Friday, November 9, 2012

Previewing UConn's Season, and Tonight's Opener vs. Michigan State

UConn kicks off the Kevin Ollie Era (and its 2012-13 season) against Michigan State tonight at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The game tips off at 6:09 p.m., though ESPN's pregame show begins at 5:30 p.m. Here's my UConn season preview story, in which we ponder what it will take for Ollie to have a successful season and, in theory, earn a contract extension.

Even though the outstanding Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas will be on ESPN's call, you really should turn the volume down if you're going to watch the game and tune into WTIC-1080. Why? Well, this:

Seriously, need any other reasons?

This is going to be a very interesting season for UConn, one that could yield surprising results or flame out into an abject disaster. It would be tough to find a tougher opponent for the Huskies to start off against than the 14th-ranked Spartans, who boast a front line of 6-10, 240, 6-9, 270 and 6-6, 230. UConn's suspect frontcourt and ability to rebound will be tested greatly right off the bat.

But Ollie isn't worried.

“It’s on the schedule, let’s go out and play," he said. "They put their shorts on just like we do. Let’s go out and play hard, play UConn basketball. I like the challenge, that’s what it’s all about.”

But make no mistake: Ollie has tons of respect for Michigan State and head coach Tom Izzo.

“First and foremost, they’re good on defense," Ollie said. "Just like when I came here (to play) for Coach Calhoun, they’re good on defense and rebounding. They’re going to be aggressive, they play up to nine or 10 guys, they all play hard and understand their role. They’re coached very well by a coach I have a lot of respect for Tom Izzo – how he gets his guys to play each and every night, the same way. They definitely have an identity.”

Echoed Shabazz Napier: “I just know they have a great coach, great team. They’re a great program, a top-five program. They’re going to be a hard team to play. Michigan State always has a great team, no matter what year it is. Playing those guys, I think it’s going to be great for both teams.”

Here's some more of what Ollie and Napier had to say about the game, and Michigan State:

UConn is 2-2 all-time against the Spartans, winning their last match-up, 70-67, on Nov. 23, 2010 in the Maui Invitational. MSU, of course, had beaten the Huskies in the Final Four in April, 2009.

Here's Michigan State's likely starting five (in bold) and key reserves:

F - #5 Adreian Payne (Jr., 6-10, 240) 7.0 4.2 0.3 .566 FG%
* Scored a career-high 16 points vs. Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament and LIU Brooklyn in
the NCAA Tournament ... One career double-double ... Started 36 of 37 games last season.
C - #25 Derrick Nix (Sr., 6-9, 270) 8.1 3.8 1.0 .558 FG%
* Voted co-captain ... One career double-double came in his MSU debut ... Recipient of MSU’s
Most Improved Player Award and co-recipient of MSU’s Unsung Player Award last season.
G - #22 Branden Dawson (So., 6-6, 230) 8.4 4.5 0.9 .577 FG%
* Cleared for action after tremendous recovery from ACL injury suffered in March ... MSU’s
leading returning rebounder ... Ranked second on 2011-12 squad in double-doubles (2).
G - #14 Gary Harris (Fr., 6-4, 205) -- -- -- --
* 2012 McDonald’s All-American ... 2012 Indiana Mr. Basketball ... Averaged 25.4 points,
7.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a prep senior.
G - #11 Keith Appling (Jr., 6-1, 190) 11.4 2.9 3.9 1.2 spg
* Leading returning scorer ... In second season playing the point ... 20+-point games vs.
Duke, FSU, Ind. and Wis. last season ... Dished out career-best nine assists vs. Iowa in 2012.
G - #0 Russell Byrd (R-So., 6-7, 205) 1.5 0.6 0.4 6-24 3FG
* Voted co-captain ... Had three surgeries on left foot between May ’10 and May ’11.
G - #20 Travis Trice (So., 6-0, 170) 4.5 1.8 1.8 30-74 3FG
* Led Big Ten freshmen in 3-point fi eld-goal percentage (.405).
G - #3 Brandan Kearney (Fr., 6-5, 185) 1.2 0.8 0.6 .472 FG%
* Versatile player with improving outside shot ... 5-of-8 from 3-pt. range in Big Ten play in ’11-12.

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