As a blogger, you can't afford to bring your B-game when your basketball team is deemed "Elite." So, we're stepping up our game for the West Regional Final by turning to Justin from the rather excellent TheUConnBlog.com for a closer look at what to expect from the Huskies on Saturday.
RMN: Give us a couple of the primary storylines for UConn so far this tournament.
Justin: Aside from the alleged major recruiting violations?
There have been a few, but the major one has been how UConn would fare without Jerome Dyson. Ater Majok, Charles Okwandu and some guy named Nate Miles were ruled ineligible, for various reasons. And then Dyson went down and it seemed like the title hopes were over, especially after losing the last two games heading into the tournament.
But Stanley Robinson has finally begun to realize his potential the past month or so. Robinson, who spent the first semester working in a factory in Willimantic, was the most consistently inconsistent player his first two-plus seasons and caused all sorts of headaches for us. But he's scored in double digits the past four games and given back some of the scoring we lost when Dyson went out.
And some smaller lines include Craig Austrie actually doing something productive, A.J. Price dominating like he did last year and the team looking better than it ever has the first two games (won by a combined 82-point margin).
RMN: How is UConn's depth? Is UConn well-conditioned enough to run with the Tigers for 40 minutes?
Justin: UConn's bench is pretty shallow, especially after Austrie was inserted into the starting lineup to replace Dyson. They use basically a seven-man rotation, with Gavin Edwards and Kemba Walker in reserve, and you could probably categorize it as a weakness.
But it seems to be one of those things that you would think would hurt them more than it does. Of the game's they've lost, I wouldn't say any were because of depth, and you could always point to the six-overtime game as evidence that they can keep up with Missouri.
Then again, no team has pushed the tempo like I expect the Tigers to. So it just may prove problematic Saturday.
More questions with Justin after the jump.
RMN: Is UConn's starting five good enough for the bench not to matter? And, in watching UConn, Price seems to be the X-factor. If Price goes off, does Missouri have any shot?
Justin: The starting five is probably one of the best in the country, even without Dyson. Like I said in the previous answer, the short bench hasn't been an issue so far, and the starters' talent is probably why.
As far as Price, he is what makes the team go. Without him, I don't think they would have made it this far. Last season, he pretty much carried the team to most of its victories, and he's starting to do some of the same the past few games.
But Missouri can certainly win if he goes off. Price is basically their only 3-point shooter and probably the only one that can create off the dribble. So you would think if they shut everyone else out, they could easily take UConn down. It's tough for everyone to do much unless Price puts them in the right positions.
RMN: How exactly do you attack UConn's defense? Does Thabeet's presence essentially relegate teams to outside shots?
Justin: Well, there's basically two ways to take down Thabeet.
The first would be through outside shooting. Dyson was UConn's best on-ball defender, and even with him, their perimeter defense was pretty poor. So you could feasibly render him useless by spreading the floor and by either shooting or driving the lane from the outside. Which is why we were so afraid of Memphis. Although Mizzou is almost like Memphis on steroids on offense, so we didn't really dodge any bullets there.
The other is by going right at him. Missouri might not have the size or the post presence to do so, but DeJuan Blair was able to have great success against UConn because he went right at Thabeet in the post. Thabeet still can't handle when opponents get in close and drive up into his body. The move also could get him into foul trouble, which is what happened in Pitt v. UConn 1.
RMN: Finish the following statements:
- UConn will win if: A.J. Price continues to carry the load on offense and if Thabeet is able to continue to dominate defensively. The whole defense is built on filtering everything into Thabeet, so if he can't get going, Missouri could have great success.
- Mizzou will win if: If its offense can take Thabeet out of the game and if their short bench ultimately proves to be a problem against the Tigers' fast pace.
RMN: Feel free to retort to and/or effusively praise the "Better Know an Opponent: Connecticut" post written by one of our members.
Justin: The post was quite accurate, and I actually learned some stuff. (Who knew there were things bigger than towns? Next you're going to tell me that you have more people than cows at your college.)
As a retort, I would like to quickly point out that Missouri's school color looks like a mixture between poo and Grey Poupon (ed. - True), Harry Truman probably wouldn't be pleased that you've chosen to embody his legacy in Tony the Tiger (ed. - it beats his legacy in Japan), and although I know very little about Chase Daniel, he looks like schmuck (ed. - argument sustained).
However, I must applaud the fact that you take your 1970s TV mini-series so seriously and that you think so highly of your journalism program you send color analysts to fire head coaches.
RMN: Bonus Question! Nate Miles: Great Husky, or the greatest Husky?
Justin: Well, Coach Cal would probably want me to remind you that Miles never actually played for the team. Because it's an air-tight argument to dispute recruiting violations.
But had he played, he probably would have been a high-character guy. A Latrell Sprewell-type team player, I think.