Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Duke knows stopping Amida Brimah means stopping UConn's guards

The battle of big men Thursday night may disappoint. As great as Amida Brimah was on Sunday against Coppin State, it's hard to imagine he'll turn in anywhere near the same performance against Duke.

Fact is, Jahlil Okafor is so much more polished than Brimah right now. It's not hard to imagine Brimah being overanxious and picking up a couple of early fouls, and quickly turning the much-anticipated battle of red-hot big men into something different on Thursday night.

But then again, maybe not. Maybe the Coppin State game was Brimah's coming-out party, and he continues his dominant ways against the Blue Devils. It'll be fun to find out.

Anyway, here's what Mike Krzyzewski had to say to the media this week about the big UConn-Duke matchup:





Insightful, eh? Oh yeah, Coach K didn't do media this week. Wonderful. Well, here's what some of his coaching staff and players had to say:



Here's more of how UConn looks at Duke, and how Duke is looking at UConn:

NATE JAMES (Duke assistant coach)

(on Jahlil Okafor)

“He’s gifted, man. I wish I could take credit for the ability he has, but a lot of that is just from the good Lord above. The kid wants to get better, comes to practice and has the desire to learn the game. As a result, he’s been rewarded for his efforts.”

(on Amida Brimah)

“Brimah definitely has elite size and length. That’s gonna be a test for Jah to go up and say, ‘I’m ready for the challenge, I’m gonna play my game.’ One thing about the Brimah kid, I think his defense is definitely ahead of his offense. Watching the film and seeing how he gets those baskets, a big part of it is the guard play."

:Whenever you have dynamic guards, and UConn is notorious for having terrific guard play ... I don’t think it’s an issue where we have to worry about them consistently throwing the ball down in the post and letting Brimah go against Jah one-on-one. I think it’s gonna be a total team effort, and I think it starts with the guards, making sure they keep Boatright and the other guys out of the lane.”

KEVIN OLLIE:

(on memories of the UConn-Duke rivalry)



(on Duke's ability to run)

“I think it varies with them. They run off a lot of turnovers, they’re incredibly athletic, and when you get live turnovers taht we had against Coppin State, they’re gonna convert them. Which Coppin State did, too. We’ve got to limit the mistakes with the basketball, make sure we eliminate our turnovers. Of course they’re gonna try to pound it in there, but I saw Jahlil get a steal (Monday) night and go coast-to-coast, so they’re nto gonna take their foot off the accelarator. Jahlil is a big guy, but he can run the floor very, very well. I think they’re gonna pound it in, and then they’re gonna run when the opportunities present themselves.”

(on importance of boosting NCAA tourney stock with a win over Duke)

“That’s what we’re gonna have to do. It just gets you ready, hopefully, for March and April, when you’re on neutral sites and you have to play a formidable foe. Hopefully, we understand that. It’s about ‘now’ for us. We can’t look past anybody. We’ve got to get wins.”

“You need signature wins for the NCAA to build your resume. This is a great chance for us, a great opportunity. I just want our guys to seize it. That’s what we’ve been talking about the last couple of days in practice.”

(on Okafor)

“He can run the court, he’s got soft hands, he catches everything, outstanding rebounder. Just skilled. Can go over both shoulders, pivot in the post with both pivots. I mean, I could go on and on. He seems like a great teammate, a great person. He’s just the complete package. He’s a force to be reckoned with on a college game, and when he gets to the pros, he’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with, too. Because he seems like he loves the game and likes to get better. He’s someone we’re gonna have to pay great attention to. It can’t just be Amida guarding him, it’s got to be everybody on the court guarding him.”

RODNEY PURVIS:

(on Okafor)

“He’s really good. He’s young, really light on his feet. He’s just a really tough cover, so we’re gonna do our best to guard him. I feel like Amida has everything it takes to shut him down.”

“Playing against a team like Duke, they’re undefeated right now, we’re kind of getting back on the road. It’ll definitely be a great game.”

(on whether Brimah is primed for the challenge of battling Okafor)

“Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t know what kid wouldn’t be. I guess he’s projected as the No. 1 draft pick for the upcoming draft. This is a great game to boost your stock.”

