Monday, January 31, 2011

Dyson Dominates D League

Jerome Dyson of the Tulsa 66ers was named NBA Development League Performer of the Week for games played during the week of Jan. 24.

Dyson, who spent the 2010 NBA Summer League with the Cleveland Cavaliers, led the 66ers to a 2-1 record on the week, averaging 28.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and three assists.

After scoring 21 points in Tulsa’s 107-101 win at Springfield on Jan. 27, Dyson shot 6-of-9 from three-point range, scoring a game-high 37 points to go along with four rebounds, two assists and two steals in the 66ers’ 118-98 victory over the Armor the next day. Dyson also scored a team-high 27 points in Tulsa’s 109-106 loss to Maine on Sunday.

Among the league's honorable mention roll: Rio Grande Valley’s Jeff Adrien, who averaged 24 points, 14.5 rebounds and three assists.

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Lamb is Rookie of Week

After averaging 22.5 points in UConn's two games, Jeremy Lamb is the Big East's rookie of the week.

Peyton Siva is player of the week, but UConn fans might want to just sort of forget about that.

Some other interesting Big East notes to chew on:

Big East teams are 6-1 against top-10 opponents from other conferences after Sunday’s win by St. John’s over Duke. The Big East is 12-9 against top-25 teams this season.

The Big East is just about at the midpoint of the 2010-11 conference season, with 70 of the 144 league games played. The home team has won 44 of the first 70 games (.629). Ten of the 70 games have been ‘one-possession games,’ decided by three points or fewer.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

One Tough Poll

In the two years I've represented Connecticut as an AP Top 25 voter, this week's may have been the toughest I've had to do. Toughest poll this side of Lech Walesa. (Oops, that's Pole. Tough week for Mike Krzyzewski, too).

Of the 25 teams I ranked last week, 15 lost at least once. Two teams (Villanova and Syracuse) lost twice, while Missouri, Texas A&M and Wisconsin lost the only game they each played. (I'm submitting this poll contingent on Washington beating Washington State tonight. If Washington loses, they'll drop to No. 13, Georgetown will move up to No. 9, etc. Gotta love those late West Coast games).

It's tough for me to move 'Nova and Syracuse down so far, because it's pretty obvious that the Big East remains the best, most competitive conference in the nation. Look no further than St. John's domination of Duke on Sunday.

Big East teams are simply beating each other up, sending Syracuse to a whopping four straight losses (a fifth coming Wednesday night in Hartford?). And it's not so much that the league's best teams are so great (there are NO great teams in the country this season). It's that the lower tier is better than expected. With the exception of DePaul, there is not a single gimmie victory in the league, at least on the road.

South Florida, you ask? You mean the same Bulls who took UConn to overtime in Hartford on New Year’s Eve? Providence, which knocked off No. 23 Louisville and No. 8 Villanova in the span of four days last week? Rutgers, which gave No. 2 Pittsburgh all it could handle in a 65-62 loss Saturday night at the RAC? Seton Hall, which crushed Syracuse in the Carrier Dome and seems rejuvenated by the return of Jeremy Hazell?

St. John's? Ask Coach K.

As for the Huskies, I'm leaving them where I had them last week: No. 6. A nice road win at Marquette and a double-OT home loss to a Top 25 Louisville squad is no reason to move them down, especially given what most of the teams around them did or didn't do this week.

And why, you ask, do I have Texas ahead of UConn, despite the Huskies having beaten them in Austin a couple of weeks ago? The Longhorns are simply playing better right now. Can't always go with that type of reasoning, anyway. After all, I still have UConn ranked well ahead of Louisville.

1. Ohio State
2. Kansas
3. Pittsburgh
4. Texas
5. San Diego State
6. Connecticut
7. Duke
8. Brigham Young
9. Washington
10. Georgetown
11. Missouri
12. Kentucky
13. Minnesota
14. Villanova
15. Louisville
16. Notre Dame
17. Purdue
18. Texas A&M
19. Syracuse
20. Wisconsin
21. Utah State
22. Arizona
23. Xavier
24. North Carolina
25. Duquesne

Saturday, January 29, 2011

'I Don't Want to Talk About Kemba'

Late in the game in in overtime, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith must have felt a little like Colts WR Reggie Wayne ("I shouldn't have even suited up") felt after losing to the Jets a few weeks ago. Both players hardly sniffed the ball as UConn's three-guard attack of Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb weaved the ball around the perimeter seemingly every possession, failed to penetrate and wound up settling for long jumpers and 3's -- a few of which went in, but not enough.

