I am very happy that this wasn't a game that UC absolutely had to have. UC is already comfortably in the field. It would have been nice to win this game to solidify a bye in the Big East tournament, but this loss isn't the end of the world. Lets start with the obvious, Connecticut is just not a good match-up for UC. This Bearcats team has pretty noticeable advantages against most of the conference either in terms of size inside, or with perimeter athletic ability. Against the dregs the Bearcats have a nod on both, with most of the conference it is one or the other. Not the case with UConn between Charles Okwandu, Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and the rest they have a front line that can bang bodies with UC. On perimeter they have a devastating mix of length, and outright speed and athleticism. Compounding matters is that when the Cats are playing well they have a set style of play and UConn not only wants to play that way, but they do it better. If there is a problem with this UC team it might be the lack of a change up. There have been times where they have gone up tempo and won, like Providence and DePaul, but that isn't the MO, and I wouldn't be comfortable trying to do that consistently. They just can't replicate those performances.
So if you concede that Connecticut is a bad match up for this team, and you should, there are still a couple of distinct reasons why they lost this afternoon. First and foremost is the play of the UConn freshman. Shabazz, Jeremy Lamb and Smith went for 37 points. UC actually did a serviceable job on Kemba, he had 16 points but shot sub 50 per cent from the floor and 1-4 from three. Not great but still decent. I would consider 16 points for Walker to be a limited performance. He was still good, that personal 7-0 run he had was the killer stretch of the game in the second half, but keeping him under 20 is the first box you tick on the how to beat UConn checklist.
If there was a tactical error today I think it was staying in man to man all game, doubly so when Bishop picked up that nick to his knee early in the second half. If Bishop can't guard Walker in the man to man it is going to wreak havoc on the defense. Simply put there isn't a man on the roster who can consistently stay in front of Walker. That's not a slam on the guys. Of the roughly 4,000 division 1 Basketball players there are probably 30 guys, at most, who have a hope at staying between Walker and the basket. UC has one of them, asking for another might be a bit much.
Bishops knock aside the real problem came with defending the high pick and roll. UConn went to that look almost exclusively in the second half they pretty easily sliced the defense open. UC for the most part played it well, they blitzed the PG on the screen and then recovered. There is literally no other way to defend that play. Good PG's are taught to attack the double team in the same way a QB is taught to throw to the area the blitzers vacate. The best possible outcome from the offenses perspective is for the PG to split the double team which will completely breakdown the defense and get easy shots. The Huskies did that perfectly for most of the second half. It was just a clinic on that high pick and roll, and the most impressive thing about it was that it didn't really matter who had the ball in those situations; Walker and Napier are both too fast for that tactic to be effective.UConn might not be a great perimeter shooting team, but today, with wide open looks off defensive breakdowns they went 10 for 19.
I think it would have been a better look to go to the zone at some point. It was pretty clear that with a limping Bishop UC had no chance to guard Walker in the half court man to man. Conceding that point I would have gone to the zone which this team has shown quite a flair for since the last possession of regulation against Providence. The zone is much harder to break down off the dribble, which is the preferred method of beating a defense for UConn. Their last five losses have all come against teams that went to the zone against them. They would end up shooting the same kind of shots off the zone that they did today off the man to man looks, but the shots today were uncontested. The odds of getting those same looks against a zone would be very long indeed.
I am willing to give this one up to the match up and move on to the next one. Whats your take?