UConn center Amida Brimah threw down one of the better alley-oops of the summer on a defender at the Hartford Pro-Am this week. Expectations are high for the junior center this season as he returns to the Huskies after averaging 9.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game last season.
After making a man in a Batman costume dance after this dunk, it looks like Brimah is ready for the 2015-16 season to get going.
Conference play is right around the corner, so over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.
UCONN PROMISES TO: Get Ryan Boatright consistent help on the perimeter.
It will happen because: Despite the numbers, UConn’s perimeter rotation doesn’t lack for talent. Of course there’s Daniel Hamilton, who has been one of the better freshmen in the country and has the ability to make plays not only for himself but for others as well. NC State transfer Rodney Purvis, while he’s off to a slow start, can put points on the board and maybe his 21-point outing against Columbia is a sign of what’s to come now that he’s healthy. Add in Sam Cassell Jr., a solid defender in Terrence Samuel and (if he can stay healthy) Omar Calhoun, and depth won’t be an issue for UConn on the perimeter. As the season wears on, that should result in more productivity.
It won’t happen because: Of the players in UConn’s perimeter rotation just two, Boatright (44.2%) and Hamilton (45.8%), were shooting better than 40 percent from the field prior to their game against Columbia Monday night with Purvis (42.9%) making the jump thanks to his performance against the Lions. Part of that is simply not knocking down shots, but there’s also the matter of not taking too many challenged perimeter shots. Boatright’s been solid at both getting shots at the rim and converting, as 34.5% of his attempts have come in that area of the floor and he’s made 66.7% of those attempts per hoop-math.com. If anything they need Hamilton to use his skill to get even more shots in the paint, as just 18.1% of his attempts thus far have come at the rim.
UCONN ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Settle for too many challenged jumpers, instead working to attack the basket more.
It will happen because: While UConn has taken fewer three-pointer than any team in the American, they’ve also attempted fewer free throws than any team in the conference. UConn’s attempted just 170 free throws through nine games (18.9 FTA/game), with Boatright (59 attempts) and Amida Brimah (31) combining for 90 of those attempts. Thus far most of the rotation has found it tough to get to the foul line, with a number of those players (most notably Hamilton, Purvis and Cassell) pulling up for jumpers as opposed to seeking contact closer to the basket.
It won’t happen because: With the number of players who either weren’t part of the rotation (or program, for that matter) or have seen their roles changes from last year to this, the Huskies should become more comfortable with each other in Kevin Ollie’s offensive system as the season wears on. Hopefully for them that will lead to more opportunities around the basket, which in turn will allow UConn to take greater advantage of their ability to knock down free throws. At 72.4% the Huskies are one of the best foul shooting teams in the American, and that includes a big man in Brimah who’s made 71 percent of his attempts thus far.
Gonzaga is in the Pac-12 portion of their schedule, as they knocked off Washington State and UCLA this past week after losing to Arizona in overtime last week. Wiltjer was Gonzaga’s leading scorer for the week, averaging 22.5 points and 5.0 boards while shooting 66.7 percent from the floor and 5-for-7 from three in the two wins.
Wiltjer has just about made the transition into Gonzaga’s go-to guy this season. Kevin Pangos is the engine that makes this team run, but it’s Wiltjer’s ability to shoot and score from the perimeter that has made them so tough to guard. If you put a smaller player on him, Wiltjer can go into the post and make you pay. If you use a bigger player on him, Gonzaga can put him in pick-and-roll actions with Kevin Pangos, which have proven to be lethal. If you decide to go zone, Wiltjer helps spread the floor for Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski in the paint, working in high-low passes.
Wiltjer is a much different player than Kelly Olynyk, but the impact the former Kentucky Wildcat is having on this team is the same.
THE ALL-THEY-WERE-GOOD, TOO TEAM
Ron Baker, Wichita State: In wins over Seton Hall and at Detroit, Baker averaged 20.5 points, 5.0 boards and 3.5 assists.
TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma: Thomas played his best game as a Sooner on Saturday. He finished with 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting and added three blocks in a win over Tulsa, finally showing why everyone considered his waiver to be immediately eligible a season-changer.
Ty Wallace, Cal: Cal won a pair of close games this week, thanks in large part to Wallace, who finished with 40 points, 16 boards, eight assists and five steals in two games.
T.J. Price, Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers went into Oxford and knocked off Ole Miss on Saturday, and Price led the way with 26 points, 10 boards and five assists.
Amida Brimah, UConn: UConn played just one game this week, and it was Brimah that was the star. The 7-foot Ghanaian finished with 40 points on 13-for-13 shooting from the floor and 14-for-16 shooting from the line in a win over Coppin State. He had 56 points on the season coming in.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks
I wrote extensively on Kansas last week after seeing them go into the Verizon Center and knock off a good Georgetown team. You can read that here. If you don’t want to click, my point is essentially this: Kansas is nowhere near complete right now, yet they have already beating Utah, Michigan State, Florida and Tennessee and won at Georgetown. So what happens when they get to full strength?
Kelly Oubre is coming along nicely, as he’s starting to figure things out defensively and getting more aggressive — and a longer leash — offensively. Cliff Alexander is not going to be more than a effort guy that rebounds and dunks and defends this season, but he’s getting closer to being someone that can have a major impact in games. Wayne Selden and Frank Mason are getting more consistent.
It all seemed to be trending in the right direction … until Devonte’ Graham’s toe injury was announced. There’s speculation that he could miss the rest of the season, which would be a major, major blow. We know Kansas has point guard issues. They have for a long time now. And with Conner Frankamp transferring to Wichita State, Mason is now the only point guard on the team.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
Colorado State Rams: The Rams won a pair of games this week, but the notable one came on Wednesday when they went into Boulder and knocked off Colorado. CSU is still undefeated this season.
Iowa State Cyclones: Three games this week, three wins. UMKC and Southern are whatever, but the Cyclones also went into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and blew out Iowa on Friday night.
Saint Mary’s Gaels: The Gaels picked up a huge win on Saturday afternoon, going into Omaha and knocking off Creighton in overtime despite the fact that star big man Brad Waldow struggled and Kerry Carter fouling out in overtime.
Incarnate Word Cardinals: The Cardinals lost their first game of the season this week. They also went into Nebraska and knocked off the Cornhuskers. Ken Burmeister has himself a pretty good ball club.
Wofford Terriers: The Terriers are now 8-2 on the season after going into Raleigh and beating N.C. State. They got a bit lucky, but they also got the win, so who cares?
GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK:
UConn vs. No. 2 Duke, Thu. 8:00 p.m.
No. 3 Arizona at UTEP, Fri. 11:00 p.m.
Syracuse at No. 7 Villanova, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
No. 21 North Carolina vs. No. 12 Ohio State, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
No. 15 Butler vs. Indiana, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
UCLA vs. No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 3:30 p.m.
No. 16 Oklahoma at No. 17 Washington, Sat. 9:00 p.m.