Friday, January 6, 2012

Calhoun is Back

Some interesting stuff from today's conference call with Jim Calhoun:

*** First off, Niels Giffey will start at small forward tomorrow night (for the first time this season) against Rutgers. Calhoun said Giffey has "great, great focus," and hopes he'll give the Huskies more production than what they've been getting from the 3-spot.

By my count, this will be the sixth different starting lineup UConn has used over its first 15 games. Not a stunning amount, but certainly a bit more unsettled than usual. It speaks to two things: the Huskies' depth, and the fact that they still haven't quite found the right rotation to this point.

Giffey will be the eighth different UConn player to start a game.

Also, Tyler Olander may start over Alex Oriakhi at power forward. Calhoun started Oriakhi in practice yesterday, but Olander had a "great practice," so a decision will likely be made after tonight's 6-8 p.m. practice at The RAC.

Shabazz Napier didn't practice yesterday and may not practice tonight. He should be able to play on Saturday night, however, according to Calhoun.

*** Now, this was really interesting: Calhoun said that a big part of his decision not to retire and to return as UConn's head coach for a 26th season stemmed from making sure he took the bullet, so to speak, for the NCAA violations and served his 3-game suspension.

“When I contemplated over the spring and summer about what I was going to do, I had (visions) of being Al Maguire … I always felt this was hanging out there, and we needed to get finality on it," he said. "My own personal opinions about the NCAA (decision) are my own personal feelings. The university, myself included, we were penalized, and I wanted to make sure that I was the guy that sat out, I was the guy that finalized it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s something in the past. What was done was done, it is what it is.”

“Trust me – part of my contemplation during the summer had to do with making sure that there was closure," he added. "As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the rear-view mirror … I love my university, I love my life there, I love my players. I always feel I need to be there when they need me to finish something that, like it or not – and I didn’t like it, necessarily – that I was part of, and let’s move on.”

*** And so, we move on to Rutgers Saturday night. Calhoun has a propensity to insist how difficult it is to play at The RAC -- and certainly, Florida's Billy Donovan would agree.

Still, Calhoun has won nine of the 10 games he's coached there at UConn. UConn has won its last five games at The RAC, its last four by totals of 18, 18, 10 and 22 points, respectively. That’s an average 17-point victory margin. The last time the Huskies were challenged in Piscataway was on Jan. 6, 2004, when they eked out a 75-74 win.

The last time UConn lost at The RAC was on Jan. 30, 2002, a 61-53 setback.
In fact, that’s the only time UConn has lost to the Scarlet Knights, home or away, in the 19 times they’ve met since Rutgers joined the Big East in 2005. The Huskies have won the last 10 meetings overall.

Of course, UConn had also won 11 straight and (eerily) 18 of its last 19 against Seton Hall before being tripped up Tuesday night in Newark.

Bottom line: there is no such thing as an easy road game in the Big East.

*** Forget all the chatter about Napier or Ryan Boatright needing to play better. UConn's biggest problem right now, offensively, is a lack of production from its bigs. Oriakhi's troubles have been well-chronicled -- the ungainly low post moves, the countless missed putbacks and bunnies -- but Andre Drummond hasn't exactly been Tim Duncan on the low post, either.

Drummond has very little offensive skill in the paint. He doesn't make spin moves, doesn't really have a hook shot (like Hasheem Thabeet was able to develop ... sorta) or any other signature low-post shot. Sure, he's made a couple of short baseline jumpers here and there, but his form is still very raw and I'm not convinced he's a real threat from more than a few feet out. Drummond's entire offensive arsenal has largely been slamming home alley-oops, to this point.

"If we have no inside game, we have no outside game," Calhoun surmised. "They're going to go out and play Jeremy's jump shot, they're going to try to take away the drive of Ryan and Shabazz. We can't play like that ... We have a terrific outside game. We’re probably the best 3-point shooting team in the league.”

(When's the last time you could have said that about a UConn team. It may be true, though).

Calhoun said about 75-percent of yesterday's practice focused on the inside game -- making the guards conscious of getting the ball inside, and getting the bigs to execute when they do get the rock.

*** Calhoun said, "If today was the NCAA tournament, we'd be a No. 2 seed."

I'm not so sure about that, but maybe.

*** As for watching the last three games at home on TV (with the volume off), Calhoun said: “I felt attached. I felt the same feelings in my stomach, the television did not … react. I didn’t get a ‘T’ from it … I can’t think of a positive, but it is what it is, and we’re moving on.”

“The price of being a little more refreshed doesn’t offset the anxiety you feel when you’re watching your team on TV … To me, personally, I don’t think you can be removed the way a ‘normal’ person can be removed.”

*** Oh, and apparently UConn is back in the mix for Darrick Wood, who just de-committed from St. John's.

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