A question that continues to plague the defending champion Connecticut Huskies is whether the team can find a reliable second or third scoring option (and facilitator). Through the first eight games, senior guard Ryan Boatright has scored nearly 30% of UConn’s points while leading the team in assists, free throw makes and attempts, 3- pointers, steals, and is pulling down the third most rebounds despite being barely 6-0 ft tall on a good day. Numbers only tell a fraction of Boatright’s story, as he does many things that do not show up on the stat sheet, such as serving as the lone senior leader, playing at a frenetic pace on the defensive end, and constantly having to set up teammates off of dribble penetration even when it doesn’t lead to an assist.
Despite having an average 4-4 record with a couple heart-breaking buzzer beater losses, UConn’s lack of early season balance is a classic case of déjà vu. With the exception of the transition years of 2011-2013, UConn has had to find support for the do-it-all guards Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier, much like it will have to do for Boatright. Neither teams led by Walker and Napier were particularly all-time historic regular season teams, but when the star guards found consistent support from teammates in the tournament, the team soared. The season is still young and there is still time to straighten things out, but there are various issues that need to be addressed.
-Rodney Purvis must step up:
While Purvis has had a gimpy ankle since the West Virginia game and is probably still finding his rhythm after shoulder surgery last December, he has been highly inconsistent, particularly from the perimeter. Thus far, Purvis is shooting a poor 35% from the field and only 30% from beyond the three point line. Even more shocking considering his slashing ability is the fact that Purvis has zero free throw attempts in his last four games, and only has seven attempts in total this season (57% from the line). Purvis was never billed as a shooter, but he can’t continue to look hesitant with his shot because he does not have a breakdown-the-defense handle as his back court mate. Purvis has the talent to be a second option, but he must find a way to succeed.
-The big men need to provide some offense against tough competition:
With the guards outside of Ryan Boatright struggling, the big men have to find a way to score some paint points. Amidah Brimah did have a 40 point explosion against Coppin State and is the second leading scorer, but his offensive output against top tier teams is inconsistent at best. Against Texas, Dayton, West Virginia, and Duke, he has scored 4, 6, 6, and 0 points, respectfully. Offense isn’t a strength of Brimah’s and his fellow frontcourt mates Phil Nolan and Kentan Facey, but they must find a way to give the Huskies some offense whether it comes from put backs dunks or post moves. The guards must also find a way to complete some lob passes to give the big men easy buckets. Brimah must also get serious about rebounding–there is no reason he should be getting only 4.4 boards per game as a 7-footer.
-Kevin Ollie must do a better coaching job on the offensive end:
His team hasn’t been healthy and there aren’t many offensive stars, but Coach Ollie is not above reproach. The team was not prepared at all to handle West Virginia’s press and losing to Yale is never a good thing. When you have guards like Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright the last two years, it’s fine to rely heavily on their creative offense, but the offensive sets need to be diversified. There’s a lot of heavy isolation by Boatright, and the guards like Rodney Purvis and Sam Cassell Jr. look lost. Again, the roster isn’t rife with shooters or offensive juggernauts, but Kevin Ollie must find a way to make life easier for his players, and I trust that he will.
-Daniel Hamilton just needs to continue playing:
A positive for UConn has been the play of the 6-7 guard/forward Daniel Hamilton. Hamilton is the second scoring option and will likely continue to be as the season goes on. The freshman from California has done a solid job thus far, as he is the second leading scorer and best three-point shooter on the team. Nevertheless, Hamilton is a young freshman who still needs to gain experience in order to eliminate some mistakes.For him to be the team’s best 3-point shooting option while only shooting 36% from there isn’t a positive barometer. Despite that, look for Hamilton to be a big key to UConn’s tournament push.
Overall, there is no reason to worry about UConn, as they have been close in every game they have lost and look solid defensively. I expect Kevin Ollie to figure out how to get the best out of his players, and have them ready come March. Will Boatright channel his inner Walker and Napier to go on to win the national championship? We’ll find out.