Contender Report: Connecticut
After a few years outside of college basketball’s elite, Jim Calhoun has his UConn Huskies exactly where everyone expects them to be: discussed as one of the nation’s best teams.
UConn is currently tied atop the Big East, and amazingly has yet to lose a road game, despite playing the college basketball’s toughest conference.
But with the recent news that the Huskies have lost starting guard Jerome Dyson for the year, UConn will be short-handed heading into March. Is the injury enough to keep Calhoun and his team from winning their third National Championship in the last decade?
Why They Will In A National Championship:
UConn is blessed with the most experience of any contender, as they currently start three seniors and two juniors.
Amongst them is daunting 7’3″ center Hasheem Thabeet, college basketball’s biggest defensive difference maker since Patrick Ewing. His 4.4 blocks per game are good for second in the nation, but even more importantly are the number of shots that he alters, a statistic which is truly immeasurable.
Joining Thabeet in the frontcourt is senior Jeff Adrien, a nightly double-double, who also serves as the Huskies emotional leader and toughest player- a 6’6″ power forward who always seems to get the tough rebounds.
Two more seniors – A.J. Price and Dyson’s replacement Craig Austrie – start in the backcourt for the Huskies, with each able to get in the lane and also hit open jumpers.
Junior Gavin Edwards and freshman Kemba Walker are key contributors off the bench.
Why They Won’t:
Dyson was this team’s best perimeter scorer and shutdown defender, and there’s no doubt losing him for the remainder of the year changed the course of the entire college basketball season.
With the injury, the most pressure falls on Price’s shoulders. And while he may be UConn’s most talented player, Price is certainly not as explosive as a year ago, when he was an All-Big East performer, before undergoing season ending knee surgery himself. Price has shown flashes, including a 36 point performance against Marquette, but then followed it up with a pedestrian 12 points against Notre Dame. For UConn to win a National Championship this year, Price will have to play at or near is 2008 level every night.
Also, for as many games as this group has played together, none has ever won a Big East Tournament game, and only Adrien and Austrie have participated in more than one NCAA Tournament contest, as UConn was upset in the first round by San Diego a year ago.
This team is still on pace for a No. 1 seed, and may have been the favorites entering March before Dyson’s injury, but with his loss, do they have enough scoring to compliment their always stout defense?
UConn was making its case as the favorite in the tournament, but losing Dyson is crippling.
Luckily it happened in early February and not early March, so the Huskies have time to re-group and figure out how to play, and win, without their junior guard.
This team plays National Championship caliber defense, but is going to struggle to replace the 13 points a game Dyson averaged. Price and Austrie will need to have the month of their lives in March for the Huskies to be the last team standing.
(Author’s note: This article was originally published at www.aarontorres-sports.com)