Monday, November 24, 2014

My AP Top 25: Wisconsin stays No. 1; UConn stays ranked

I know, I know -- Kentucky is the greatest team ever assembled. The Wildcats can even beat the 76ers -- not this year's 76ers, mind you, but the 1983 76ers of Dr. J, Moses Malone and "fo, fo, fo."

Or not. Let's pump the breaks on Kentucky a little bit here, OK? Yes, the 'Cats looked great destroying Kansas by 32 points. Yes, they've got nine McDonald's All-Americans -- and that doesn't even include one of their best players, Willie Cauley-Stein.

But these are mostly freshmen and sophomores. They're kids. And this platoon system has the potential to blow up in John Calipari's face, if certain guys don't buy into the team concept as much as he'd like. Didn't we learn from last season, when people were talking about Kentucky going undefeated and it wound up a No. 8 seed for the NCAA tournament?

Kentucky's good, and maybe it will win the national title. But for now, the 'Cats stay at No. 2 on my ballot. I had Wisconsin No. 1 last week, and I'm not going to drop the Badgers after a week in which they won two games by 24 points each.

Elsewhere, we knock out SMU, Stanford, Syracuse and Memphis and welcome Miami, West Virginia, Creighton and Providence.

Tough week for the AAC. SMU got swamped by a very good Gonzaga team (on the road, admittedly) as well as Indiana. Memphis has somehow played just one game, and it wasn't pretty -- a 15-point loss to a very good Wichita State. And UConn lost in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tourney finals to West Virginia.

I drop the Huskies from No. 12 to 23, but they'd better be careful, with Texas coming to town on Sunday and Duke on the horizon a couple of weeks later.

My ballot:

1. Wisconsin
2. Kentucky
3. Arizona
4. Duke
5. Wichita State
6. North Carolina
7. Louisville
8. Texas
9. Iowa State
10. Gonzaga
11. Villanova
12. Kansas
13. Virginia
14. San Diego State
15. VCU
16. Michigan
17. Miami
18. Florida
19. Michigan State
20. Ohio State
21. Oklahoma
22. West Virginia
23. UConn
24. Creighton
25. Providence



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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Four UConn players suspended for West Virginia game

Omar Calhoun, Rakim Lubin, Dan Guest and Marcel Lewis were suspended for Sunday night’s game due to a violation of team rules. Their status will be reevaluated when the Huskies return home.

Calhoun has been sidelined by a knee injury and wasn’t slated to play anyway, while Guest and Lewis are walk-ons. The Huskies could have used Lubin, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound freshman, against WVU’s physical front line, however.

*** Cheshire’s Pat Lenehan was with the team for Thursday’s win over Charelston but then left for a Rhodes Scholar interview over the weekend in New York. He was slated to return to the team on Sunday, but didn’t due to a death in the family.

*** The Huskies will remain in Puerto Rico on Monday for some sight-seeing and team activities, then fly back to Hartford on Tuesday. There is no school at Storrs all week due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ryan Boatright, Bob Huggins: Don't look back in anger

No escalators at this Old San Juan castle:



As most of you know, Ryan Boatright once committed to Bob Huggins at West Virginia. Then, a few days later (after WVU also got a commitment from Jabarie Hinds), he de-committed. And a week or so after that, he committed to UConn.

And the rest is history.

On Sunday, Boatright faces Huggins in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament title game. It's not the first time the two have met since Boatright's de-commitment: Boatright played against WVU twice his freshman season, scoring seven points in a 64-57 win on Jan. 9, 2012 (then having to sit out the next three games as the NCAA renewed its look into his eligibility), and 10 points in a Big East tournament game on March 7. 2012 -- a 71-67 UConn win in OT.

That game was not only West Virginia's final one as a member of the Big East, it was also Jim Calhoun's final victory as a head coach.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Amida Brimah throws a block party, Rodney Purvis breaks out, and UConn nabs a victory

It wasn't perfect, but this was definitely UConn's best game of the young season. Came against a good team, in a somewhat hostile environment (Dayton fans probably outnumbered UConn fans by about two-to-one).

