College Hoops Monday: Your Commentary

    
December 26th, 2010
While the overall schedule for Monday is a light one Big East play opens up with a heavyweight battle in Pittsburgh. Undefeated Connecticut (10-0) plays their first true road game of the season, leaving the friendly confines of home to take on sixth-ranked Pittsburgh (12-1) in what should be a physical battle. Junior point guard Kemba Walker (26.5 ppg, 4.0 apg) has been one of the best players in America to this point in the season and no one's found the right answer in terms of how to slow him down. Picked to finish tenth in the Big East by the league's coaches in October, Jim Calhoun's team has shown early signs of being able to exceed those expectations. The key for UConn tomorrow night, along with the remainder of their season (which includes non-conference games against Texas and Tennessee) will be the play of the "supporting cast".

This is an extremely inexperienced group led by sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi (11.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg) that has to rely on scoring contributions from its many freshmen in order to make teams defend Kemba honest. Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb have been the two best perimeter scoring options for a team that shoots 45.4% from the field and 35.1% from beyond the arc, and Roscoe Smith has improved as the season's worn on as well. The keys for Connecticut given their shooting percentages and an average of sixty-eight possessions per game are the abilities to hit the offensive glass and turn opponents over. On the season the Huskies rebound 45% of their missed shots, and opponents have a turnover rate of 20%. They'll need more of that on Tuesday night but Pitt performs quite well in both categories as well, and their overall experience could play a role in the outcome should the game be close late.

Any talk of Jamie Dixon's team offensively has to begin with guards Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker, who may not be "stars" but both consistently get the job done. Wanamaker's one of the steadiest hands in the Big East in terms of running the show, averaging 5.6 assists to just 2.2 turnovers per game. Also a good shooter (49.6% FG, 36.4% 3PT), Brad is second on the team in scoring with an average of 12.9 ppg. Gibbs is the one who will take more shots, working off of screens within Pitt's offensive sets. The junior from New Jersey is averaging more than sixteen points per game and knocking down 44% of his shots from downtown and takes care of the basketball with a 2-to-1 assist/turnover ratio. Whichever Husky gets the assignment of Gibbs must be alert defensively; give Ashton a good look coming off of a screen and he's more than likely going to put points on the board.

The area where the Panthers may be able to hurt Connecticut is on the glass, as five players average at least 4.6 rebounds per game. Pitt has an offensive rebound percentage of 47.7% and outrebounds their opponents by an average of sixteen boards per game. Players such as Gary McGhee, Talib Zanna, Nasir Robinson and the versatile Gilbert Brown do as good a job as any team in America of both attacking the offensive glass and keeping their opponents off of it on the other end. Oriakhi, Smith, Charles Okwandu and the recently added Enosch Wolf will be the Huskies under the spotlight in this area but if anything UConn's going to need to rebound by committee if they're to win. Keep an eye on rebounding, turnovers and free throw shooting (UConn 74%, Pitt 65%) as those three factors will likely decide the outcome. Those pups that have been able to grow comfortably thanks to an advantageous post-Maui schedule get thrown to the fire Monday night: how will they respond?

Three other games involving ranked teams (as of Sunday) are on the menu but all look like contest that the home teams (Louisville, Missouri and Ohio State) should have little trouble with. So keep tabs on the Big Ten opener for Indiana and Penn State, a game that Tom Crean's team needs on the heels of a 0-2 trip in Las Vegas. Few are expecting the Hoosiers to be in the NCAA Tournament conversation come Big Ten Tournament time in early March but if they want to prove the naysayers wrong these are the games they can ill-afford to lose. Senior point guard Talor Battle is one of the tougher matchups in the conference and Indiana will need to contain him and make the other Nittany Lions beat them if they're to take care of business.

Top 25
8:30 PM Tennessee-Martin at (2) Ohio State (BTN)
8:30 PM (4) Connecticut at (6) Pittsburgh (ESPN2)
8:00 PM Northern Illinois at (10) Missouri (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Morgan State at (25) Louisville (ESPN3)

NCAA Division I Games
12:00 PM Fordham at Georgia Tech (canceled due to inclement weather)
6:30 PM Penn State at Indiana (BTN)
7:00 PM Southern University at LSU
7:00 PM Delaware State at Clemson
7:05 PM IUPUI at Florida Gulf Coast
8:00 PM George Washington at UAB
8:05 PM Mobile at South Alabama
10:00 PM Nevada at Portland