointing last season, and East Hartford's own Caine Broome (a Sacred Heart transfer) will combine with Justin Jenifer to ease the loss of Caupain at point guard.

Anyway, here's some of what Cronin and Marshall had to say:


(on addition of Wichita State)

"When our league changed, we gave away the name to the Big East, but obviously lost a lot of quality basketball teams. We picked up some teams from Conference USA trying to raise their program to a new level where the Big East was. For those teams, I think they've gotten a lot better and they continue to add to their basketball budget. A lot of quality coaches were hired. But the facts are, we lost some really good basketball teams. It's great to be able to add basketball school like Wichita State, with everybody back, who'll be ranked in the top-10 this year."

"The fact that they're a basketball school really helps our league as far as showing a commitment to basketball. I think it's hurt us in NCAA seeding, as far as perception. I don't think people on the committee or AD's from around the country realize how good SMU has been."

"We need anything to help our profile. Wichita State does have the respect. Cincinnati and UConn have names because our our history and past. Wichita State, because of their run to the Final Four (in 2013), people know who they are. That's just how it is. But we have another team that's just as perennial in SMU."

"The future is bright for basketball in our league."

(on the fact WSU is basketball-only and doesn't bring the almighty, money-making football to the table)

“I don’t care. And you can quote me on that. It’s great to see somebody cared enough about basketball to do the right thing for basketball in our league. Everything’s done for football. But when you sit in the chair I sit in, (people say) ‘Oh, but we need basketball to win and win big.’ It’s beyond refreshing to see something done for the betterment of basketball in our conference – or any conference.”

(Does the league need UConn to be better?)

"Absolutely. Throw Memphis in, too ... Eight years (combined), eight possible tournaments, what are the odds of them going 3-for-8 (combined)? No doubt, it's important for your traditional schools to be good, in any conference. Whether it's North Carolina and Duke or UCLA and Arizona out west, it's no different. But I think UConn (last year), in all fairness, came down to injuries."

"And guys that go pro early. Give them Daniel Hamilton and tell them how their season went. It makes the margin for errors smaller. It's harder when one or two guys go down. It can devastate you. Nobody's got that kind of depth anymore." 

(on Caine Broome, who will play point guard for Bearcats after being one of nation's leading scorers two years ago at Sacred Heart)

"We knew he was a really good player watching him on film. Once we got him here ... we realized he had to score for Sacred Heart, but he's much more comfortable playing point guard. In fact, he's probably a better passer than scorer. When you look at his Sacred Heart stats, that doesn't make sense. But having him in practice every day, watching him up close, his ability to break down a defense ... he gives us a weapon we haven't had, as far as getting teammates easy shots and being able to get in the paint really at will."


(on AAC)

"I think we've got some nationally-known brands for college basketball. We've got nationally-known coaches that have had national-championship success, coach of the year-type success. We feel like this will be a very, very good opportunity for us to join a conference that should be a multi-bid conference every year. It has teams that can go deep in the tournament."

(on being preseason favorites)

"I really try not to put too much stock in it. I will tell you that I'd much prefer that than to be predicted to be not very good. If I had my druthers, I'd rather be picked as a good team. If people don't expect much from you, you probably haven't been very good."

(on importance of UConn being good)

"I think the key for us to be a very good conference is for as many teams as possible - you can't say all, because if somebody's having a great year, somebody's having a bad - to play up to their potential and what they've done in the past. Teams such as Wichita State, Cincinnati, SMU, Connecticut, Memphis, Temple, now Central Florida, all of those teams. Tulsa has shown in recently it can be one of the best programs in the country. If you can get a lot of those teams to do that, the majority to do that, you can get a handful of bids."

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Kwintin Williams commits to UConn

UConn is adding another player to next season's roster.

Kwintin Williams, a 6-7 forward with freakish athleticism, committed to the Huskies on Sunday afternoon.

Here's my story in the New Haven Register on Williams, who claims a 44-inch vertical leap and would like to increase that by about four inches.

And here are some quotes from my phone conversation with him on Sunday:

“I had a couple other high-major schools. I was talking to Pitt, TCU, Oregon, WSU, UNLV."

"Coach Ollie, when he called me, it wasn’t all about basketball. He was telling me about the UConn family and relationship me and him would be able to have off floor as well as on floor. That led me away from the ACC and Pac 12. I feel like I can come in and have an immediate impact in the American Conference. It's all about relationships with the coach, and I felt I had the best relationship here."

