NIT Season Tip-Off Preview: UConn Huskies

DukeThe UConn Huskies (4-0) are a tough matchup for Duke (5-0). Defending against talented backcourt mates Jerome Dyson (6’3” 180) and Kemba Walker (6’1” 172) will be a huge challenge for Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. Both Dyson and Walker were named to the All Big East Preseason Team. The Huskies are also big across the frontline with Stanley Robinson (6’9” 220), Gavin Edwards (6’9” 230), and Alex Oriakhi (6’9” 240). UConn brings speed and strength onto the court.

Depth could be an issue for the Huskies as their top five players are clocking 170 minutes of action per game. Comparatively, Duke’s top five are on the court for 147 minutes. In their 76 – 67 second round win over Hofstra, the Huskies bench contributed only four points, while Duke’s bench scored 24 points in Duke’s 101 – 59 win over the University of Charlotte.

Dyson, a senior, is averaging 20 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 assists in 36.7 minutes per game so far this season. He missed the end of last season after tearing the meniscus ligament in his right knee on February 13th against Syracuse. Dyson had started all 24 games for UConn prior to the injury.

Robinson averaged 8 points and 5.6 rebounds in 23 minutes per game over his first three seasons at Connecticut. As a senior, he is playing 36.3 mpg and averaging 16.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. With the departure of A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien, and Hasheem Thabeet, Robinson will be expected to step into a leadership role for the Huskies.

Edwards, the third senior starter, is averaging 10 points and 4 rebounds in 29.7 minutes per game so far this season. He has made 19 of 23 field goal attempts this season and scored 15 points in the win over LSU.

Walker, a sophomore, is averaging 14.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4 assists in 33.7 minutes per game. In the win over LSU, Walker dished out 5 assists in addition to scoring 20 points.

Oriakhi, starting as a freshman, is averaging 6.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 33.3 minutes per game. UConn is known for physical inside players and this freshman is heir apparent to be Coach Jim Calhoun’s next intimidator. Against LSU, he had 9 rebounds and 2 blocks.

The keys to the game will be:

1. Foul trouble could be a problem for the Huskies who play all five starters 30 or more minutes per game, while Duke goes nine deep. Therefore, the Blue Devils should attack the basket and force the Huskies to respond. This game will be a test for Duke’s bigger line-up philosophy and their inside players must respond to the physical play of UConn’s frontline.

2. Who will guard Kyle Singler? Actually, UConn is a team that should be able to match-up with Singler. Stanley Robinson will be Coach Calhoun’s first option, but it would be a tall order to expect Robinson to keep up with Singler for 35 plus minutes so Coach Calhoun will probably look to freshman Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (6’7” 210) to assist Robinson in defending Singler. It will definitely be a trial by fire experience for the freshman wingman.

3. Guard play will eventually decide who wins this game. The team which gets the best performance from its perimeter players will be the tournament champions. With UConn’s ability to match-up with Singler, starters Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith are going to have to outperform Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker in order for Duke to leave New York undefeated. Duke freshman Andre Dawkins must be strong when he is on the court. There is no room for error in this contest.

UConn advanced to the championship game via an 81 - 55 dismantling of the LSU Tigers. Duke defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils 64 – 53 in a game which was closer than expected. The Huskies were led by Dyson and Walker with 20 points each, and Robinson contributed a double - double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. For the Blue Devils, Jon Scheyer was the leading scorer with 16 points, while Smith and Singler chipped in 14 and 13 points respectively.

Duke and UConn have played some classic games over the years and this game should be another barn burner. Coaches Krzyzewski and Calhoun are familiar with each other so both teams will come into the game prepared and ready to execute an effective game plan. This game will be a good one so all the fans need to kick back and enjoy the show. After the long off season, it is time to enjoy the ride of another college basketball season.