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.
In the first of two semifinals on Friday afternoon, No. 17 UConn knocked off Dayton, 75-64, to advance to the 2014 Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship game. The Huskies will play West Virginia on Sunday afternoon.
Ryan Boatright went for a game-high 20 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton joined Boatright in double figures with 19 and 14, respectively. Jordan Sibert led the Flyers with 18, followed by Kendall Pollard with 15 off the bench.
The final score doesn’t indicate how close this game was for the majority of the afternoon with both teams swapping the lead back-and-forth and entering halftime tied 41-all. More than half of Dayton’s points came in the paint during the first half as tough shots by UConn, coupled with nonexistent transition defense, led to easy buckets for the Flyers.
However, the momentum swung in UConn’s favor in the midway through the second half with UConn forcing Dayton into a prolonged shooting slump. For more than five minutes, the Flyers went without a field goal as the Huskies recaptured the lead at 59-58. Amida Brimah was at the heart of the turning point. In a 15-second span, he rejected three Dayton shots. An energized UConn team responded to the defensive stand with a 3-pointer from Hamilton to take a 62-58 lead. From that point on, Dayton never cut it to a one-possession game.
The adjustment UConn made at half was a better defensive effort by UConn. In the second half, the Huskies limited Dayton to 8-of-29 shooting, forcing nine turnovers and blocking five shots. On the other end of the floor, UConn received contributions from several players. Purvis got going early with eight points before being saddled with two fouls. Hamilton also had spurt in the first half with a pair of spot-up three and another off a handoff. In the second half, while he missed all but one of his jump shots, the 6-foot-4 Purvis was effective getting to the basket, putting the final stamp on the victory with two straight layups to put UConn up 10.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 20 UConn.
Newcomers: Rodney Purvis (transfer), Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassell Jr.
– G: Ryan Boatright, Sr.
– G: Rodney Purvis, So.
– F: Daniel Hamilton, Fr.
– F: Phil Nolan, Jr.
– C: Amida Brimah, So.
– Bench: Omar Calhoun, Jr.; Sam Cassell Jr., Jr.; Kentan Facey, So.
They’ll be good because … : UConn will enter the season with one of the nation’s most talented back courts. The face of this year’s group is going to be Ryan Boatright. One of the most athletic point guards that you’ll ever come across, Boatright was one of the most important pieces to UConn’s national title run thanks to the nightmarish on-ball defense that he provided for Kevin Ollie’s club. And while Shabazz Napier — and, late in the season, Deandre Daniels, commanded all of the attention, it’s important to note that Boatright averaged 12.4 points, 3.5 boards and 3.4 assists as the No. 3 option.
He’ll be joined by N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis, a top 20 recruit coming out of high school that spent last season sitting out as a redshirt, and top 30 recruit Daniel Hamilton. Purvis has a chance to be one of the nation’s most improved players this season while Hamilton, the youngest brother of Gary (Miami), Jordan (Texas and now the NBA) and Isaac (UCLA), is a wing forward with a reputation for being a big-time scorer. That trio could match up with any back court in the country. Throw in sophomore Terrance Samuel, who had some big moments during UConn’s national title run, as well as Omar Calhoun and JuCo transfer Sam Cassell Jr., and the Huskies legitimately go six-deep on their perimeter.
But they might disappoint because … : As good as their back court is, it will be downright impossible to replace Shabazz Napier. And I’m not just talking about his ability to score or his knack for making a big shot in a bigger moment, I’m talking about the leadership that he provided and his presence in the locker room. Napier was a coach on the floor, a guy that ran this team and commanded the respect of his teammates. Doug McDermott was the rightful National Player of the Year last season, but Napier was every bit as valuable as him.
There are also question marks along UConn’s front line. There is no four-man that will be able to stretch the floor the way that Daniels did last season. Part of the reason that UConn was so difficult to guard was because Daniels could play the four defensively, but he was more-or-less a guard on the offensive end of the floor. Phil Nolan has beefed up this offseason and Amida Brimah has a chance to be the nation’s best shot-blocker at some point during his career, but neither of them are the kind of player that will scare an opposing coach offensively. And if that wasn’t enough, their only back ups are Kentan Facey, who struggled to see the floor as a freshman, and Rakim “Rock” Lubin, an incoming recruit that is built like a bulldozer but that wasn’t ranked in the Class of 2014.
Outlook: Just how good will Ryan Boatright be taking over the reins of this team? He’s a tremendous talent, one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders and a kid that can score 30 on any given night when he gets on a roll offensively, but he’s also a kid that has had maturity issues during his career and a habit of forcing some tough shots.
UConn has won two of the last four national titles thanks to the play of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier, two of the best point guards that we’ve seen in recent years. But both Walker and Napier had their growing pains early on in their Husky careers. Throw in the fact that Kevin Ollie — and, for that matter, Napier — is more or less the prototype of what it means to be a leader at the point guard spot, and Boatright has spent the past two years learning from the best possible people on how to be the player that the Huskies need him to be this season.
He’ll have talent around him, but if the Huskies are going to win the American this season, it will be on the back of Boatright. It will be interesting, over the next five months, to see if Boatright can live up to those lofty standards.