RYAN BOATRIGHT:

“We’ve got to take it as another game that’s on our schedule. No matter who’s out there, we need to go out and compete.”

“Definitely, it would help us with our resume and our confidence. These big out-of-conference games, we’ve got to go out and take care of business.”

“It’s Duke. They’re on TV all the time. I’ve seen a few games they’ve played."

“We’re two tournament teams that are colliding early in the season. It’s a great test for both of us.”

(on being the underdogs on Thursday)

“We’re pretty used to that. Nobody gave us a chance last year. Nobody ever gives us a chance. As long as I’ve been here, we’ve always been big underdogs going into big games. It’s nothing new.”

(on whether Brimah is embracing the challenge of Okafor)

“He’s not scared of anybody. He’s extremely competive. He’s tired of hearing all this hoorah about Jahlil, he’s excited to get a shot at him. I tell him just be confident, go out there and play your game, and the game will take care of itself.”

AMIDA BRIMAH:

“I’ve got to be aggressive when I come out, and I can’t let them punch first. I’ve got to punch first.”

“We’ve just got to stay composed and take care of the ball.”

“I’ve got to do my work early and run the floor.”

“Definitely. That’s an opportunity for our team. That’s gonna be a great win for us. We need that.”

“I’m always confident, but that (40-point game) helped me boost my confidence up.”


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Some UConn-Duke nostalgia

A few quotes on the UConn-Duke rivalry. (Or is it a rivalry?)

NATE JAMES (a sophomore on the 1999 Duke team that lost to UConn in the national championship game, and now a Blue Devil assistant):

"If you play that game 10 times, I truly believe we’ll win nine out of 10 times. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that way. You get one time to show up, and they did. I think for the rest of our lives -- Elton Brand, my good friend, Trajon Langdon -- we’ll forever regret not bring our best to the table that night.”

“Whenever you have one of the best teams ever assembled, you get the opportunity to do something truly special, and for that night, it didn’t happen for us,” James recalled. “Like all kids and players, you let any type of distraction into your group and you face a team that was together -- Coach Calhoun had his guys together and obviously had some outstanding players on that team as well, Rip Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin, (Jake) Voskuhl. He had a terrific game plan, and it all came together.”

(is it a rivalry?)

“We don’t really use that term. They’re a team we definitely respect and has had some outstanding teams, won national championships, defeated us before. It’s a program you have a high level of respect for, and you know you have to bring your ‘A’ game against.”

KEVIN FREEMAN (a junior on the 1999 UConn title team and now the Huskies' director of basketball administration):

(responding to Nate James' comments)

“All we had to do is win the one. So, I don’t know about the next 10 times. I don’t think you play anybody in college 10 times in four years. I’ll take my one.”

“It was a tough, gritty game. Sort of like on Thursday, we were an underdog, everybody picking to beat us. We had the confidence in our locker room to go out there and know we were gonna win the game and try to win the game.”

“I think it’s a great rivalry, in the sense that every time we play it’s been a great game. The early 90’s games, the game we beat them and also in the 2000’s -- it’s gonna be a great game, it’s gonna be fun for the fans, and it’s fun for us overall.”

“It was called the Duke Invitational that year (1999), because of that team. It was definitely sweet for us to play the No. 1 team. It was us and them, and it was a great game.”

“It’s funny to fast-forward now. Because we beat them, a lot of people don’t know how great that Duke team really was. They don’t get the credit. But they were a great team, and it does give you a lot of satisfaction beating that team.”

KEVIN OLLIE:

(on UConn's 90-86 win over Duke in a Great 8 game in 1994, in which Ollie poured in 24 points)

“It was a good game. We came out with fire and passion. I think that was the first time we beat Duke."

“We kind of had a chip on our shoulder. We wanted to get Duke. It’s always been a good rivalry. They’re a great program. I have the utmost respect for Coach K and what he’s done. I look at him and marvel at the success he’s had, the sustained success. That’s what you want in your program. I think he’s done a great job. And what he’s done with USA Basketball and with his teams over the years, it’s a noble job by him.”