The Huskies fired up 30 3-pointers today, hitting just eight of them. The unimaginative offense late in the game wasn't the only reason they lost -- certainly the inability to stop 5-11 Peyton Siva from driving the lane played a major part. Still, the failure of Walker and Napier, in particular, to drive the lane effectively seemed to stick in the craw of Calhoun afterwards.

When the J-I's Phil Chardis started asking Calhoun about Louisville's swarming defense on Walker, Calhoun snapped: "I don't want to talk about Kemba right now. Next question."

That, my friends, was as close to Calhoun has come to publicly criticizing Walker since probably his freshman year.

When asked if there was any friction between he and the coach, Walker simply shook his head "No." And I don't believe there is any. But if Calhoun was looking to pick his spot in perhaps motivating Walker a bit, there was no better time than the present.

After today's 7-for-23 (2-for-10 on treys) performance, Walker is now shooting 32 percent (24-for-74) in his last four games. Worse, he seemed to force some bad shots this afternoon -- and admitted as much afterwards.

"They're throwing a lot of guys at me," Walker said. "I'm not taking good shots. I've got to do a better job getting good shots."

*** Siva scored the game-tying shots at the end of both regulation and first overtime – the latter a dunk with 7.8 seconds remaining that really was inexcusable, from a UConn perspective.

"I have no explanation for it. None," Calhoun said. "I tried to use different centers, but they both got out of the way to make sure he had a clearer view of the rim. And, obviously, we shouldn't be getting beat that easy at the top, either."

Siva (team-high 19 points) added two more driving layups in the second overtime.

"We told our guys: do not let the clock run out, go three overtimes, be offensively aggressive," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Come out and just make sure you attack the rim. You can't win on the road unless you attack the rim, and we came out in both overtimes really looking to attack it."

***Lamb's father, Rolando, was up from Georgia to take in his first UConn game. He saw his son play well (9-for-17 shooting) in the loss, which gave Jeremy some consolation.

"It is (a good feeling)," Jeremy said, "and then again, we didn't get the 'W', so it's not really satisfying, you know?"

***UConn outrebounded Louisville by a resounding 51-36 margin -- a result, in part, of the Cardinals overplaying UConn's guards.

***Two members of last year's UConn team, Jerome Dyson and Gavin Edwards, sat next to each other behind the Huskies' bench. The two played an NBDL game against each other Friday night, with Dyson scoring 37 points in Tulsa's win over Springfield.

***Both teams' coaching staffs wore sneakers in support of the American Cancer Society.

***Calhoun is now 7-14 all-time against Pitino-coached teams and 4-5 since Pitino came to Louisville.

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Calhoun v. Pitino

Here's a quick tale of the tape between today's two coaches, Jim Calhoun and Rick Pitino:

Head-to-head: Pitino, 13-7. Pitino was 6-3 against Calhoun while Pitino was at BU and Calhoun at Northeastern; 1-0 while Pitino was at PC and Calhoun at Northeastern; 2-0 when Pitino was at PC and Calhoun at UConn; and 4-4 while at Louisville.

National titles: Calhoun, 2-1.

Final Fours appearances: Pitino, 5-3.

Number of teams brought to Final Four: Pitino, 3-1.

Scandals: Nate Miles' recruitment vs. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. Advantage: Pitino.

Best coaching performance: 1990 Impossible Dream team vs. 1987 PC Final Four squad. (Or could this year be Calhoun's greatest?). Advantage: Pitino.

Sideline attire: Standard suit and tie vs. wildly expensive white suits. Advantage: Pitino.

Celtics ties: Supposedly the final cut in training camp one year vs. extremely disappointing head coach. Advantage: Calhoun.

Background: Boston Irish vs. New York Italian. I'm not touching this one.

Hall of Fame status: 2005 inductee vs. 2011 nominee. Advantage: Calhoun.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Cardinals Coming to Town

A few notes & quotes in advance of Saturday's Louisville-UConn game at Gampel.

*** The game is sold-out, UConn's second straight home sellout. There'll be a third, as well, on Wednesday night against Syracuse at the XL Center.

"Our fans really like this team, as well as me," said Jim Calhoun.

*** Kemba Walker is in the midst of a mini-slump -- at least by the standards he's set this season. Walker has shot just 33 percent from the floor in the Huskies’ last three games as teams constantly double and triple-team him.

“It’s frustrating, I can’t lie,” he said. “But for the most part I’ve been doing pretty well with it. I’ve been racking up a lot of assists. I’ve been doing a good job at countering stuff. I can’t complain. We’re winning, and that’s all I can ask for."

Walker doled out nine assists against Marquette.

“All he does is win games, and that’s a good thing,” said Calhoun. “I don’t worry about Kemba.”

