If nothing else, we should get some answers Friday night. UConn dropped a double-overtime game to Louisville January 29 in Storrs, and then proceeded to play their worst basketball of the season over the next two weeks. And the concerns entering the season -- primarily, what happens when Kemba Walker doesn't score -- were realized over a four-game stretch in which UConn lost three times.
Some of Walker's struggles can be traced to forced shots, but often that had just as much to do with lack of production from his inexperienced teammates.
As usual, Coach Jim Calhoun spoke bluntly: "Our problem against Louisville, quite simply, will be the matchup zone. ... The things they beat us on are the things I’m being consumed with … I’ve never been concerned with the matchup. We have to make sure we’re making shots. (Wednesday) we made shots.”
And you have to like UConn's chances if they can continue to make shots. But there's no reason to think that Louisville won't do what they did last time: play matchup zone and make players not named Kemba try to beat them. It's a safe strategy against a team that features one proven scorer, not much in the way of inside threats, and a young supporting cast.
The sudden emergence of Jamal Coombs-McDaniel mitigates some long-range scoring concerns, but there is no guarantee JCM won't become the 5-points-a-night player he was before the last two games. And that leads to this: offense is only one half of it; UConn must also be more consistent on the defensive end.
In the January 29 matchup, Peyton Siva had little trouble beating defenders off the dribble and finding his way to the lane. He ended the game with 19 points, seven assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Oh, and he also managed to make the tying baskets in regulation and the first overtime.
When it was over, Calhoun had nothing.
“I have no explanation for it, none,” the UConn coach said. “… I tried to use different centers, but they got out of the way to make sure he had a clearer view of the rim. And obviously, we shouldn't be getting beat that easy at the top, either.”
This time senior Donnell Beverly could be tasked with slowing Siva down. "Over the last two games, both UConn wins, Beverly has drawn the assignment of defensive stopper against two of the conference’s top scorers in Providence’s Marshon Brooks and Georgetown’s Austin Freeman," writes the Norwich Bulletin's Joe Perez.
Whatever happens, UConn's NCAA Tournament hopes are unaffected. They notched their 20th win Wednesday against conference rival and ninth-ranked Georgetown, and that pretty much guarantees them a spot in the field. But there are other implications, including Big East Tournament seeding, as well as something even more important: peaking at the right time.