Monday, January 11, 2016

What Happened to UConn’s Hungry Huskies?

There are many words I would use to describe the 2015-16 UConn men’s basketball team. Hungry is not one of them.

After UConn shocked the college basketball world in April 2014, Shabazz Napier took the microphone and dropped a bomb on the NCAA: “Ladies and gentlemen, you’re looking at the hungry Huskies, this is what happens when you ban us, last year, two years, we worked so hard for it, two years –”

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In one sentence, Napier succinctly captured UConn’s frustration with the NCAA’s punishment over APR scores. That national title run, along with Napier’s proclamation, led to a lot of chest-thumping from UConn, both inside and outside of the program. No school had lost more during conference realignment than UConn. It was time for the Huskies to let everyone know they weren’t going anywhere.

Unfortunately, the momentum for the men’s program never carried on from Cowboys Stadium. UConn didn’t make the NCAA Tournament to defend their title. Through the first part of this season, UConn has played well at times but lacks that indefinable will to win that has defined UConn for 25 years.

This past week, UConn lost on a last-second shot to Temple and scuffled with a mediocre Memphis team  Earlier in the year, they lost one-possession games to Syracuse and Gonzaga. Last year, it seemed to be an endless string of painful, nail-biting, gut-punching losses.

In Ollie’s first two years, it was the opposite. UConn finished many games, particularly during the 2014 title run, in spectacular fashion.

On one level, it appears UConn is in Year 2 of a Championship hangover. Sure, it’s only January and much can change in the next two months. Let’s hope it does, because the alternative is not good news for UConn.

The alternative is that Kevin Ollie is meant to be an NBA coach.

As UConn marched through the 2014 NCAA Tournament, I examined how Ollie tactically destroyed the competition. He was expertly massaging matchups, creating unique substation patterns and developing winning game plans against the very best. He outcoached, in succession, Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari.

There was one piece of the puzzle that Ollie did not have to focus on, and that was motivation. Many times, college coaches must motivate their players. As evidenced by Napier’s comment, UConn had been given all the motivation in the world from the NCAA. At no point during those two seasons did Ollie have to pump up his team as, win or lose, those Huskies played their asses off.

It was similar, in a way, to the role of an NBA coach. In the NBA, you don’t need to motivate your players. They are either motivated or they are not. The role of an NBA coach is to call players and tactically position them to succeed.

Post-title, UConn has frequently looked like a team lacking urgency. They can give off the vibe, particularly in the last-second loss to Temple, of an NBA team playing through the middle of a long road trip. It’s not a winning formula for college basketball.

Last year was dismissed as the usual year-after doldrums. There were no worries, as everyone saw the influx of talent coming to Storrs in 2015. Yet, as we enter conference play, UConn doesn’t feel like a team poised to make a deep March run.

When UConn played Maryland at Madison Square Garden, the place was rocking and it felt like a NCAA Tournament game. Except only Maryland showed up, and they ran UConn right off the floor. Maryland is a Final Four-quality team, but in terms of talent, they are not 20 points better than UConn – only a frantic late comeback made the final score look better for the Huskies. 

The more I watch UConn under Kevin Ollie, the more I’m worried he is meant to coach an NBA team. This isn’t a knock – as a Wizards fan in DC, Ollie coaching Kevin Durant is a fairy tale. We all know he is a tremendous recruiter. But motivation is clearly lacking from his post-Napier teams and that starts at the top.

If the hungry Huskies don’t reappear before March, it may signal that Kevin Ollie is meant for brighter lights and richer players.

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8 comments:

  1. Interesting. I think this year's team just has too many transfers.

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  2. Rekindle eloquent memories of 1988 when UCONN broke through. A repeat would self-actualize.

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  3. I wouldn't say the team lacks motivation per se but rather that heart and grit from 2012-14. That comes from players taking up true leadership positions on a team. This team just hasn't had enough time for that to really emerge, but I'm sure it will come March.

    In the meantime the coaches just need to find a way to plug the constant stream of errors, fumbles, and dumb mistakes that are plaguing the team right now every game.

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  4. I wouldn't say the team lacks motivation per se but rather that heart and grit from 2012-14. That comes from players taking up true leadership positions on a team. This team just hasn't had enough time for that to really emerge, but I'm sure it will come March.

    In the meantime the coaches just need to find a way to plug the constant stream of errors, fumbles, and dumb mistakes that are plaguing the team right now every game.

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  5. Longhorns spearhead full frontal assault and all is Okie Dokie as BIG XII refuses to stand down. BYU + UCONN need new logos on their respective warde robes.

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  6. Well damn this seems spot on tonight. What a shitty loss to Tulsa.

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  7. Watching some sequences of Houston vs Cincy; UCONN in big trouble Sunday. Cougars are very very quick and fast and relentless no matter what results they obtain.

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  8. At the Texas game last year in Storrs, I noticed Brimah standing tall next to 6-10 Ridgely of the Longhorns during a stoppage in action. Brimah was barely as tall or slightly less. Brimah was obviously not seven feet. Why does UCONN claim he is taller than he is? Also, UCONN claims Purvis is 6-4, but he looks more like 6-2. Adams is purported 6-3, but looks 6-0 to 6-1 tops. Last year Lubin was listed as 6-8 and that was just silly if you saw Lubin on the court he was lucky to be 6-4 to 6-5 with quite short legs compared to his overall stature. With the current version of the team, this just seems like nonsense and further illustrates the total decline in all facets of the program from recruiting myths down the line. Adams was projected as an impact player, however he does not appear to be promising at all based on his performances to date. Enoch was projected as the best big man recruit since Okafor, but it is obviously propaganda to try to spur ticket sales.

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