Ryan Boatright continues to be a leader and scored 20 points (but had the audacity to miss his first two free throws of the season). Rodney Purvis officially became a Husky, with 19 points in a terrific performance. Daniel Hamilton was strong again, with 14 points.

Amida Brimah finished with just six points and as many rebounds as fouls (three). But he had five blocks, three of them on one head-spinning sequence that absolutely changed the entire complexion of the game.

Some notes, quotes and video:

KEVIN OLLIE:

“I was very proud of my team. They focused and played very hard in the second half. To hold a great team like Dayton to 23 points and 28 percent shooting, it shows the focus that they have.”

(on Brimah getting into foul trouble)

“Sometimes on those drives, he tries to block everything. Sometimes, with those little guys, he needs to just stay vertical and let them shoot over him. Sometimes when he gets in trouble, he comes down and gets those cheap fouls. But he’s understanding to get use his length. I thought he did an amazing job the second half controlling the paint. We call the paint the ‘yard.’ He was a dominant force in the ‘yard.’”

(on whether the offense slows down when Boatright isn't in the game)

“I wouldn’t say that. Ryan’s got to sit down. Terrence comes in, and we’re just missing shots, and then we’re not getting back on defense. If we can get stops, we’ll keep the lead. I know good offense translates to good defense, but I think we have to come off the bench and be aggressive, understand what I want to do as a coach.”

BOATRIGHT:

(on Brimah's block party)



(on snapping a streak of 18 straight free throws to start this season)

“I know, man. I couldn’t believe I missed those two free throws! I hate missing free throws. It’s basketball, it happens. I just had to make the next one. I’m trying to shoot in the 90-percent range this year.”

“I shoot a lot of free throws when I go back to the gym every night. I make 10 in a row every day before I leave practice. Some days, I knock them out real quick. Some days, I’ll be there for about 20 minutes. I’ve got to hit 10 in a row before I leave, though.”

(on Purvis)

“I’ve been standing on him since preseason. He’s been a little down, he hasn’t been playing well. He’s been second-guessing his shot. I tell him, ‘You’re All-American, man. I can’t do it all myself, they’re gonna double me sometimes, I’m gonna need you to step up.’”

(on whether he sees the offense sputtering when he's on the bench)

“A little bit, at times. I think it’s just from K.O. with these NBA sets, and I don’t think they’ve run those type of sets in those situations, well enough yet. It’s loud, some people can’t hear. I think it just comes with maturity and my veteran (status). Terrence will get it. He’s trying his best, but it takes time.”

(on his de-commitment from West Virginia -- which is also in this tournament -- four years ago)

“No regrets, I don’t think about it at all. I’m glad I came to UConn. UConn made me the person that I am today. I became a man at Connecticut. All the respect to Coach Harris and Coach Huggins. I’ll shake their hand when I see them, but once we step between the lines, it’s all business.”

BRIMAH:

“When I get into foul trouble, like in the first half, I always get a little bit worried. In the second half, I’m very comfortable and ready to play defense.”

Boatright interjected, regarding Brimah's foul troubles:

“That’s our fault, though. We’d be getting beat off the dribble too much, and he’d be trying to save us and getting into foul trouble. That’s our fault, we’ve got to help him out there.”

PURVIS:

(on staying positive through some early-season struggles)

“I thank Boat for that, he just stayed on me. So did all my teammates. He just told me to stay patient and everything was going to come. I never try to force anything. I’m just happy to be on this team, and happy we got this win today.”

And now, it's on to West Virginia and old friend Bob Huggins, for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tourney title on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

Here's what Huggy Bear had to say about UConn on Friday after his team's win over Boston College:

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Daniel Hamilton mature beyond his years; Richard Hamilton offers some sage advice

Notes, quotes and video from UConn's 65-57 win over College of Charleston in a Puerto Rico Tip-Off tourney game on Thursday.



RODNEY PURVIS:

(on hitting consecutive 3-pointers, from opposite corners, to turn a five-point UConn lead into 11 midway through the second half)

“It felt great. The whole time, the little struggles I had early on, I knew something good was gonna come out of it. I never got down on myself. I’m just thankful for my teammates and coaches for always believing in me.”

