By now, most of you have seen the video of Evan Turner falling on his back, breaking a few bones and writhing in pain. That's an incredible loss for the Buckeyes. Turner was getting some considerable media hype for Player of the Year, and for good reason. He was averaging over 12 rebounds per game...as the team's point guard. Arguably the most versatile guy in college basketball, Turner will now miss two months. That means that his Player of the Year aspirations are all but dashed. The position as early front runner is now up in the air, and we could have a much better idea of who that is after the conclusion of the #12 Connecticut-#4 Kentucky duel in New York. John Wall has been hailed as the next great point guard in the Calipari line. Coach Cal has produced a #1 Draft pick and a #4 Draft pick in the last two years. Both were point guards, both one and dones. Wall is pouring in around 18 points a game and has almost 8 assists per contest as well. The turnovers are a cause for concern, but some will now call him the nation's best player. They might want to wait until late Wednesday night, because another stellar guard will be taking the court. Jerome Dyson has been spectacular for the Huskies. His stat line boasts 20 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game, to go along with nearly two steals and a block. In UConn's most recent victory over Harvard, he elevated his game, notching 24 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. That's almost...Turner-esque.
The Wildcats have been led by their young point guard, but the well does not run dry immediately after him. Junior power forward Patrick Patterson decided to come back to school to improve his face up shooting, and Kentucky would miss him sorely. He is averaging around 17 and 10 and has expanded his range considerably. In his first two years in Lexington, Patterson was 0-4 from three point range. He's 6-14 this season. Freshman forward DeMarcus Cousins starts alongside Patterson, and all though he's been solid with 15 points and 8 rebounds a game, to complement 2.5 blocks, he's sporadic. Cousins has enough natural talent to be a top three draft pick a year from now, but he is immature and undisciplined. If the UConn big men, who have done a fantastic job of replacing Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, can frustrate Cousins early, he will slip up. Small forward Darius Miller has been quietly going about his business. He's consistent, he's not going to score 20 on anyone, but he'll find ways to contribute. After his atrocious performance against Morehead State, he's been pretty good. He will need to be better than good against Connecticut, who deploys the extremely talented Stanley Robinson. Ramon Harris and Daniel Orton come off the bench. Harris is a defensive specialist who can't really create on O. Orton has been a great shot blocker.
Alongside Wall in the backcourt is fellow frosh Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has turned the ball over way too much considering his assists numbers, but he has also been UK's best three point threat, and has knocked down a few key shots late in games. Between he and Wall, the starting 'Cat guards turn it over almost 9 times a game. Against Carolina, the duo combined for 11 turnovers. That can't happen against UConn. Coming off the bench in relief is Darnell Dodson, the sweet shooting transfer from Miami-Dade Community College. Dodson is almost strictly a shooter, but he's good at what he does.
The three things Kentucky has to do to win are minimize turnovers, rebound the basketball and get to the line. Kentucky turns it over more than almost any other team in college hoops. Meanwhile, Connecticut has two ball hawking guards in Dyson and Kemba Walker. They won't hesitate to pick pockets all game long against the slippery-handed Wildcats. Connecticut is sixth in the nation in rebounding, but they have trouble against great rebounding teams. Kentucky has a much higher rebounding margin, and if they can get second chances on the offensive end, as well as limit the Huskies to one shot, they will win. Kentucky loves to attack the basket with their bigs or their slashing guards. Get to the line, and convert when you get the opportunities.
Replacing Hasheem Thabeet, AJ Price and Jeff Adrien is tough, but UConn isn't doing a bad job. Stanley Robinson has always had All-American talent, he could just never put it together on the court. This season he's doing just that. He should have a big game against Kentucky. Gavin Edwards comes off the bench, but the power forward is a fourth on the team in scoring and plays 30 minutes a game. Everyone expected an expanded role from Edwards after the departure of Thabeet and Adrien, but what he has provided could not have been forecasted. Edwards has become simply lethal every time he takes a shot. He is shooting a staggering 71% from the floor, and has missed one free throw in 22 attempts. That's incredible. Oh yeah, he's also swatting 3.3 shots a game. Sound familiar, UConn fans? Starting down low at center is freshman Alex Oriakhi, who is picking up the rebounding load vacated by Adrien while Edwards picks up the points. Oriakhi is averaging just 6 points a game, but leads the team in rebounds at 10 per. Another new face, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, is the sixth and final Husky averaging over ten minutes a game. Coombs-McDaniel tosses in 4 points and 2 boards a game. The final starter, Charles Okwandu, doesn't see much action. In reality, he's not really a threat on offense yet. He's raw, and has the potential to become a good player.
Dyson and Kemba Walker lead the guards, and they dish out about 11 assists a game between the two of them. They are really the only viable options at guard. Donnell Beverly only plays 8 minutes a game. It's important that Dyson and Walker stay under control against a frenetic Kentucky basketball team. They can't start turning it over, they can't get tired and they can't pick up cheap fouls on the perimeter. Both Walker and Dyson fouled out against Duke, and Dyson has had four fouls three other times. Because of the lack of depth in the Connecticut backcourt, it's imperative that Walker and Dyson are on the court for 35+ minutes.
Connecticut can win this game if they can make their three pointers, force the freshmen into mistakes and win the battle down low. Kentucky should susceptibility early on to hot shooting teams. Walker is the best shooter for UConn, and Dyson can knock down threes, too. They both need to be firing, and connecting, on their long range J's. The freshman trio of Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe combine to turn the ball over almost more than Connecticut's entire team. It's not inconceivable to think that the Huskies could force 15 turnovers among those three alone. If they can do that, they can derail UK's offensive rhythm, as well as get some easy chances on the other end. Scoring on Kentucky down low has been murder. Cousins, Orton and Patterson form to make the post nearly impenetrable. However, Connecticut should try to establish a post game early. Robinson is versatile enough to score on the low block, and if Edwards can get going, then UConn's chances of a win increase dramatically.
Ultimately, Kentucky is deeper than Connecticut, but it won't matter if they get in foul trouble early on. However, Kentucky always finds a way to win. That won't change at Madison Square Garden, as the 'Cats skate by, 78-76.
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.