With Indiana set to take on the defending national champions on Sunday, we reached out to the folks at The UConn Blog for thoughts on the Huskies ahead of the matchup.
Here’s what they had to say:
Donovan Clingan, he’s one of the best players in the country. What made him work last season and how has he performed this season through a few games? What’s his forte?
Last season, the coaching staff put him in a good position to succeed, playing limited minutes off the bench. This was ideal for him due to his developing stamina and skill set. But to his credit, he did a good job of showing that he’s ready for high-major ball by going up against the best teams on the Huskies’ schedule.
Obviously, at 7-foot-2, he’s a defensive stopper. He’s also a skilled enough guy to be an offensive threat and create his own space on the block. He’s deadly in the pick and roll and has been the beneficiary of a lot of alley oop passes. This year, he’s gotten stronger and worked on his stamina, though a preseason foot injury may have been a minor setback.
Sounds like no Stephon Castle, which is a bummer given that he’s good friends with Indiana freshman Jakai Newton. How has UConn adjusted without the star freshman?
They’ve played one game without Castle, with another freshman, Solomon Ball, stepping in his place. Ball is a different kind of player, shorter and less of a ballhandling playmaker, but still good. A lot of guys will have to step up to make up for the scoring and playmaking that Castle brought to a team that lost three NBA players from last year.
What’s Dan Hurley’s style on offense and defense? The Huskies identity?
Their identity on defense is to be a strong rebounding group, with toughness and versatility across the lineup, and lately, tall guards. Right now I’m not sure they have a lock up defender, and according to Hurley, Castle was one of the better defenders on the team. Offensively, Hurley is evolving on that side. I think his strategy is to have as many great offensive players as possible and find a way to make it work. Adding Cam Spencer from Rutgers, who was their leading scorer, is the main addition there and the offense will try to go down low a lot with Clingan and Samson Johnson. Karaban, Spencer, and Tristen Newton are all good three-point shooters, so the spacing and scoring with the starters is really good. The bench needs to get up to snuff for this to be a really dangerous UConn team.
Did you see last year’s run through the tournament coming at all?
Yes and no. Of course at the beginning of the season we thought UConn was the best team in the country. When they struggled through Big East play, we thought it had no chance. Later in the season, Andre Jackson figured some stuff out offensively, and the team really seemed to hit its stride. I wasn’t predicting a championship right before the tourney (Jay Bilas and some others did) but I definitely thought it was possible because of the ceiling of the team and the lack of a major threat in the field.
Indiana has had trouble defending threes. We’ve seen Cam Spencer before and know what’s in his bag. Who else could hurt them from deep?
Forward Alex Karaban was a 40% from behind the arc as a starter on last year’s team, and I mentioned Newton is also good from three, 37% last year. Solo Ball, who is starting for Castle, should also be a three-point threat.
Result and score prediction?
I saw the Kenpom spread of 12 and think it’ll be closer than that but UConn does win. I’ll go Huskies 80-72