(on advice he got from Richard Hamilton after the game)

“He was just saying how it took him, like, five games to get his feet wet. He was saying how, basically, I’m like a freshman all over again. I sat out a whole year. So, I’m still getting my feet wet and things like that. He told me to stay with it and it’s all gonna come.”

(on getting advice from Hamilton and Jim Calhoun over the past week or so)

“You have those two guys pulling you aside, I think that’s a great sign of them seeing something great in you. I just take it all in, listen to those guys, because Rip, I’m trying to follow in his footsteps and get to where he got to. And Coach Calhoun, he can pull me to the side anytime. I can always hear from him.”

KEVIN OLLIE:

“I’m gonna take this win. I thought it was a good effort from my guys. I really like our rebounding ... just a couple of defensive breakdowns that we can clean up.”

“All in all, it’s a good win.”

(on 11 second-half turnovers)

“We just can’t do that, against any team.”

(on Daniel Hamilton)

“He plays with a lot of poise and a lot of maturity. He knows the game, he can play on all three levels. He can shoot from 3, which we’ve seen; he can get to the rim, he’s got great ball-fakes, great footwork. And he can pass the ball. He threw a couple of lobs to Amida (Brimah), one of them Jeff Anderson called a charge. The other was a great pass. He’s like another point guard out there for me.”

“I think he gambled a couple of times and got us out of our principles where we had the help and we got lucky on a couple of missed shots by (Canyon) Barry. It’s a learning process for him, but he’s very coachable. That’s the one thing I love: I can instruct him on something, and he’ll go out there and do it.”

(on Richard Hamilton addressing the team)

“They know Richard. Just to see another great UConn player come out and support him, I think that makes them feel better inside. That’s what our alumni do, whenever they have an opportunity. They come out and support us very, very well.”

(on Purvis's two big shots)

“The shot doesn’t go in, or does go in, we’ve still gotta play good defense. And he started playing some real good defense. That gets you energized. To see those two 3’s go in, I know it felt good for him. You could see the exuberance on his face, the energy that he had. Hopefully, we can keep finding him for 3’s, because we need to shoot better.”

(on Dayton)

“I was looking at the score (of Dayton's game against Texas A&M), I was like, ‘Man, is that just the first five minutes? And I saw it was halftime. That’s how these games are gonna be, early. They have some great players, not a traditional 7-footer or 6-10 four-man, they got 6-7, 6-8, they’re very interchangable. Lotta down screens, backdoors. They execute their offense, and we’ve got to get back in transition.”

DANIEL HAMILTON:

“I was getting in a rhythm. I’ve been shooting pretty bad preseason. At shootaround, we’ve got to take that seriously, because those are going to be game shots. I try to take as many shots as I can in shootaround, and when they came my way, I just wanted to knock it down.”

“Coming in, I can’t think of it like I was a freshman. I’ve just got to come in and be a huge impact to the team. Whatever coach wants me to do, I’ve got to come in and do it -- if it’s passing, scoring, rebounding, defending, whatever it is. I want to be out on the court and contribute as much as I can.”

RYAN BOATRIGHT:

(on UConn's propensity to start strong but let opponents back into the game)

“I think we’re just losing focus. We’re having some careless turnovers. I think we get a little winded sometimes ... We’ve got to get better at that. When we play better competition, we can’t afford those lapses.”

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Some notes, quotes and video from Puerto Rico Tip-Off

Greetings from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where UConn will be playing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament this week, starting Thursday at 12:30 p.m. (EST) vs. College of Charleston.

A few early notes, quotes and videos from today's goings-on (we'll have many more updates later, after UConn's shootaround which ends at noon (EST):

*** This is the second season in a row Charleston will play against a defending national champion. The Cougars opened up the 2013-14 season at Louisville and were thrashed, 70-48.

“It’s always fun going out and playing some great competition like the defending national champion," said senior guard and leading scorer Anthony Stitt. "UConn has a great team, we watched some tape on them. They’re really good in transition, they’ve got some good guys. We’re looking forward to take the challenge.”

Head coach Earl Grant: “We’ve got some older guys. I’m sure they’ll look forward to the challenge. We know it’s a challenge, but that’s why you play the game -- you like to be challenged.”