"I'm more of a solid 3, could be 4, go to 2, could guard all five positions"

"My vertical is 44 inches now, and I'm trying to get to at least 48 inches."

"I've always had pretty good hops. It's the hunger, aggression I play with, that always helps. Some people jump occasionally, I jump all 40 minutes. The whole game, I’m in there getting it done. The drive, energy, stuff I bring to floor, as well as aggression to win, or to go get ball. Not everybody jumps for every rebound. That’s a big part of my game: put-backs, tip-ins."

"I took the year off, couldn’t do anything, didn’t need any offers. I was behind the bar on grades, my GPA wasn't the best. I sat down and realized what it takes to play ball. I got 40 credits and held a 3.2 GPA all year."

"I took the year off to get 3 years of eligibility."

Williams said he's originally from Oklahoma City, but he and his mom and grandmother moved to Alaska when he was young. He still lives in Alaska but hopes to be in Storrs by early August."

"Coach Ollie on the phone, he was real with me. Everything he said seemed to add up. That relationship, you don't come across that with too many high-major coaches."

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Kevin Ollie talks about a number of topics

Had a nice chat with Kevin Ollie and Josh Carlton today. Look for story on Carlton in Wednesday's Register.

Here's some of what Ollie had to say about a number of different topics:
Kevin Ollie

(2017-18 outlook)

I think our ballhandling’s gonna be much improved, especially with Alterique coming back and Jalen coming off an outstanding season.

(Looking back on last season's disappointment, injuries)

“It happens, it’s part of the game, we’re not making any excuses about it. I’m just glad to see those guys healthy.”

“Two weeks left in the season, we were fighting for third. Then we kind of had a letdown at the end of the season.”

“I was proud of the guys overall. Proud of the coaching staff. We just learned a lot. I know I learned a lot. I had never been through anything like that in my career as a head coach or an assistant.”

(Alterique Gilbert)

"He's still not 100 percent. We're still kinda cautious with everything, He'll do some contact, then lean off that a little bit. In July, we're gonna allow him to go full-contact, 5-on-5."

"He’s a tremendous leader. He has a great work ethic, and just seeing him out there, I think it really helps our team and our psyche, just to see that leadership out there. He’s a pit bull on the basketball court. He loves what he does, and you can see it in everything he does – every behavior he does, he’s kinda like a quiet leader."

(Will next year's team try to run more, go with smaller lineups?)

“That’s got to be the game plan. We don’t want to go down and face set defenses all the time. But that goes back to defensive rebounding. If you want to be a great running team, you’ve got to play good defense and rebound the basketball.”

(Mamadou Diarra)

"Mamadou’s been going full strength, getting up at 6:30 a.m., working out with Carlos Daniels, coming back to practice center doing individual work. No swelling in the knee, no bad feedback, every day he's recovering and coming back stronger."

(Terry Larrier)

Terry Larrier
"Terry’s doing great. He’s a man on a mission ... Terry’s really stepping up vocally, in workouts, going above and beyond the things we ask. I think the switch has really flipped on by him.”

(Will it be good for UConn to go into next season with lesser expectations, a bit under the radar?)

“I’d love to be No. 1. I don’t run away from expectations. I don’t care if we’re eighth or 10th in the preseason – in Connecticut, they expect us to win. That’s the expectations that we come into each and every year, and that’s how we’re evaluated. I understand that pressure. I played here, I coached here. I like that pressure. I think that’s a privilege. If people want to call us an underdog, this and that, it is what it is. We want to just come in and play.”

“In February, when we’re coming back from SMU and you’ve got to get up for school at 8 a.m. and then come back in for practice – can you be committed then? That’s when I’ll know if we have a championship-caliber team.”

(Jalen Adams)

"Just being more consistent in big games – SMU, Cincinnati games. Stretch the defense more. He's a fantastic open-court basketball player. I want him to be known as one of the best defensive guards in our conference. That’s an area he can improve on.”

"His ankle was messed up the last three weeks. The way he gutted it out for us and gutted it out for me, and it’s not like we pushed him or anything. He wanted to play. That was big-time. Now, just giving him a little time to rest his ankle, get it back to full strength, that’s kind of what we’re doing with him now. But what he did those last three weeks … people didn’t write about that, but we knew about it. His ankle was bothering him. But he wanted to push through for the team and give it his all.”

