Questions on the Front Line

Word out of Paradise Island is that Jim Calhoun has been joking around about working for the chamber of commerce in the Bahamas.

We know that the Connecticut coach is jesting, however, because the man was born to coach basketball and may never walk away. Calhoun did walk back to the hotel (and it was a long walk) once after a tournament loss in Hilo, Hawaii. But that just tells you how serious he is about winning.

Of course, that is the quest for No. 4 UConn at Battle 4 Atlantis. Three wins. Before the Huskies begin play Thursday night against UNC Asheville, here are five questions about the team that need answers.

1. What's wrong with Alex Oriakhi? Remember the guy who played so big in the NCAA tournament last year, the guy who attacked, rebounded and gave the Huskies an inside force all the way to the national championship? That guy hasn't shown up yet.

Oriakhi has started all four games, but he is not playing well. He is not being aggressive. Oriakhi is averaging 7.0 points and just 6.5 rebounds. Tyler Olander has played more minutes (110 to 79) and is averaging 9.0 points and 8.8 rebounds. Nobody would have predicted that before the season.

Oriakhi took only three shots, had two points, and four rebounds in 18 minutes against Coppin State. Are the guards not looking to pass the ball to him? Or is Oriakhi not presenting himself?

"Alex's biggest problem is he's not physical," Calhoun said. "He's the strongest guy on the team and he's got to be a physical presence in every single game. I think we can all make the assumption that there wasn't anybody stronger on the court [Sunday], but I never saw his physical presence on the boards, or setting screens, or doing the other things. By the way, I saw the same kid destroy the No. 4 draft choice Tristan Thompson [of Texas] last year. I've seen him get 20 [points] and 18 [rebounds].

"Why is it not coming out? We've tried every method … we continue to start him every game. Alex will come back. I truly believe that. He's going to have to come back for us to be good."

Could it be that Oriakhi is pressing with freshman Andre Drummond in a Huskies uniform and expected to be an even bigger force inside? Not likely. But maybe.

"They can play together," Calhoun said. "That's not a problem."

2. What got Roscoe Smith going against Coppin State?

After a slow start, the sophomore forward played 31 minutes off the bench and had 15 points and four rebounds. He was 6-for-10 from the field. Calhoun said that was the role UConn wants Smith to fill, but it was more than the numbers.

"As much as anything else, he was at times last year good because he was lively and he hasn't been lively this year," Calhoun said. "He's looking for his jump shot. I told him, ‘If you miss a play, if you don't completely get through our offense all the time, good things will happen to you if you're lively' and I thought he was really lively."

Smith said he just wanted to bring some of that enthusiasm that the Huskies had been missing this season. But give an assist to Shabazz Napier.

"It's been tough on Roscoe," Napier said after the game. "I always tell him, ‘You can't let Coach play for you. Just play your game.' A lot of players, when they make a mistake or miss a shot, the first thing is to look at Coach. I'm like, ‘You don't need to look at him, he's seen you miss the shot. You don't want him to look at you back because nothing good's going to come out of it.' The guys just need to play."

3. What can we expect from Ryan Boatright in his debut?

Some nerves. Some mistakes. But also a ton of athleticism and the added depth this UConn team needs right now.

Boatright is the freshman point guard who is short in stature and big in hops and quickness. He was suspended six games - eight if you count the exhibition games - by the NCAA and can finally get started on Saturday. You've heard Calhoun talking about the need for another player to "go by people." Well, that will be Boatright's role – along with sharing time with Napier, who played 39 minutes against Coppin State.

"I'm really looking forward to Ryan playing," Napier said. "I need a rest here and there. [Sunday] was a game I needed to stay in the game. I wasn't tired. But at the end, when you start looking at the scoreboard, the fatigue comes in. You have to fight that and make sure you give your all."

4. Did Andre Drummond take a step back against Coppin State?

His line (four points, two rebounds) would certainly indicate that. He had 11 points and 14 rebounds against Maine, and it seemed Calhoun might be ready to toss the freshman marvel into the starting lineup. But, it seems Drummond is having a hard time adjusting to the college game, to his mask, to coming off the bench, playing defense . . . you name it.

Calhoun says there's no reason to panic. And he is so right.

"From the first game, people have asked, ‘How good is he?' Well, he's really good," Calhoun said. "It's going to be a time thing. He got a little down when he got that dunk blocked and normally that wouldn't happen. That gave me an indication that he was fighting himself a little bit, and that's OK. He's a good kid.

"He doesn't believe he's God's gift to basketball and somewhat that contributes a little bit to him not dominating the way he should. But he's a human being. [The freshmen] are still kids. At times, they act their age."

5. How tough is the field?

It's not the Maui Invitational but the Huskies have to do more than walk on the court in their UConn jerseys to win three games. UNC Asheville gave North Carolina a competitive game. A likely second-round matchup with College of Charleston, coached by Bobby Cremins, wouldn't be easy but the Huskies should win. It wouldn't be a surprise if Harvard reached the championship game, but Florida State is the only other ranked team in the field. The Seminoles, from the ACC, are athletic and would be highly motivated to beat UConn for some national attention.


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