“It’s always a rivalry. Our first national championship was over Duke. It’s always gonna be a rivalry between us. We have more historic rivalries with Syracuse and Georgetown, of course. But whenever UConn and Duke goes, you go back and relive the past, the Christian Laettner incident, all the different things that happened during our past when those two teams got together -- Christian Laettner’s shot. A lot of memorable things in NCAA basketball history that came between these two teams when they got on the court.”

“These programs have been built with toughness, hard work and character. I think they kind of mirror themselves in those aspects.”

RODNEY PURVIS (a Raleigh, N.C. native who played at NC State as a frosh):

“I’m 1-1 against Duke, so it’ll be good to get another win.”

“I liked Duke. I had the chance to talk to Coach K and things like that. I’m not really a fan of blue. I like navy blue better than that color blue, so ... it was great. He recruited me growing up. I definitely don’t like Carolina blue. He’s definitely a great guy, a great coach. There’s nothing bad I can say about him.”



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Sunday, December 14, 2014

My AP Top 25 this week

No, despite UConn's 106-85 win over Coppin State, led by Amida Brimah's 40-point, 12-rebound dominance, the Huskies don't re-enter my Top 25 this week. Obviously.

It's funny, though. Even though UConn is 4-3 and didn't receive a single Top 25 vote last week (and likely won't this week, either), the Huskies are really only a few seconds from being 6-1 and firmly in the Top 25. Last-second corner treys by Jonathan Holmes and Jack Montague don't fall, and the Huskies are ranked. And while you can always list a bunch of "if's" for teams that lose close games, in these two cases, it really was just a matter of seconds. UConn seemed en route to victory in both games, even if it didn't play particularly well in either.

Such is the fickle life of a college hoops team in this season of parity, however. Now, if UConn somehow manages to beat No. 2 Duke on Thursday at the IZOD Center, do the Huskies return to the rankings? Kinda have to, don't they?

Anyway, my Top 25:

1. Kentucky
2. Duke
3. Arizona
4. Louisville
5. Wisconsin
6. Villanova
7. Wichita State
8. Texas
9. Gonzaga
10. Virginia
11. Kansas
12. Iowa State
13. Oklahoma
14. Ohio State
15. San Diego State
16. Butler
17. Miami
18. Utah
19. West Virginia
20. Maryland
21. Notre Dame
22. Texas Christian
23. St. John's
24. Washington
25. North Carolina

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

A few words with Tremont Waters, Tyler Dorsey

Wife and kids are out of town, so I went up to watch New Haven's own Tremont Waters up at South Kent School on Saturday evening. Right now, there's no doubt he could help out UConn (which looks to get back on track on Sunday against Coppin State)  in at least one department: breaking fullcourt pressure. His ballhandling is that good.

"Teams are throwing two men at him, three men at him," said South Kent coach Kelvin Jefferson, "and I've never been in a situation where I panic when he has the ball. Even if they have two or three guys on him, I let him go. Because I just believe no one can guard him. And he busts it, and we have advantages."

Waters is best-known as a shooter, and he's a terrific passer, too. Here's some (admittedly raw) video of Waters in action in Saturday's 92-85 win over Coastal Academy, during which he had 23 points and seven assists before fouling out (he's No. 4):



If there's one question about Waters right now, it would be his size (5-foot-9, 145 pounds). But he more than makes up for that with his quickness and ballhandling skills. And anyway, he's still just a sophomore, with plenty of time to grow.

"I think if a school doesn't recruit him based on his size, they're crazy," said Jefferson. "I think they're nuts. I think he's the best point guard in the country, in that class. I think he's an elite shooter, an elite passer and an elite ballhandler. And he has a good IQ. As a sophomore, does he always make the right decision? No. But by the time he's a freshman in college, I think he's going to be one of the best in the country."

Spoke with Waters a bit after the game, and while talking about how he likes to keep his teammates involved, it didn't take long for him to bring up the name: "Shabazz Napier."

Waters spoke with Napier briefly while on an unofficial visit to UConn last season.