Kentucky’s buy-in: No team in the country has as much talent on their roster as Kentucky does, but the Wildcats may actually be too deep this season. They’re so deep, in fact, that John Calipari is considering using a platoon system — with five-man shifts — like he is coaching hockey. Eventually, someone’s minutes are going to get cut. Someone is going to have to accept the fact they’re a role player, nothing more than a screener or rebounder or defensive presence. If every Wildcat, from the Harrisons twins to Sam Malone, buys into this idea, Kentucky is going to be very, very tough to beat.
Gonzaga’s defense: Kevin Pangos, now that he’s healthy, is going to have a huge season. Kyle Wiltjer has had a year to develop his body and his game, making him the perfect stretch-four to create space in the paint for Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis. Gary Bell, Byron Wesley, Eric McClellan, Josh Perkins, Kyle Draginis. There’s plenty of talent on the Zags, but the issue will be on defense. When Pangos, Wiltjer and Karnowski are on the floor together, Mark Few will have three defensive question marks. Gonzaga is a Final Four caliber team if they get enough stops.
D’angelo Russell, Ohio State: Aaron Craft is Ohio State’s biggest loss, but right up there, oddly enough, is the loss of LaQuinton Ross. The Buckeyes struggled to score last season, and Ross was their most consistent offensive weapon. Russell heads to Columbus with the reputation of being a big time scorer, and while the Buckeyes should, once again, be stout defensively, they’ll need Russell’s pop on the offensive end.
Devonte’ Graham, Kansas: How long have we been asking questions about the Kansas point guard play? That won’t change this season, as Graham, a freshman, and sophomores Frank Mason and Connor Frankamp will try to take the reins. Graham is the most talented of the three, however, and is expected to take over the role.
Dwayne Polee, San Diego State: Someone is going to have to replace the offensive production that San Diego State loses with the graduation of Xavier Thames. Polee is not the most talented offensive player on the roster, but he showed quite a bit of promise at the end of last season. SDSU reaches a new level if he becomes a threat as a scorer.
Mark Donnal, Michigan: Michigan’s perimeter is loaded this season, but with Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford all departing, Donnal, a redshirt freshman, is now the veteran presence in the paint for John Beilein. Should I mention that he’s also known as being a shooter, and that he redshirted strictly to add strength?
Bryce Alford, UCLA: Alford had promising moments as a freshman with the Bruins, but there were also times where he looked best-suited to being an offensive sparkplug off the bench. This year, the sophomore son of head coach Steve Alford will be handed the reins.
UConn’s big men: UConn has a number of x-factors this season — Can Ryan Boatright be Shabazz or Kemba? How good will Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton be? Is this Omar Calhoun’s bounceback year? But more than anything, UConn’s front line is where the questions lie. Amida Brimah is a terrific shotblocker with the strength of a stalk of bamboo, and Philip Nolan added 25 pounds of muscle but was ‘just a guy’ last season. Losing Deandre Daniels’ inside-outside ability will hurt quite a bit, and while UConn’s guard situation will work itself out, the Huskies need big minutes out of their big men to win the American this year.
Kansas State’s transfers: Marcus Foster has a shot to be a first-team all-american this season, but there are still some questions with his supporting cast. Wesley Iwundu, Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas are all expected to take a step forward, and Malek Harris is a four-star addition, but it is a trio of transfers that could make the difference. Justin Edwards could end up being a double-figure scorer on the wing, while Stephen Hurt and, to a lesser extent, Brandon Bolden give Bruce Weber some much-needed height in the paint.
Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State: There’s no questioning Dejean-Jones’ ability to score. He can fill it up when he gets on a roll. His problem is shot selection, and while Iowa State likes to get up and down the floor, Dejean-Jones is going to be the second or third option offensively for the Cyclones. Can he accept that role?
Here are 10 more x-factors
Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse: For the third straight season, Syracuse will have just one point guard on their roster, and a freshman to boot. If he Tyler Ennis 2.0?
Chris Walker, Florida: A supreme talent at 6-foot-10, for sure, but does he have a clue about how to play basketball?
Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, Duke: Cook is the senior starter. Tyus Jones is the hot-shot freshman. Both are talented point guards. Can they play together? What if one has their minutes cut?
Kedren Johnson, Memphis: Johnson, who averaged 13.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 boards at Vanderbilt in 2012-2013, is the only guard for Memphis that has ever played Division I basketball.
Wayne Blackshear and Shaqquan Aaron, Louisville: Montrezl Harrell is an all-american, and Terry Rozier might join him this season. Can Blackshear and/or Aaron provide production from the wing?
Yannick Moreira and Keith Frazier, SMU: With no Emmanuel Mudiay, Larry Brown needs these two to improve. Moreira looked great at the FIBA World Cup, while Frazier was a McDonald’s all-american but couldn’t earn a starting spot as a freshman.
Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn was the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2012, but he’s yet to be healthy at Providence.
Cullen Neal, New Mexico: Neal was impressive at times as a freshman despite playing on a team with three pros while still recovering from an emergency appendectomy.
Robert Hubbs, Tennessee: The most talented player on a depleted Tennessee roster struggled with injuries as a freshman.
Texas using a 2-3 zone: How effective can Texas be defensively when they have Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley on the floor together?