UConn will need to be better as games get tougher

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“I definitely enjoy it. I kinda hate playing against teams we’re just going to demolish. I really do. I think I play bad in those games because I don’t even want to play. But I understand that these games right here are much-needed and I think we did what we had to do to win this game.”

Those were the words of UConn point guard Shabazz Napier following the Huskies’ 86-81 overtime win over Memphis on February 15 according to Kevin Duffy of the Connecticut Post. That game was an entertaining affair between two of the programs expected to carry the banner of the American Athletic Conference into the future.

Those games are easy to get up for. Others, such as UConn’s game at USF on Wednesday night, require something more. And for much of the evening Kevin Ollie’s team lacked the energy and execution needed to put away the Bulls, but an 18-0 second half run sparked by Ryan Boatright’s 11 points turned things around. The end result was a 61-56 victory that won’t stand out on the Huskies’ resume as they look to improve their NCAA tournament seeding, but it looks far better than an upset loss would have.

Napier (17 points) and Boatright (14) combined to score 31 of UConn’s 61 points, and given how reliant the Huskies are on their starting guards the point distribution doesn’t come as a surprise. But they combined to shoot 9-for-24 from the field, and against better competition in the coming weeks UConn will need better shooting (and shot selection) from its two best scoring options.

Offensively Napier and Boatright will need help, with DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey and Lasan Kromah being the scoring options most capable of providing that assistance. Against USF Giffey (11 points) and Kromah (eight) were productive, but the Huskies are going to need more from Daniels if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning multiple games in the NCAA tournament.

Daniels finished the game with five points and five rebounds, and in his last four games the junior’s shooting just 36.4% from the field. With Napier and Boatright being the first two options the shots aren’t always going to be plentiful for Daniels, but he has to be aggressive and take advantage of the opportunities that he does get.

UConn struggled mightily in the first half, but improved shot-making and their ability to convert USF turnovers into points (20 points off of 11 USF turnovers) led to Kevin Ollie’s team leaving Tampa with the win. UConn will need to be better against Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon if they’re to add another quality win to their resume.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?