"He just told me to stay focused, stay in the books. Without books, you can't really do anything else. So it was like, stay focused, stay humble."

UConn has already offered Waters, and is one of many schools heavily in on him, along with Duke, Louisville, Ohio State, Stanford and Clemson, to name just a few.

Asked if UConn was his "dream school," Waters paused for a moment and answered: "Well, it's my home state, so, I'd have to say 'Yeah.' Or Duke. Since I was little, I used to watch Duke all the time. They have a ton of point guards that they've produced. I just like the way they play."

(No, he won't be at the IZOD Center Thursday night for UConn-Duke. South Kent's playing up in Worcester that night).

Anyway, don't expect a decision any time soon from Waters. His parents want him to enjoy being a kid up at South Kent, away from a lot of the pressures of both the city and the recruiting world. And, of course, a lot depends on what other recruits are brought in -- and who's still coaching where -- once 2017 rolls around.

*** As reported by Adam Zagoria recently, UConn is trying to get back in the mix with Tyler Dorsey, who recently decommitted from Arizona.

Spoke with Dorsey by phone on Saturday night.

"Yes, I'm considering them right now," he said of the Huskies. "I don't really know what I'm doing with this college situation. I'm just watching games, still talking to coaches. I'm still considering them."

Dorsey added that he has "no leaders. Nobody has an edge right now."

Dorsey played with current UConn freshman Daniel Hamilton at St. John Bosco High in Bellflower, California (though he's playing at Maranatha High in Los Angeles this year as a senior).

Asked if playing alongside Hamilton would make UConn more intriguing, Dorsey said: "It does. That's my boy, Daniel. That is intriguing, when I look at UConn and that situation ... I talk to him. He's doing good, trying to make me lean towards coming over there with him."

But Dorsey doesn't know when he'll make his decision.

"I have no clue. It depends how I feel and whenever I feel the right school is for me, I'm going to just choose it. But there's no real set date.'

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Rodney Purvis, Omar Calhoun are game-time decisions Sunday; sounds like Calhoun won't go, however

Rodney Purvis didn't participate much in practice today. Omar Calhoun did, but seems unlikely to play on Sunday against Coppin State. Also, Ryan Boatright suffered a lower leg contusion a couple of days ago in practice when he was accidentally kicked by Terrence Samuel. He should be fine, however.

A few notes and quotes from after today's practice:

KEVIN OLLIE:

"They've responded great. They've got the faith, I've got the faith in them. They responded great."

(on injury status of Purvis, Calhoun, Boatright)

"It's the same. Rodney's kind of come back from that high ankle sprain. He didn't participate in practice today, but Omar went through some drills. We're trying to get him back, hopefully soon. Same ol', same ol'. Ryan was able to practice today. He had a contusion on his lower leg, so it's good to see him back on the practice court. We're just trying to get everybody healthy."

"They're not practicing, so of course it's a game-time decision."

(on Calhoun's confidence level)

"I believe he's confident, but with the sprained MCL, it's hard mentally to make sure he's able to make the cuts, (he doesn't) want to feel that sharp pain he felt six weeks ago. I think he's getting back comfortable ... Hopefully, he can string some practices together and get more comfortable."

"I think he's been sitting on the bench, seeing us struggle with shots. If we can have somebody come in, make a couple of 3's, it can really open up some things for us. Hopefully, he sees an opportunity here and takes advantage of it when he comes back healthy."

"You've got to probably ask him that question, but I know he wants to come back healthy ... The knee is 100-percent, now it's just getting the functionality, the 20-percent being on the court. Hopefully, he can work through that ... Today he was good. Hopefully, we can keep building on that ... We'll see 10 a.m., if he's able to bounce back (on Saturday). I don't think he'll be playing against Coppin State, but hopefully we can get him back for next week."

(on Coppin State)

"We've got to stop the bleeding. If it was a YMCA team coming here, we've got our antennae up. We're not looking at their record or anything, it's a game we've got to look within, work on the things we've been working on. They've got some athletic guys, they're turning teams over at a high rate, so we've got to take care of the ball at a high rate ... Coach Grant is going to go to a 2-3 zone that we haven't had particular success against, in the last couple of minutes of our last couple of games ... we worked on a lot of that today."