*** Jeremy Lamb has averaged 16.8 points in UConn’s last four games. Against Marquette, he became the first Husky freshman to score 20 in a game since Kemba Walker in the NCAA tournament in 2009.

Lamb's father is expected to be at today's game, the first time he'll see Jeremy play live in a college game.

*** Why haven't Niels Giffey or Tyler Olander seen much playing time lately?

"We've won six in a row, we're 17-2. Why jump in and make drastic changes?"

Calhoun believes both players will still help the Huskies down the line.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Beat Goes On

It's official: Nothing this team does surprises me anymore. Zero.

While I thought there was a chance UConn could be significantly better than the preseason prognosticators had prognoaticated, there's no way I (or anyone) could have figured the Huskies would be 16-2 at this point of the season. Truly remarkable.

If Jim Calhoun isn't the runaway favorite for (forget just Big East), national coach of the year right now, I don't know who is. It's really not even close right now.

Calhoun has mixed and matched this group marvelously, discerning his players'strengths and weaknesses and melding it into a winning product.

"Jim does a great job of putting guys in a position to be successful," Bruce Pearl said. "They do what they can do, and don't do what they can't do."

Kemba Walker is a virtual certainty each night, and there he was once again in the UConn men's basketball's 72-61 win over Tennessee at a sold-out XL Center Saturday afternoon. Despite his lowest scoring output of the season (16 points), Walker doled out seven assists and hit his usual array of big shots, including a long 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer that gave the eighth-ranked Huskies a halftime lead.

Alex Oriakhi was at it again, too, with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) and three steals, including a nifty pokeaway that led to his own dunk with 4 ½ minutes to play.

But it was the performances of a pair of freshmen, Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith, that made the difference in this one. Lamb matched a career best with 16 points, including a couple of big buckets over the final five minutes, and added five rebounds and a pair of steals.

Smith buried four 3-pointers to add 12 points, blocked three shots and helped hold Volunteer leading scorer Scotty Hopson to a subpar (5-for-13 shooting, five turnovers) game.

"Of the 18 games we've played, that's far and away the best team effort against a quality opponent," UConn coach Jim Calhoun proclaimed afterwards. "I don't think there's any question about it."

Throw in an effective (six points, five boards) game off the bench for Charles Okwandu, a couple of 3-pointers from Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and enough clutch passing (four assists) in an otherwise poor game from Shabazz Napier and it's hard to argue Calhoun's point.

"(Walker) can get 30 any night he wants," said Lamb. "Tonight, he got us involved. Roscoe was hot, I hit a couple of shots and Shabazz was in there handling it for him. We all contributed."

Added Oriakhi: "We feed off each others' energy, so when one guy's playing well, we all feed off it and it helps the team as a whole … Roscoe was hitting 3's, Jeremy stepped up and Chuck stepped up. And that's what we need, because Kemba can't do it alone."

*** It's always fun listening to Pearl talk, so here's a little of what he had to say afterwards:

"You have to play really well to beat UConn at UConn. We did some good things, but turning the ball over – some of that was UConn, some of that was us. Second-chance points were huge. A lot of that was UConn, some of that was us."

"If you told me we could hold (Oriakhi) and Walker down, that we could win the ballgame. But those other guys, Lamb and Smith, stepped it up ... UConn's playing better when those other guys are involved like this. It makes them a harder cover. It'll open up the lane a little bit more inside."

"It's hard for Tennessee to beat UConn at UConn when Scotty Hopson doesn't play well."

(on returing to the sidelines in the middle of an eight-game suspension from SEC play)

"It's a very serious penalty. Eight league games … one league game could be the difference between seedings and making the tournament. It's significant ... Believe it or not, it didn't feel that different … It's good to get back. It was fun to be in the game for a while."

*** Ex-UConn great Clifford Robinson watched the game from behind the bench.

***Tyler Olander started for UConn but went scoreless in six minutes. Niels Giffey played just three minutes and registered nary a point nor a rebound.

***The sellout was UConn's second of the season and first at the XL Center.

***Melvin Goins led the Vols with 15 points, Hopson had 13 and Tobias Harris (a former UConn recruiting target) had 10.

***That's it. I'm off to Disney World with the family. Should be particularly exciting for my 4 1/2-year-old daughter. She's pretty excited, and so am I.

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Punxsutawney Pearl

Groundhog Day doesn’t officially come for another 10 days, but college basketball’s version will transpire this afternoon at the XL Center in Hartford.

After sitting out the last four games, Tennessee men’s coach Bruce Pearl will emerge, cast his rather large shadow on the sideline in the Volunteers’ 2 p.m. (CBS) showdown with UConn, then crawl back into his hole for four more games once today’s matchup is over.

