I watched Connecticut's game against Hampton in which they won 78-67. After seeing them play, I wondered how the game was only decided by 11 points. Connecticut was phenomenal. My state of denial began when I saw the talent of their frontline.
UConn is the defensive version of Phi Slamma Jamma. Is there a better defensive frontcourt in the 2002 NCAAs? I think not.
Connecticut's frontline was amazing against Hampton. Each big man elevated his game in the first round:
F Johnnie Selvie (6-7 235 Sr.): This is the Huskie's only senior, and I want to label him as their workhorse, but that seems a bit inadequate. After watching him play, he is much more then a mop-up guy. He is a smooth athlete who compliments the Huskie's other two big men well. He has solid numbers, 11.4 ppg, 5.8 rbg with 1.1 bpg. Selvie had 11 rebounds and 13 points on Friday.
C Emeka Okafor (6-9, 240, Fr.): This big man reminds me of Alonzo Mourning. He averaged 4.2 blocks and 9.1 rebounds per game during the season. He only averages 7.7 points per game, but with defense like his, who cares? Emeka showed in the first round that he is a force to be dealt with. He had 15 rebounds, 5 blocks and 13 points against Hampton.
F Caron Butler (6-7, 235, So.): The best player in the Big East and the heart of the Huskies. No one has stopped him this year. He has scored in double figures in every game averaging 19.5 ppg. He also is the team's second leading rebounder at 7.6 rpg. He has brought his A-Game to the NCAA scoring 21 in the first round and grabbing 9 rebounds.
Is there any wonder why one might get the sense of invincibility? 47 points, 33 rebounds, and 7 blocks against a very good Hampton squad. My thoughts were, NC State can only win against Connecticut when elephants begin to fly!
Wait a minute, this is all about Saturday night reality. Perhaps this jolly blue Giant can be beaten, afterall they took the jolly big fall 6 times this year.
The boxscore from Friday's game is very revealing. The game against #15 seed was close because Hampton had 0 turnovers while UConn had 15 (T Brown 4, B Gordon 4, T Robertson 2, E Okafor 2, J Selvie 2, ). That might be a flying elephant!
Need more? Look at previous games when elephants flew:
Maryland 77, UConn 65 - 21 Turnovers (T Brown 5, Selvie 4, Gordon 3, Okafor 3, Hazelton 2, Butler, J Brown, Robertson).
St. Bonaventure 88, Connecticut 70 - 23 Turnovers (Selvie 4, Butler 3, Gordon 3, Hazelton 3, Robertson 3, T Brown 3, Okafor 2, Tooles)
Rutgers 61, Connecticut 53 - 19 Turnovers (Selvie 5, T Brown 5, Gordon 3, Okafor 2, Robertson 2, Butler, Hayes)
Miami (FL) 68, Connecticut 66 - 14 Turnovers (T Brown 5, Butler 4, Hayes 2, Gordon, Okafor, Selvie)
St. John's 85, Connecticut 83 - 20 Turnovers (Gordon 6, T Brown 4, Butler 3, Selvie 3, Hazelton 2, Okafor 2)
The key to beating Connecticut is pressure. NC State's kind of defensive pressure, with full court traps, and half court in your pants "D" that denied Michigan State and held them to a season low .321 FG %.
Defensive pressure on UConn's PG Taliek Brown (6-1, 185, So.) is especially critical. He is averaging 3.4 TO per game. I imagine Anthony Grundy and Julius Hodge will give him more defensive pressure then he can bear on Sunday. Much like his great frontline, he too has taken his game up to a higher level during the tournament. He had 4 turnovers against Hampton. As a point of reference, the combination of Miller and Grundy averaged 3.2 TO per game.
The other two guards turned it up a notch as well in the Hampton game. G Tony Robertson (6-2, 200, Jr.) averages 1.7 turnovers had 2 TOs and G Ben Gordon (6-2 185, Fr.) averages 2.3 turnovers had 4 more on Friday.
The NCAA's are all about guard play. In 1983, Phi Slamma Jamma and all their might were beaten in large part by 2 senior guards, Derrick Whittenburg and Sydney Lowe. The senior backcourt of Archie Miller, Anthony Grundy and freshman Julius Hodge should create some real problems for Robertson, Gordon and Brown.
Two things need to happen to kill these Giants. First, the Pack needs to make their outside shots. If they go cold, Okafor will camp in the paint, making it very difficult for Grundy's post game. Second, NC State needs to force those turnovers. History is not kind to Connecticut when they struggle in this area.
If the Pack has at least an average day in shooting, and creates 16+ turnovers, Pack wins. 75-67