RYAN BOATRIGHT:

"Terrence kicked me on the side of my leg, so I've got a bad bruise. I'm just trying to protect where he kicked me.

"We're just trying to keep the team positive, keep them motivated. I've been around for a long time. I've had a lot of years where we've lost two, three straight. It's tough, keeping your head and staying confident. Especially for these young guys, they've never experienced anything like that. Everybody who was praising you, you lose three straight, they walk right past you when you're going to class. I'm just trying to keep them motivated and that we've got to get back to the basics and work hard in practice."

"We're banged up a little bit, but it's part of basketball. It comes with the game. As long as we keep doing the things we've got to do, once we get back to full-strength, we'll get on a role."

"I wouldn't say 100-percent. It's better than it was when I played against Yale. Being kicked in the same leg, the muscle that's right on top of it doesn't help. I'm going to rehab everyday, trying to get through it."

(not overlooking Coppin State)

"Not at all. We just lost to Yale. You've got to go into every game like it is Duke. We've got to get a win, we've got to get back on the winning side of things. Dropping four would be devastating. It's a must-win for us."

RODNEY PURVIS:

"It's OK. I did shooting drills with the guards today, I didn't do much contact. The main thing is just letting it heal now, because I feel like I keep trying to come back and play and I may delay (the healing) a little bit."

(on whether he could have played in the second half of the Yale game)

"Mentally, yeah, I felt like I could. I just tried to keep myself upbeat. That's the main thing, because once it stiffens up, it's kinda hard. I kept myself loose just in case my number was called. I felt like I could have gone in the second half."

(on whether he understands why Ollie didn't put him back in)

"Definitely. He said I was limping. If I'm limping, I'm not really helping the team. I'm really hurting the team. That's the main thing. I focus all on the team at this point. If I've got to sit out because I can't help the team, that's what it is. But if I can play, I'm definitely going to try to play and help some team."





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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

UConn commanding top dollar in ticket market

A bit of reasonably interesting information:

According to Vivid Seats, a secondary ticket marketplace, UConn entered the season 10th in ticket prices in all of men's college basketball, with a median price of $79. Duke has the most expensive median ticket price at $195, with Kentucky in second at $177. Kansas is 3rd at $165 with VCU ($100) and Stanford ($100) rounding out the top-5.

While the top-25 is still filled with the usual suspects like UNC, UCLA, Arizona and Indiana, smaller programs like Seton Hall, Iowa State, San Diego State and St. Louis all land in the top-15.

Duke takes part in nine of the top-10 most expensive matchups of the season, with the UNC-Duke game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 18, 2015 the most expensive matchup of the year at $1,475. The Huskies don't take part in any of the top-25 most expensive games of the season.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My AP Top 25 this week (aka, "Get off my back, Kentucky fans")

I was one of the final three voters not to vote Kentucky No. 1 the past two weeks (I had my reasons), but obviously, the Wildcats top the ballot this week. Hard to imagine that they won't be unanimous.

Elsewhere: I say goodbye to Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Arkansas and Creighton and welcome Utah, Notre Dame, TCU and St. John's.

There were obviously some awful losses this week, led by Michigan's home loss to NJIT and Miami falling at home to Green Bay (which would make sense ... in the NFL). So why, you ask, do I still have Miami and Michigan ranked? Because they both had pretty good wins this week, as well: Miami beat No. 24 Illinois and Michigan beat Syracuse.


1.       Kentucky
2.       Duke
3.       Arizona
4.       Louisville
5.       Wisconsin
6.       Wichita State
7.       Villanova
8.       Texas
9.       Gonzaga
10.   Virginia
11.   Kansas
12.   Iowa State
13.  Oklahoma
14. San Diego State
15.   Butler
16.   North Carolina
17.   Ohio State
18.   Miami
19.   Utah
20.   West Virginia
21.   Maryland
22.   Michigan
23.   Notre Dame
24.   Texas Christian
25.   St. John’s