Back in November, Pearl was suspended for the Vols’ first eight Southeastern Conference games by league commissioner Mike Slive for violating NCAA rules and misleading investigators. That came on top of the university’s self-imposed sanctions, which dock Pearl $1.5 million in salary over the next five years and banned him from participating in off-campus recruiting for a year.

However, smack dab in the middle of those first eight SEC games is the non-conference test with the eighth-ranked Huskies (15-2). Pearl admitted it’s a bit of an awkward situation and said he considered sitting out the UConn game, as well, but quickly figured doing so would serve no purpose.

(By the way: didn't Patrick Sellers and Beau Archibald get fired for lying to NCAA investigators? Count me as one who thinks Pearl got off fairly lightly).

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kemba and Jimmer

Imagine having the two national collegiate player of the year frontrunners playing in the same backcourt?

Well, it wasn't imaginary this summer, when Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette trained together on a USA Select Team that played for a week against the national team that went on to win the FIBA world championship.

Walker and Fredette got to know each other a little bit while out in Las Vegas, but it's not like they struck up a fast friendship. I asked Walker after Monday's Villanova game if he stays in contact with Fredette during the season as the two are in a race not only for POY honors but for the nation's scoring lead (Fredette recently pulled ahead of Walker), and he said that he doesn't even have Fredette's number.

He's keeping tabs on him, though.

“Of course. He’s on ESPN all the time," Walker said, with a smile. "I get a chance to see him. I’ll think he’ll be the one that keeps it up with the scoring title.”

Fredette recently told ESPN college basketball blogger Diamond Leung that he is paying attention to what Walker is doing, as well. He said he's thinking too much about the national POY chase, but ...

"You know it's out there," Fredette said. "It's something you can't really worry about. We're in conference play, and I'm sure he's worried about trying to get victories and win games."

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Pearl Gems

Here's what Bruce Pearl had to say about Saturday's bout with UConn. He admits he "thought about" not coaching the game -- in the midst of his eight-game suspension from SEC games -- but didn't know what purpose that would serve Pearl believes his school's self-imposed penalties are enough:


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Huskies Sell Out

UConn's 2 p.m. bout with Tennessee on Saturday at the XL Center is sold out.

There are a limited number of seats remain for selected home games and can be purchased by visiting

Monday, January 17, 2011

Walker Talks

Here's a little of what Kemba Walker said after hitting the game-winning shot with 2.5 seconds left in UConn's 61-59 win over Villanova on Monday:


Walking the Walk(er)

Here's how Jay Wright summed up Monday's exciting game, a 61-59 UConn victory.

"Great game to be a part of. Great atmosphere. It was a great Big East basketball game. We just came up on the short side of it."

Juuuuust the way Jim Calhoun would have described it if it had been Corey Fisher, not Kemba Walker, hitting the game-winning shot with 2.5 seconds left, right?

Ummmmm ... no.

But Calhoun -- who to this day hasn't publicly acknowledged the classic nature of UCoonn's six-overtime loss to Syracuse two seasons ago -- was gracious in victory. Wright said Calhoun (or it might have been George Blaney) said to him after the game: "We both suck."

"We were very fortunate to win the basketball game," Calhoun said. "We also had Kemba Walker to win the game for us."

Ah yes, Kemba Walker. With all due respect to Jimmer Fredette and Jared Sullinger, Walker is starting to pull away as the national player of the year frontrunner. Forget all the 30-point games, etc., it was his ability to overcome a somewhat subpar (by his standards) game to still net the game-winner.

Walker shot just 6-for-18 and stunningly missed two key free throws with 31.3 seconds left that allowed Fisher to come down and hit a pair of freebies with 22 ticks left to tie the game. He also was whistled for a key traveling call with 2:08 remaining, and -- you guessed it -- Fisher responded with a reverse layup to tie the game.

(Walker scored UConn's final seven points of the game; Fisher scored Villanova's final 11).

But was there any doubt a.) who would get the ball with the clock ticking down for the game-winning shot and b.) whether Walker would make the shot?

Not in most observers' minds.

"When I saw it go up, I had a feeling it was going to go in," freshman guard Shabazz Napier said, "because he's Kemba Walker."

"We wanted to run some time down so we get the last shot," Walker said. "I got it, and I knew another guy was going to come. I just tried to go before he came and I was able to get my arm in and get a shot up."

Added Napier: "He's a veteran. He's been through these battles before … he did it against Texas. You've got to give him the ball. Everyone has a bad shooting night, but when the game's on the line, we all know who to give it to."

***While Walker was again the hero, Jeremy Lamb was a key understudy. The freshman had by far his biggest game in a UConn uniform with 14 points, eight rebounds and a host of big plays. Lamb had a steal and layup off a give-and-go with Walker with 6:35 left to get UConn to within a point.