(Does he think the program is still in good shape?)

“I don’t think, I know. Guys left, made their own decisions. It happens. I wish them the best of luck, but we have to move on. I don’t have time to be looking back. I’m running towards my destiny, and I think this program is running towards their destiny. We don’t have time to go back. We learned from it, we got through it. We’re focused on a new task this season to get the guys that are putting these jerseys on and going out here playing for this great university.”

“I know this program is in a good state. We’ve graduated guys, we did a remarkable job academically. On the basketball court, yeah, we took a step back. Everybody understands the different circumstances that happened. But, at the end of the day, I thought we played hard, we competed.”

“We have to win. I can’t keep going 15-17, we all know that. But I really admire the men that they’ve become. I hope everybody sees that, too.”

“We have a great program. It’s not for everybody. If you want to be here, come in with the mentality, you’re going to be successful. A lot of guys on that wall have done it, and it’s not all based on talent.”

(Will Antwoine Anderson help compliment Adams, Gilbert and Christian Vital in the backcourt?)

"(With a smile) Compliment? He’s gonna make them compete a little bit more, too. He’s really good. He’s what we need. He’s a push guard, he loves to play defense, he’s got a chip on his shoulder. Those guys stepping up a little bit want to prove themselves. He’s kind of what we need. He’s got the veteran leadership, but then he also has the tenacity to get out there defensively. He’s very shifty with the ball, he’s gonna give us another ballhandler.”

(Josh Carlton)

“Very skilled, big body. It’s not like we’re telling Carlos to put 25 pounds on him. We want to get him more lean and physically in shape, condition-wise. Very talented around the rim, can rebound. He’s just got a big body. I expect him to compete for minutes. He could be, eventually, a person that we can throw it down low to. He can command a double team, eventually. But I really think his skill level is close to (Steve) Enoch’s. Enoch is better skilled than him now, but I kind of compare those two, skill-wise. Great touch around the basket. Hopefully, he can come in and compete for some minutes.”

"We want to get him more athletic, boost his jumping ability, his fast-twitch muscles, being able to react on defensive end. Only way they get on court is if they pick up defensive schemes. Hopefully, he can do that."

(Eric Cobb)

"He went through an ordeal at South Carolina, took whatever punishment came his way, then went to JUCO and proved himself there and did great academically. Now, he’s coming back to get his second chance to play Division I basketball. I really think he has that motivation in his heart to say, ‘Man, I went through some stuff, but I’m better now.’ I think he has a toughness that we kind of lacked sometimes last year against the bigger teams.”

"His fault, not his fault – he was part of it. I think he took that under consideration, how he needs to change his life, the circle that he was running with. Now he’s a better man for it. I’m very intrigued by him.”

(Keeping two scholarship spots open)

“Just in case Andre Drummond falls out of the sky. We’re working. Some 2018’s that can be 2017’s, and still some guys transferring, we might bring in transfer and have him sit out and be a part of our system while not playing. That would be ideal.”

Ollie said that Amida Brimah will likely play for Miami in the Orlando Summer League, then with Chicago out in Las Vegas. It seems the Bulls have the most interest in Brimah.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

UConn men's season tickets are on sale now

We already know UConn will host Villanova on Jan. 20, and host strong AAC foes Wichita State, Cincinnati and SMU, as well.

On Monday, we learned the bulk of the rest of the Huskies' non-league slate. And it's underwhelming, to be sure.

UConn will host Colgate (Nov. 10), Boston University (Nov. 19), Columbia (No. 29), Monmouth (Dec. 2) and Coppin State (Dec. 9), in addition to 'Nova and its nine home dates with AAC foes. UConn will also play a home game either on Nov. 14 or 15 as part of the PK 80 Invitational.

Of course, the Huskies also face a challenging road slate, at the PK80 Invitational (opening up vs. Oregon), vs. Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, at Arizona and at Auburn.

UConn will also play a pair of exhibition games against Division 2 foes: Merrimack on Oct. 30 and Queens College on Nov. 5.

Public sale of season tickets went on sale Monday, June 19.

The dates of UConn’s nine American Athletic Conference home games will be announced when the league releases its schedule later this summer, but the AAC opponents UConn will play at home include UCF, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Memphis, USF, SMU, Temple, Tulsa, and Wichita State.

UConn’s league road opponents include UCF, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa, and Wichita State.

