Connecticut Basketball: 5 Improvements Needed Before Big East Begins
The post-Jim Calhoun era has gotten off to solid start, although the Connecticut men's basketball team still has improvements to make before Big East play begins.
The Huskies are currently 9-2 in Kevin Ollie's first season as the head coach, with losses to NC State and New Mexico.
UConn's signature win of the season came in the opener, when they triumphed over Michigan State 66-62 in a game played in Germany.
Big East play opens on Jan. 1 for UConn, when they travel to Wisconsin to face off against the Marquette Golden Eagles. Before their conference opener, the Huskies have some areas that need to be addressed.
Even though Connecticut is banned from the 2013 NCAA tournament, the upcoming Big East season will provide important experience for their young roster.
Improve on the Glass
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The Huskies have struggled on the glass thus far, as they are ranked 303rd in the NCAA in rebounds per game with just 30.3.
UConn's problem on the glass is fueled by a lack of a dominant interior presence, which makes them hit the glass by committee. While rebounding should be a team effort, it's difficult to be above average without a standout glass cleaner.
The Huskies do not have a single player averaging over 4.3 rebounds per game, with DeAndre Daniels leading the team with that number.
According to BigEast.org, UConn does not have a single player that ranks in the Top 10 in defensive or offensive rebounding.
Considering that six Big East teams are ranked inside the Top 100 in rebounding, the Huskies must improve on the glass or they will be at a serious disadvantage.
Continue to Get More Opportunities in Transition
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Since UConn's fortunes are dependent on excellent guard play, Kevin Ollie has wisely decided to push the tempo.
With Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun all playing major minutes, UConn will have one of the Big East's most dynamic backcourts.
The Huskies clearly feel like they are at their best when pushing the tempo, as Napier said the following after knocking off Michigan State: (h/t ESPN.com)
We are too fast, we are a transition team and when we get going, no one can keep up with us. We just tried to do what they did, transition. We got some easy rebounds, they came off the boards and we let them go.
The transition game has struggled at times after their first victory, primarily due to the team's poor rebounding. Unfortunately, the production on the glass isn't likely to improve once Big East play begins.
The other way to start a fastbreak is to cause turnovers. The Huskies are ranked 50th nationally at the moment, which does give them some room to improve.
Connecticut must find ways to push the ball in transition to make up for their lackluster frontcourt.
Improve from Behind the Arc
USA TODAY Sports
UConn is currently ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of three-point shooting percentage in the Big East.
The Huskies have only converted on 33.2 percent of their shots from behind the arc, which ranks them eighth in the conference.
Only three Connecticut players have converted on over one-third of their three point shots, which speaks to the lack of dangerous options they have from long distance. Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun have all been respectable from behind the arc, but none of them would be mistaken for a confident three-point shooter.
In their three-guard offense, the Huskies take an average of 17.5 threes per game, which is the the ninth highest total in the conference. In order to beat more experienced teams, UConn should look to take a couple more three-pointers per game, provided their shooters aren't forcing bad shots.
Improve Play from Their Frontcourt
USA TODAY Sports
UConn's strength lies in their guards, Shabazz Napeir and Ryan Boatright are the team's premier players. Even though the Huskies have gotten great production out of their guards this season, it's worrisome to see how poorly the frontcourt has played.
DeAndre Daniels is their most talented big man, but he's more comfortable around the perimeter rather than inside the paint.
Besides Daniels, the Huskies haven't gotten much from any other of their frontcourt rotation players. UConn's three leading scorers are guards, and Daniels is the only other player on the roster in double-digits.
The remainder of UConn's frontcourt rotation is composed of Tyler Olander, Enosch Wolf and Niels Giffey. That trio has posted a combined average of 13.2 points and 9.6 rebounds in 53.2 minutes of playtime.
Production such as that from their frontcourt will put the Huskies at a serious disadvantage in Big East play.
Be More Aggressive on Offense
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Due to their strong guard play, Connecticut's offense is going to be most efficient when their ball-handlers are successfully driving to the hoop.
In essence, the Huskies are going to benefit from being extremely aggressive. Their poor interior play is another reason as well, because the opposition won't be worrying about getting bullied inside.
Instead, UConn's opponents will look to take away open jumpers and three-pointers. In order to combat that strategy, Connecticut should focus on using their guards to get the ball to the rim.
The Huskies focused on driving the ball when they lost to NC State. Their problem in that game was finishing once at the rim.
According to CourantBlogs.com, UConn star Shabazz Napier said the following about their loss to the Wolfpack.
We lost that game. I missed a lot of layups, a lot of shots I normally make. We missed a lot of shots we normally make. We can control that. And we were still right there at the end. We let it slip away.
What Napier said was true, if he had converted on another layup or two, the Huskies would have had a strong opportunity to beat the Wolfpack.
Even though being aggressive didn't earn them the victory against NC State, they should look to attack even more once Big East play starts.