"I knew he was coming up to screen, and he tried to fade it so I was able to get in the passing lane. I gave it to Kemba so he could make a play, and he realized he could get it back to me, so I just wanted to finish it. That was a key play of the game."

Lamb's dribble-drive scoop shot with 3:57 left gave the Huskies a 52-48 lead.

"That was a big-time play," Wright said. "(Maurice) Sutton was right there, and he shot it right over him."

"I noticed there was a mismatch. They were overplaying Kemba, and Shabazz was able to get the ball to me, and I was able to score."

Lamb also made a nifty alley-oop pass to Alex Oriakhi for a layup with 3:12 left.

"The crowd was great today," Lamb said. "I had energy, and I just took what they gave me and was able to knock down some shots."

Walker was asked if this was somewhat of a coming-out party for Lamb.

"You could say that. I always knew what he was capable of doing it for us. It's about time he did it, and he did it at the right time. We needed a boost from somebody, and he gave it to us."

And, as usual, so did Kemba Walker.

***Oriakhi finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds and Charles Okwandu grabbed seven boards. Walker nabbed six rebounds and doled out five assists.

"Kemba's great, they use him great," said Wright. "He doesn't just score, he makes people around him better, he draws fouls. He's just so difficult to guard."

Napier didn't do much (two points and one assist -- though that assist was a spectacular one, a no-look beauty to Jamal Coombs-McDaniel for a reverse layup that got UConn to within a point (36-35) with 13:52 left.

Fisher (10-for-22 shooting) was the only Wildcat in double figures. Corey Stokes, Villanova's leading scorer at 16.5 per game, was held without a field goal and to just three points with Roscoe Smith guarding him most of the contest.

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Villanova 22, UConn 21 ... Both Shooting 24 Percent

UConn came out hot, Villanova not (0-for-10), as the Huskies had an early 10-0 lead paced by a pair of Kemba Walker 3-pointers sandwiched by two Alex Oriakhi hoops.
But the Huskies went ice-cold after that, scoring just three field goals the rest of the half and one over the final 8:01.

'Nova wasn't much better, but took a 19-17 lead with 3:03 left on Corey Fisher's short lane jumper. Both teams are shooting 24-percent from the floor.

Fisher leads 'Cats with 11 points; Walker's 10 leads UConn.


Pride ... and Basketball

Here at Gampel for a special MLK Day matinee between No. 7 Villanova and No. 8 UConn. I've got them reversed in the top 25 I submitted late last night, but that's not really important. Should find out a lot about both teams today.

(Quiz question: Who's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" is a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.?)

Students were camped outside of Gampel last night for tickets, and there's a definite buzz in the air. I count 11 NBA scouts/GM's, etc. slated to be here, including Danny Ainge. They should see some good guard play this afternoon.

Voting for a top 25 was tough this week. Not only did No. 1 Duke lose, but so did just about every team I had ranked No. 10-25: Missouri, Purdue (twice), Notre Dame (twice), Illinois, Louisville, Kansas State, Washington, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Baylor, UCF and Temple.

With that in mind, I very much had an "out with the old, in with the new" attitude this week. Out: Illinois, Kansas State, Baylor, UCF and Temple. In: St. Mary's, Arizonoa, Utah State, Michigan State, Colorado.

I also debated who should be No. 1. I've had Ohio State right behind Duke the past several weeks, but the Buckeyes haven't been overly impressive lately. Still, they haven't lost. Neither has Syracuse, who I think may be the better team. But I went with OSU as No. 1, leapfrogged Syracuse from No. 4 to No. 2, kept shaky Kansas at No. 3 and dropped the Dukies to No. 4.

Here's what I had:

1. Ohio State
2. Syracuse
3. Kansas
4. Duke
5. Pittsburgh
6. San Diego State
7. UConn
8. Villanova
9. Brigham Young
10. Texas A&M
11. Kentucky
12. Missouri
13. Texas
14. Louisville
15. Minnesota
16. Washington
17. Georgetown
18. Wisconsin
19. St. Mary's
20. Arizona
21. Purdue
22. Notre Dame
23. Utah State
24. Michigan State
25. Colorado

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hello (Again) Cleveland!

The Huskies will see a (somewhat) familiar face on Saturday when they play at DePaul. Freshman Cleveland Melvin leads the Blue Demons in scoring at 13.5 ppg, including a 21-point effort in Wednesday night's loss to Seton Hall.

In what was called a "totallly amicable" situation by Ryan Hurd, Melvin's coach at Notre Dame Prep, Melvin de-committed from UConn last March after having verballed to them the prior November. First-year DePaul coach Oliver Purnell quickly swooped in to land the 6-foot-8 jumping jack.