*** If you remember, Grant was hired back in early September after a month-long coaching search. Also interviewed in that search? UConn assistant Karl Hobbs, who could have been coaching against UConn, not for them, on Thursday had things played out differently over the summer.

*** Along with UConn, fellow Big East expatriates West Virginia and Boston College are here. Of course, Ryan Boatright once committed to Bob Huggins at WVU, only to de-commit a short time later when he found out Jabarie Hinds had committed a day later.

Asked about the (granted, ancient history) on Wednesday, here's Huggins' classic Huggy-Bear response:



*** Charleston sophomore Canyon Barry is the son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry. Like his dad, Canyon shoots free throws underhanded. He's yet to go to the foul line this season, but here's hoping he gets to the stripe on Thursday. I really want to see this, for some reason.

*** Boatright said he's got "about 16" family members and friends arriving for the tournament.

*** Boatright and Rodney Purvis talked about the tournament and what they expect on Thursday:



*** The court at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente features double-rims, but that won't be a big deal, according to Kevin Ollie.

“It’s alright. That’s what we had in the park. It’s fine. It’d be a problem if we just had to shoot on the double-rims, but everybody’s got to shoot on them.”

Ollie seemed interested that Boatright had mentioned the double-rims to reporters.

“I’ll make sure I note that with the guys tonight," Ollie said. "No excuses.”

*** Purvis noted that Jim Calhoun pulled him aside in practice last week and told him to slow down a little bit and "just be ready to make a play, just be ready to catch and shoot, things like that."

Noted Ollie: “That’s the luxury of having Coach there, because he knows so much about the game, and how to get to players. I’m just glad that he’s there if they need him. It’s just another that’s got my players’ backs, and I welcome it every day.”

*** Ollie on Calhoun's ESPN debut Tuesday night: “He did a real good job. He explained things very, very well, right to the point. It was real good.”

*** Omar Calhoun didn't practice on Wednesday and would appear to be unlikely to play against Charleston.

*** UConn will stay an extra day and take part in some team activities on Monday before flying back home Tuesday morning.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

My first AP Top 25 poll of the season

A win is a win is a win ...

Only one change from my preseason Top 25 ballot to this week's: Harvard, obviously. The Crimson, who at least one national college hoops expert picked to reach the Final Four, got popped by Holy Cross on Sunday. I was leery of the Crimson as Top 25, anyway (they lost some key players from last year's team), but had them at No. 21 preseason. No more.

In their place is Oklahoma, who I didn't have ranked in my preseason poll. A lot of other people did, however, and the Sooners really intrigue me now that Houston transfer Ta'Shawn Thomas, one of the best players in the AAC last year, has been cleared as fully eligible to play this entire season. Great news for Oklahoma. Had Thomas (and Danuel House, who's now at Texas A&M) stayed at Houston under Kelvin Sampson, the Cougars would have NCAA tournament hopes this season.

Otherwise, nothing changes, even if some ranked teams weren't overly impressive in their opening-weekend wins. Like UConn. I fully expect the Huskies to have some early-season struggles, probably lose a game or two that we didn't expect them to lose. It's Kevin Ollie's job to meld the considerable talent he has here into a cohesive unit by the time February and March roll around. Here's betting he gets the job done.

Are the Huskies the 12th-best team in the nation right now? Probably not. But no sense moving them down based solely on a relatively lackluster opening-night win over Bryant. UConn's not alone. Did you see where Kentucky trailed Buffalo at halftime on Sunday, at Rupp Arena? Did you see where Villanova struggled to get by Lehigh? Some good teams are going to struggle early. No sense shuffling things around just yet.

1. Wisconsin
2. Kentucky
3. Arizona
4. Duke
5. Kansas
6. North Carolina
7. Louisville
8. Texas
9. Wichita State
10. Iowa State
11. Villanova
12. UConn
13. Florida
14. Gonzaga
15. Virginia
16. SMU
17. San Diego State
18. Michigan State
19. Virginia Commonwealth
20. Michigan
21. Oklahoma
22. Ohio State
23. Stanford
24. Syracuse
25. Memphis


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