Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bad Matchup

Stanley Robinson predicted last week that Jim Calhoun would return for Wednesday's game at Syracuse.

Sticks was wrong. George Blaney will be coaching the Huskies for a seventh straight game at the Carrier Dome tomorrow night. As for Calhoun, the usual: still not timetable, will return when his doctor tells him to, hopefully sooner than later.

Apparently, Calhoun hasn't stepped foot on the UConn campus since taking his indefinite medical leave on Jan. 18.

Geno Auriemma walked by as we interviewed Blaney today at Gampel.

"Leave the guy alone, would ya? Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the (stuff) he's got going on, he's got to deal with you guys?"

Geno was just kidding.

***As for Syracuse: could there be a worse matchup for a Husky team that a.) is 0-5 on the road, b.) normally views zone defenses as if they're Chinese algebra and c.) is 1-4 against Top 25 teams (and that one win, against reeling Texas, isn't looking so good anymore)?

But the Huskies will show up, Blaney promises.

"I still have the feeling that we're so very close to being good," he said. "That's what's been so confounding about this team all year. They're so capable of playing such great minutes. I keep going back to the Louisville game: 13-for-19 to start the second half. To play that kind of basketball, it's there. For some reason, it hasn't come out in a full game enough times."

No. 2 Syracuse is off to its best start ever at 23-1 overall (10-1 Big East). The Orange are a well-rounded team led by a superstar (Wes Johnson), a sharpshooter (Andy Rautins), a dominating big man (Arinze Onuaku) and terrific talent off the bench (Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine).

But it's that 2-3 zone that could present UConn with the most problems. Always a hallmark of the team's style, Syracuse's zone this season is as good as it's ever been.

"I think the players fit better," said Blaney. "It's probably because of Wes Johnson's ability to go out and in, and to cover as much ground as he does, and as intelligently as he does. It's certainly one of the best that I've seen."

The key to beating it (short of "having Emeka Okafor inside," as Blaney joked), is ball movement.

"Once you change sides," Blaney explained, "then you can attack thte middle, or behind, or at the rim. But the problem is, so many teams – us included, sometimes – get caught in either keeping the ball on one side of the court, or you window-wash up on top with passes. By that I mean you just sort of pass it between each other and there's no penetration or slipping in between two guys."

That collective "gulp" you just heard came from Husky Nation, which realizes that "window washing" perfectly explains UConn's halfcourt offense too many times this season. And that's against the zone defenses of lesser teams like Providence and Michigan.

"And they try to keep you on the perimeter so that you get frustrated, and then take a late 3," Blaney continued. "That's kind of what they try to do. They don’t get too concerned if you make a couple of 3's, particularly if you make them early. I can't speak for Jim (Boeheim), but I'd say a lot of times he's happy he makes 3's against them early, because it becomes a little bit of fool's gold sometimes."

An upset win tonight at the Carrier Dome wouldn't be fool's gold for the Huskies. It would be pure gold for them to beat the Orange.

***Blaney said that Ater Majok (in particular), Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Donnell Beverly have looked real good in practice lately.

"Ater is gaining confidence every single day. He's starting to do more and more things every day. He certainly is a factor in games. He can affect games. That's what you're looking for from guys who come off the bench, or in his case he's starting. He's doing that with his motor, with his ability to block and alter shots, and he's now getting much more confident with the ball. I think he's always thought of himself as an offensive player, but his inexperience is something that's always hindered the offensive part of his game."

***Blaney said he picked the 'Cuse to finish either first or second in the league back in the fall, so they're impressive start hasn't surprised him.

Blaney on Jim Boeheim: "I've never seen a guy that is in the Hall of Fame and has won 800-and-whatever games he's won, get less credit for being a good coach than Jim Boeheim ... The guy wins all the time. He's just like our Jim. They know how to win. You put 25, 27 wins a year for 30 years, you have a pretty good idea of what you're doing."

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