“He was the first guy I went up to see at Notre Dame Prep,” said Purnell, whose previous stops have included Clemson and Dayton. “I saw for myself in an open gym, I knew he would fit us, athletically. He had a couple of other visits lined up, but fortunately for me, he had already seen DePaul and liked it I knew he would be a great fit in our style.”

For those of you (and I'm not sure if there are many) who are hand-wringing over Melvin as "one that got away," be careful. Certainly, the kid's been good for DePaul. Melvin averages 4.3 rebounds per game, and the Huskies could certainly use his size and athleticism up front.

“He’s a talented young man, he’s athletic, and he’s now starting to understand and gotten comfortable with what we’re doing, offensively,” said Purnell. “He’s doing a much better job at the point of our press. He’s just gaining some experience, and he’s been able to get an awful lot early, make adjustments to our style and system that has allowed a very fine athlete to play well.”

But averaging double figures on a terrible team, where he's a focal point of the Demons' offense, is different than doing so on a top-10 team led by perhaps the best player in the country.

Consider: Melvin leads the Blue Demons in field goal attempts (166), nearly twice as many as Roscoe Smith (91) or Jeremy Lamb (99) have hoisted up for UConn. Would he be tossing up that many shots and scoring 13.5 per game with Kemba Walker at the helm? In a word: No.

UConn's freshmen wing men (Smith, Lamb, Niels Giffey) have been asked to more or less fill roles, to compliment Walker. For the most part, they've done a pretty good job of that. Melvin may have done a good job of that, too, but there's almost no way to believe he'd be outscoring Alex Oriakhi and even Shabazz Napier on the Huskies' roster.

So don't necessarily look at Melvin as a star that got away. If Smith or Lamb were at DePaul right now, they might be putting up big numbers, too. But it would be for a team that's 6-10 overall and 0-4 in the Big East, not the 10th-ranked team in the nation.

***Oh, and did you notice that Jeremy Hazell was back for Seton Hall and scoring a game-high 23 points in the win over DePaul on Wednesday, just a few weeks after suffering a gunshot wound around Christmas? That was quick, and it's good to see him back (though Rick Pitino might have wanted to choose his words more carefully after referring to Hazell as a "lethal weapon" on Thursday's Big East coaches conference call).

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Kemba a Cousy Finalist

Here are the 20 finalists for the 2011 Bob Cousy Award, presented annually to the nation's top point guard. Kemba's gotta be the favorite still, but Jimmer is closing the gap pretty fast.

Kevin Anderson Richmond
Norris Cole Cleveland State
Malcolm Delaney Virginia Tech
Corey Fisher Villanova
Jimmer Fredette Brigham Young
DJ Gay San Diego State
Tu Holloway Xavier
Scoop Jardine Syracuse
Brandon Knight Kentucky
Kalin Lucas Michigan State
Demetri McCamey Illinois
Mickey McConnell St. Mary’s College
Jacob Pullen Kansas State
Nolan Smith Duke
Isaiah Thomas Washington
Jordan Taylor Wisconsin
Tyshawn Taylor Kansas
Kemba Walker Connecticut
Casper Ware Long Beach State
Chris Wright Georgetown

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Here's a little story from today's Register on Shabazz Napier:

And here's Shabazz talking to the media after Tuesday night's win over Rutgers:


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kemba, POY

Michael Rothstein of conducts a straw poll of fellow college basketball writers each season on who they think is the national player of the year. In his first poll of this year, with 55 writers responding, Rothstein finds that Kemba Walker is the runaway winner, followed by Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger and BYU senior Jimmer Fredette. He'll be doing another poll in a few weeks.

Here are the results:


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Ho-Hum Victory

After Tuesday night's misleading 67-53 win over Rutgers (it wasn't anywhere near even that close), Jim Calhoun planned to go to his Pomfret home, get the fireplace going and enjoy his first day off in over a week.

The Huskies won't practice Wednesday, enjoying a well-earned day off after a whirlwind prior couple of weeks that saw lots of travel, a marquee road win and Tuesday night's rather blase victory over the woeful Scarlet Knights.

Here's some notes and quotes coming off the Rutgers game:

***UConn (13-2, 2-2 Big East) blitzed out of halftime on a 12-0 run as Rutgers misfired on its first nine shots. Mike Poole ended the Scarlet Knights' drought with a driving layup with 14:45 left, but UConn countered with an 8-0 run and the rout was on.

"Coach really got on us," sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi said. "He said they're showing more energy than we are, they're playing full-speed and we're not. We told each other we've definitely got to pick it up in the second half, at least defensively. The offense is going to come."