2017-18 Non-Conference Home Schedule
Monday, Oct. 30                       Merrimack (exhib.)
Sunday, Nov. 5                         Queens (exhib.)
Friday, Nov. 10                         Colgate
Tue or Wed, Nov. 14 or 15        TBA
Sunday, Nov. 19                       Boston University
Wednesday, Nov. 29                 Columbia
Saturday, Dec. 2                       Monmouth
Saturday, Dec. 9                       Coppin State
Saturday, Jan. 20                     Villanova

2017-18 AAC Home Opponents

East Carolina

Wichita State

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kevin Ollie on UConn's walking wounded, outlook for next season, Wichita State, etc.

Kevin Ollie helped open the second Kevin's Kourts in South Windsor today. He also spoke to the media about a variety of UConn-related subjects.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

UConn-Villanova set to meet Jan. 20 in Hartford

UConn will begin a three-game series with Villanova on Jan. 20, 2018 at the XL Center in Hartford, the school announced on Thursday.

The series will shift to a neutral site, Madison Square Garden, on Dec. 22, 2018, with the final game being played at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 18, 2020.

Villanova owns a 33-31 all-time advantage over the Huskies, including a 70-61 win at XL in the teams' final meeting as Big East foes on Feb. 16, 2013.

Of course, a little over a year later, they'd meet again in an NCAA tournament second-round game. And UConn won that one, 77-65, en route to its fourth national title.

Here's the press release sent out by UConn:

UConn and Villanova, former longtime rivals in the Big East Conference, have agreed to a three-game series in men’s basketball that will begin this coming season and run through 2019-20.

The series will bring together two of the past four NCAA champions -- - UConn in 2014 and Villanova in 2016. The schools will start the series on Jan. 20, 2018, when they meet at the XL Center in Hartford.

The second game of the series is scheduled for Dec. 22, 2018, at Madison Square Garden as a neutral-site game. The final game of the series will be held on Jan. 18, 2020, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

“We are very excited to renew our series with Villanova, and especially pleased to be able to play one of the games in the tremendous basketball atmosphere of Madison Square Garden,” UConn had coach Kevin Ollie said. “We have had so many memorable games against Villanova over the years and Coach (Jay) Wright obviously has one of the very best programs in the country. I know our fans will be thrilled to see the Wildcats back on our schedule.”

UConn has an overall 31-33 record against Villanova in a series that began in 1941. As Big East rivals for 33 years, beginning in 1980-81, the Huskies were 28-31 against the Wildcats -- 1-17 during the first eight seasons and 27-14 during the last 25. In their final game as conference colleagues in 2013, Villanova took a 70-61 decision at the XL Center.

UConn, however, has won five of its last six games against Villanova, including a 77-65 victory in their last meeting, on March 22, 2014, in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. The Huskies went on to capture the 2014 National Championship, the fourth in the history of the program.

“UConn and Villanova have enjoyed exciting games over a long history. This series honors the great tradition of Villanova and Connecticut basketball,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “Facing UConn was always a challenge and will be again. Coach Ollie was one of the toughest and smartest players in Big East history and he instills those same qualities in his team.”

Over the last five years, Villanova has compiled an outstanding 149-31 record (.828) and made five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including winning the program’s second national championship in 2016.

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

AAC announces regular-season pairings

The American Athletic Conference has announced the 2017-18 men's basketball conference pairings.

With the addition of Wichita State in 2017-18, each team in The American will play seven of its 11 opponents twice, and the other four opponents once each – two at home and two away.

UConn will face UCF, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Memphis, Temple, Tulsa and Wichita State both home and away next season. The Huskies will face USF and SMU at home only, and face Houston and Tulane solely on the road.

Playing only one game against SMU could hurt the Huskies' RPI. Typically, the American ensures the upper-level teams in the league (UConn, SMU, Cincinnati, now Wichita State) play each other twice, in order to help each teams' respective RPIs.

However, UConn's non-conference slate (Oregon and others at the PK80 Invitational, at Arizona, at Auburn, vs. Syracuse at MSG) should mean its RPI remains strong. There's also the chance that SMU isn't as strong this year now that AAC player of the year Semi Ojeleye has opted to turn pro.

The complete 2017-18 men's basketball schedule with dates and times will be announced at a later date.

Houston, Tulane
UCF, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Memphis, Temple, Tulsa, Wichita State