Prelude to the Madness, Part II

In part one, we featured the five players who appear to have the early edge at wearing the white jerseys when Saturday rolls around, but there are eight teammates that will be gunning for one of those coveted shirts.

Curtis Kelly, Jonathan Mandeldove and Gavin Edwards showed no signs of backing down to the more physical Adrien and Thabeet. Kelly, the most skilled of the three, is capable of knocking down the elbow jumpshot, and isn't afraid to put it on the floor and drive it to the basket. Although a little shot selection discipline might be in order, Kelly has the ability to hit the 12 to 15 foot jumper to keep defenses from packing it in too deep, which he demonstrated a few times during Monday's scrimmage. Kelly used his power dribble to get to the basket, converting some tough inside shots. He also did a nice job of finding his teammates, netting higher percentage opportunities. He held his own on defense, banging with both the physical Adrien as well as the 7-3 Thabeet who had a half-foot height advantage. Kelly might see some time at the 5 as well as the 4 because of his long reach and willingness to bang with bigger bodies.

Jonathan Mandeldove, like most young post players, is further along defensively. He did a nice job of checking Thabeet in the first game, keeping the big fellah off balance and out of the paint. Like Kelly, Mandeldove is not afraid to bang with bigger players. In the third game, he completely snuffed out one of Kelly shots. An emphatic jam over Thabeet in the last game demonstrated Jon's bring-it-on attitude he takes to the court. Although Mandeldove is not ready to put up big numbers in the paint, he does have the ability to score with either hand using a soft hook. Jon might be the best of the bigs at passing out of the post, which he's done effectively this entire preseason. In the first game, he traded a couple baskets with Adrien, including an elbow J, possibly a new weapon in his budding arsenal.

One of the more intriguing post players is Gavin Edwards. Little was known about him until shortly after he committed late this past spring. Like his fellow frontcourt teammates he needs to spend some extended time in the weight room, but that didn't stop Gavin from playing tough inside. He was very active and productive when he was on the floor. He made his presence known right away on the offensive end with a nice seal and catch, followed by a quick up-and-under, avoiding the block that Adrien had lined up. It was somewhat reminiscent of what we saw in Hilton Armstrong when he first arrived in Storrs. Edwards doesn't appear to be as explosive as Armstrong, but his game is very similar. Gavin displayed excellent body control, snatching some nice rebounds above the rim and altered his share of shots. He seldom over commits, keeping his feet on the floor and holding his post position while still being ready to elevate for the block. This smooth 4/5 combo clearly belongs here, but will need time to fill out and get stronger to handle the physical Big East play.

As for the wing, MJ seems to have staved off the early assault, but both Stanley Robinson and Ben Eaves are making him work hard to win that coveted starting wing position. Robinson is an exciting open floor player who seems to be struggling to find his game at this early stage. He is equally as crafty as Johnson in creating space for his shot, but struggled connecting on his short jumpers. He had a few highlight worthy plays where he shook free from his defender but couldn't finish around the basket or on his fall-away jumpshot. On one play he completely fooled the defender with a well executed ball fake, but was not able to get the shot off as he got fouled. The tone of his afternoon seemed to be set early on when he pulled up for a quick foul line jumper that bounced off the rim three times before rolling off. If that shot had fallen, his afternoon might have been more productive. This long combo forward has a world untapped talent. Put him on the floor with Wiggins and Johnson and it's off to the races. He is very exciting in the open floor, but also has a lot of ability to create in the half-court. He just needs to connect on more of his 10 to 12 foot Js and improve his ability to absorb contact, finishing at the basket. He has good mechanics on his jumpshot. It's just going to take time for him to find a consistent stroke, but when he does, he will be very tough to stop. Like most young players he's beginning to understand the importance of contributing in other ways when his shot is not falling, an important lesson passed on to him by one of his coaches after the scrimmage. Robinson has a nice feel for the game, but needs to keep his confidence up when things aren't going his way. All the Husky greats went through tough stretches and had to learn to contribute in other ways while working through those tough times. Caron Butler struggled with his jumpshot during the second half of his freshman season and the first half of his sophomore one. When his shot was not falling, Caron would crash the offensive glass, take his man off the dribble and pass out to his guards, etc. Eventually his shot began to fall and he carried his teammates deep into March. As for Robinson, perseverance and hard work will pay off in due time.

The sharp shooting bloke from across the pond, as they say in England, has been improving steadily throughout the preseason. Ben Eaves is a nice catch-and-shoot wing. He has a solid handle for 6-7 wing but is still learning how to use it to create space for his shot. Eaves knocked down a few step back 3s throughout the afternoon, and finished off a nice lefty runner in the paint in the last game. Ben might be called upon to stretch the half-court zone D this coming season, if some threes for the wing are in order.

At the guard positions, Austrie seems to have solidified one of the spots so far with his steady play, solid shot selection and improved jumpshot. Likewise, AJ, appears to have the other one locked up for the moment due to his ability to score from just about anywhere one the court. As mentioned in the prior article, AJ can score in bunches, especially when he's feeling it from deep. But the Husky backcourt is far from a forgone conclusion and is clearly the deepest part of the lineup as far as numbers and skill is concerned. All five of UConn's guards are combos for the most part. Each brings something unique to the court.

Jerome Dyson, the tallest of the combos, might have the deepest range of the lot, though I'm sure AJ and Wiggins would love to dispel that perception. Like AJ, when he gets hot, the basket begins to look as wide as a trash can. Dyson is clearly the strongest of the five and is very good when driving it to the basket. He is able to absorb contact and finish among the trees. I would not be shocked to see some three guard sets to both attack and shoot over the zone, similar to what we saw last year with the tough Villanova three guard attack. Any combination of our five guards would give UConn that look. Although AJ, Dyson and Wiggins might be the three most prolific scorers of the group, Austrie and Garrison both can knock down the open 3. All it takes is two who can split and collapse the zone, to be able to kick it out to the other jump shooters.

Doug Wiggins is clearly the quickest of the five, though Garrison can kick in the afterburner. Wiggins is one of the guards that Coach Calhoun will go to when he wants the speed up the pace of the game. Wiggins consistently races the ball up the court on just about every possession. Once his teammates learn to kick it with him, easy baskets might be there for the taking. Dougie needs to learn to play a bit more under control and minimize the mistakes. It doesn't take long for Calhoun to reach out with the quick hook after a careless unforced turnover. When Wiggins plays quick but in control he's one of the best backcourt player makers. He's very good at creating space for his shot. He just needs to finish those plays off more frequently. Dougie's most memorable play of the afternoon was not one of the threes he knocked down, but him getting knocked down hard to the floor, driving it to the basket. Gampel went silent for a couple seconds, but Dougie jumped right to his feet, glanced at his floor burn and asked for the ball. Seconds later it was game on as he passed the ball of to a teammate from the top of the key.

The last of the guard quintet is Rob Garrison. Garrison is still among the most creative passers on the team. He had a very productive afternoon, scoring frequently and setting up his teammates. Going along with the creativity, are the occasional turnovers that get him in trouble. One of the most exciting exchanges of the afternoon took place in the third game where Dyson misfired on a three, Garrison raced down court and buried a three of his own, followed by a transition lay-up by Dyson, then capped off with a full court drive and kiss off the glass by Garrison with a defender in his face for the game winner.

One thing is for sure, Coach Calhoun isn't at loss of options to turn to at any given moment. He pretty much has a player for every situation. The only two elements this team lacks is experience and lots of muscle in the post. I'm sure we'll see the starting five change throughout the season and many combination of players throughout each game. Friday is just around the corner so let's hop on and enjoy the ride!

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