Added Kemba Walker: "I thought we came out with a lot of intensity and we just played hard. We played with a lot of effort. That's all it was."

Rutgers (10-6, 1-3) missed 12 of its first 13 to start the latter half, wound up shooting just 35 percent from the floor (including just 3-for-17 on 3-pointers) and earned a verbal lashing from its first-year coach, Mike Rice.

"The mental softness of this team is unbelievable," Rice said, "so you can't expect it to be successful on the road. To do what they did in that six-minute stretch … we'll have to figure it out, that's for sure."

"You've got to fight back," Rice continued, "and, boy, we took a standing eight-count."

***Calhoun sported a Band-Aid on his left cheek during the game, but shrugged it off as a cut while shaving.

"If I could handle that Gillette, I'd be an awful lot better," he said.

*** Roscoe Smith turned his ankle while going in for a layup with 13:17 left in the first half. He made the shot and was fouled, but left the game favoring his ankle and Oriakhi took the free throw (and missed). Smith returned a little less than two minutes later.

***The crowd of 12,527 was fairly impressive, considering that Rutgers is hardly a big draw, and that blizzard-like conditions were in the forecast later in the night.

***Napier is such a sparkplug for this team, whether he's scoring (33 points in two games last week) or distributing (seven assists on Tuesday).

He's also the closest thing I've seen to John Linehan since the little guard was setting Big East steals records at Providence a decade ago. Now, Napier is no John Linehan -- not yet. But his pesky ability to poke away steals, without getting called for reach-ins, is quite Linehanesque.

(For the record, Napier said he's never heard of Linehan but promises to look him up on the Internet to see what I'm talking about).

***Mike Rice on Kemba Walker: "I thought he had it on cruise control all night. Once Oriakhi got it going, he just fed the big fella a little bit."

***Calhoun on:

Oriakhi: "Him touching the ball gives him a boost."

Charles Okwandu, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Napier and Donnell Beverly: "It doesn't show in the stats, but (Charles) is a factor in the middle. Jamal gave us a very good lift. Shabazz was very good again, Donnell Beverly was very good off the bench."

And, on the flip side, on Jeremy Lamb: "I still think Jeremy Lamb has a lot more to show us. He's a terrific offensive player, an incredible kid, he works so hard. He's going to have to work to overcome that he's probably the weakest kid on our team, and he can't keep getting banged on screens."

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Monday, January 10, 2011

A Matter of Trust

Kemba Walker made the highlights (along with, for different reasons, Roscoe Smith), but it was the play of Walker's supporting cast that was the most significant development of UConn's thrilling OT win over Texas on Saturday.

Alex Oriakhi emerged from a slump with 21 rebounds, Shabazz Napier (the Big East rookie of the week) stayed hot, Smith played well (save for his fullcourt heave with 10 seconds left), and even Donnell Beverly gave UConn some big minutes.

“Everybody kept saying (good) things about me, but I don’t think I should get any credit for that game,” Walker insisted. “Those guys just showed their heart.”

The junior guard added that he developed a lot more trust in his teammates after the Texas game.

“That’s something that I haven’t been doing in the last couple of games, up until Texas,” Walker admitted. “I had kind of been forcing the issue a little bit. The way Texas played me, I had to trust those guys, and they stepped up big-time. I think for the rest of the season, it’s going to be a different ballgame.”

Jim Calhoun certainly hopes so.

“The more other people show up, the better off we are,” Calhoun said. “Shabazz is showing up pretty consistently, offensively. We’d like to get Jeremy (Lamb) and Niels (Giffey) to show up a little more, then get the ball to our big guys.”

***On that note, Giffey will replace Lamb in the starting lineup tonight. Lamb, who had started all 14 games to this point, has hit a bit of a rough patch, going scoreless against Texas. Calhoun is hoping Giffey, who’s defense has been strong, can help UConn get off to a strong start defensively, and that Lamb can provide a spark off the bench.

“He’s going to be fine,” Calhoun said of Lamb. “He’s going to be a terrific scorer here.”

***Calhoun also hopes that, despite dire reports of blizzard-like conditions, the home fans show up for tonight’s game. UConn hasn’t sold out a home game yet this season, but has seen the energy a sold-out home crowd can give a team at Pittsburgh and Texas.

“They are a very likeable team,” Calhoun said of his players. “I like coaching them, I like doing things with them. It really is fun. Winning and losing is still winning and losing, but there’s something very embraceable about them. That’s the first thing Mike Brey said to me.

“Young teams need as much support as they can get.”

***Rutgers has been playing better under first-year coach Mike Rice. It's 10-5 overall (1-2 Big East) with wins over Miami (Fla.) and Providence.

