The Strength is Inside

I believe top to bottom, UConn has the best basketball team in the country. But like any team, there are weaknesses, and UConn is headed for the meat and potatoes of the schedule – March. The key to UConn's success is to place its focus more on the interior. UConnfan.com explains why the Huskies need to do a better job using their size to their advantage.

As the season winds down there's one thing I'm convinced of – when the UConn Huskies fail to get the ball inside with regularity they have the look of a very ordinary basketball team.

The strength of this Connecticut team is the frontline, which most will tell you is one of the best in the country. If that's the case, then why doesn't the ball go inside more often? How could such an obvious game plan be so non-existent for the Huskies at times?

What coach wouldn't make a group like Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone, and Jeff Adrien a focal point of the offense? Boone is the experienced senior, Armstrong is one of the most improved players in the nation, and Adrien is a freshman workhorse.

Early on against Nova, UConn exerted its strength and shot 48 percent in the first half because of it. Had Marcus Williams not gone to the bench with foul trouble, UConn probably would've been up at the half.

In the second stanza, the Huskies built a 12-point lead thanks to a balanced attack – then promptly lost it because of settling for quick, marginal shots. Jay Wright employed a three-quarter court trap, UConn broke it easily and then settled for jumpers. It was a lack of patience.

We saw it again during an 18-0 run by Notre Dame on Tuesday night. Most of the second half was littered with poor shot selection and what Associate Head Coach Tom Moore called, "a lack of discipline." The lead dissipated because of it.

The Huskies hit a slew of outside shots in the first half and it was a case of fools good. Offense was coming easily and the Huskies were 22-0 when leading at the half. Nothing to worry about right? Wrong.

What looked well-in hand suddenly got very scary. UConn was lucky to win this one and the decided lack of patience on the offensive end nearly cost them again. The Huskies are the better team but Notre Dame played better tonight, at least for a half.

This has happened before this season. UConn also struggled for a stretch against Louisville. Again, down the stretch the ball went inside and what was tight game, turned into a comfortable 13-point win. West Virginia, who provides mismatches all over the court, had the four-out offense, much like Nova, that could give UConn fits. But it was UConn who capitalized on the mismatches in this one. On defense, the Huskies were resilient, survived a barrage of threes, and got the high percentage shots necessary to walk out of Morgantown with a "W".

Which brings us back to the defensive end of the court - the secret is out -- Villanova exposed how to combat the Huskies size defensively. The way to beat the fourth-ranked team in the nation is to spread them out and drive them, a game plan Villanova drove home on February 13th. This one was a mismatch in the Wildcats favor. Villanova's four-guard offense and not the Huskies formidable size up front was the story. Because Nova plays so small there will be mismatches at both ends – it's all about which team uses it to their advantage. Nova got the nod in the first of two colossal matchups.

What UConn has to understand is that offensively, just the threat of the ball going inside has an immediate effect on opponents. Every shot doesn't have to come via the interior because some teams will collapse, but if the big people just get touches – this basketball team will be able to flex its muscles and show what a well-rounded group they are. Imagine Rashad Anderson taking some threes that originated from the inside-out instead of having to shoot every single one hotly contested.

I expect Jim Calhoun will renew his emphasis on the interior and make his team realize that all will benefit from it. If the Huskies are successful they'll show the world of college basketball just how dominating they can be.

NOTES

- Another alarming stat is the number of turnovers UConn is forcing. Seton Hall is the only opponent in the last four games who even reached double-digit turnovers (Notre Dame – 4, West Virginia – 6, Villanova – 9, Seton Hall – 10). That usually means bad news for the Huskies vaunted running game.

- Protecting the basketball has been a problem on the other end for the Huskies. Notre Dame marks the first opponent since LSU (6) that has forced less than 10 turnovers against UConn.


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