“They play almost like Pittsburgh does, in many respects," Calhoun said. "They’re very well-disciplined, they get through their stuff, they play very good defense."

OK, that maybe so ... but comparing Rutgers to Pitt? That's a bit of a stretch.

***Always a bit mesmerized by this stat: UConn has won nine straight against Rutgers and 26 in a row in the regular season against Big East teams from the tri-state area (Rutgers, St. John’s, Seton Hall). The Huskies, of course, did lose to St. John's in last year's Big East tourney.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Even Steven Seven

Kept the Huskies right where I had them last week: at No. 7. Figured a 3-point loss and an overtime win over a pair of Top 15 teams, both on the road, sorta cancel each other out. No need to move the Huskies up or down -- especially since many of the teams I had around them (Missouri, Kentucky, Georgetown, Kansas State) all lost.

My thoughts on UConn haven't changed much since their tremendous run to the Maui title. The team will hit some snags, some bumps in the road over the next couple of months. Freshman mistakes will hurt them, as well as the inevitable games when Kemba Walker is asked to do too much but can't quite do it all. But the win at Texas furthers my belief that the Huskies will be right in the mix all season long, a tough out for anyone. And, more importantly, I see this as a very good tournament team.

With Walker leading the way and Jim Calhoun on the sidelines, no one will out-will UConn. Oh, they'll out-talent them (although the talent pool isn't particularly deep anywhere this side of Durham, N.C., this season -- and the Dukies are lessened by the absence of Kyrie Irving). But no team will out-will UConn. What more could you want from a team in the NCAA (and Big East) tournament?

Elsewhere, while I've noticed several Internet columns urging people to "jump on the BYU bandwagon now," I'm proud to say I've been there all season. Had the Cougars ranked No. 11 to start the season, much higher than most, and have kept them no lower than about 15 most of the way, even while others started voting them out. You may have missed it since it was a 10 p.m. EST start, but that win over UNLV last week was pretty impressive. (And no, I'm not Mormon -- even though my brother helped Mitt Romney on his presidential campaign a few years ago).

Michigan State, UNLV and Memphis get jettisoned this week. Sorry, Spartans, but 10-5 at this point isn't top 25-worthy. I've added Wisconsin, Baylor and Temple.

1. Duke
2. Ohio State
3. Kansas
4. Syracuse
5. Pittsburgh
6. San Diego State
7. Connecticut
8. Villanova
9. Brigham Young
10. Missouri
11. Kentucky
12. Purdue
13. Texas A&M
14. Notre Dame
15. Illinois
16. Louisville
17. Kansas State
18. Washington
19. Texas
20. Georgetown
21. Wisconsin
22. Baylor
23. Minnesota
24. Central Florida
25. Temple

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Walker on Wooden List

Kemba Walker is among the players on the 2010-11 John R. Wooden Award midseason top 30 list. Torrington's Jordan Williams, a sophomore at Maryland, also makes the cut.

Here they are, alphabetically:

Marshon Brooks, PC
Alec Burks, Colorado
Alec Burks
Malcolm Delaney, Va. Tech
Marcus Denmon, Missouri
LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor
Kenneth Faried, Morehead State
Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Austin Freeman, Georgetown
Jordan Hamilton, Texas
Matt Howard, Butler
Reggie Jackson, Boston College
Rick Jackson, Syracuse
JaJuan Johnson, Purdue
Terrence Jones, Kentucky
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
Jon Leuer, Wisconsin
Demetri McCamey, Illinois
E’Twaun Moore, Purdue
Marcus Morris, Kansas
Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
John Shurna, Northwestern
Kyle Singler, Duke
Nolan Smith, Duke
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Klay Thompson, Washington State
Kemba Walker, UConnBrad Wanamaker, Pitt
Derrick Williams, Arizona
Jordan Williams, Maryland

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Walker's a Talker

There's a live chat with Kemba Walker today at 3:30 p.m. at


Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Top 25

Couldn't punish UConn too much for its first loss of the season, on the road in one of the more hostile environments in the county, against a big, experienced Pitt team that's probably the Big East's best.

Dropped them from No. 5 to 7 on my ballot, and I'm betting most voters did similar. Otherwise, bumped Temple and Washington State and added UNLV and Washington this week.

1. Duke
2. Ohio State
3. Kansas
4. Syracuse
5. Pittsburgh
6. Missouri
7. Connecticut
8. San Diego State
9. Kentucky
10. Villanova
11. Georgetown
12. Brigham Young
13. Kansas State
14. Purdue
15. Texas A&M
16. Illinois
17. Texas
18. Michigan State
19. Memphis
20. Minnesota
21. Louisville
22. Notre Dame
23. Central Florida
24. UNLV
25. Washington