To get you ready for tonight's New Year's Day matchup, we traded questions with Andrew Porter of SBNation's fabulous UConn-devoted blog, the UConn Blog.
Our Qs. Andrew's As. RIGHT NOW.
ANONYMOUS EAGLE: Just as I was typing "why hasn't UConn given Kevin Ollie a contract extension yet?", the news broke that Coach Ollie's signed a new, five-year deal. So, uh: what the hell took so long?
THE UCONN BLOG: I think part of it was hesitation at seeing Ollie in a coaching role -- Calhoun more or less forced Ollie on the administration (more on that in a later question) and with only two years experience as an assistant coach it was fair to make him show he could handle the head job both on and off the court. However, I think he did that almost immediately for most fans (including myself). Apparently the last big hang up was the team's first semester grades. UConn's administration has been really stung by this year's APR ban and wanted to avoid anything similar in the future, so once it was clear everyone passed their classes a deal got done.
AE: I know Coach Ollie has a big fan in Buzz Williams; Buzz said Ollie is a "stud" in his post-game press conference yesterday. What do UConn's fans think of your new coach? How much slack is he going to get succeeding Jim Calhoun?
TUB: With very few exceptions, I think UConn fans are all on board with Kevin Ollie, who has been an absolute dream of a coach for his first few months at UConn. I thought giving him a one-year deal was smart at the start, but by the end of his introductory press conference I was fully behind him. And with a 10-2 start with this roster it's tough to question the basketball.
AE: Speaking of Coach Calhoun: how surprised were you that he hung up his whistle before the season? I figured he had at least five or six more years of Favre-ian waffling over the decision before he actually retired.
TUB: I'm not sure anyone was really all that surprised by Calhoun stepping down. We knew it was coming eventually (if it didn't happen this year it would have happened in the next two) and his broken hip late in the summer only accelerated things. The timing might surprise some since he stepped down in September, but it's been very clear that that was engineered to force the AD to hire Kevin Ollie, and as someone who is completely in the tank for Ollie I have no problem calling it one of the best moves of Calhoun's career.
AE: More surprising: that Coach Calhoun retired, or that none of the BCS conferences seem interested in a school with top-flight basketball programs, really good soccer, a football team that was in a BCS bowl two years ago, etc?
TUB: I would go for the latter, and you left out the successful baseball and field hockey teams.
AE: Is there any sense of where UConn's going to end up when this realignment nonsense shakes out? I feel like y'all are destined for the ACC, when Florida State and Clemson inevitably bolt the conference.
TUB: Personally I'd love to see UConn in the ACC, which at this point is pretty much the pre-2003 raid Big East, and if they expand again I think UConn would be a logical target, but after the amount of false starts UConn has been through I think UConn fans are very gunshy when it comes to anything realignment related. We're hoping things shake out well, but at this point we're just conditioned to expect the worst.
AE: Semi-related, since we're talking about realignment: is Boston College the worst?
TUB: That's an insult to the word worst.
AE: UConn sits 10-2 coming into league play, with one great win (over Michigan State), two hard-fought losses against really good teams (vs. NC State and vs. New Mexico), and a bunch of wins that look closer than they should have been: by 6 over an awful Wake Forest team, in double OT vs. Quinnipiac, by 8 against New Hampshire at home. Were those just early-season hiccups, or signs of trouble?
TUB: I think it's a product of UConn's roster. The Huskies were decimated by early NBA entrants (Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith), especially in the front court. That means UConn can struggle in slow-paced games that turn on battles down low. Conversely, if the Huskies can force turnovers and score in transition (like they did against Michigan State) they do well. They do especially well if they start connecting from long distance, but if their shooters get cold, they're going to struggle.
AE: I looked at Shabazz Napier's stats on KenPom, and then I looked at Kemba Walker's, and I realized: it's happening again, isn't it? Have you already busted out "WE HAVE SHABAZZ AND YOU DON'T" on Twitter?
TUB: We haven't busted it out quite yet, we're more SHABAZZ~!! kind of guys. And I think you still need to pump the breaks a little bit on the Kemba comparisons, but yeah, Napier is special. I don't mind saying he's my favorite UConn player of all time (favorite, not best) because he so visibly cares about winning. That's not always a good thing, because Napier can sometimes get reckless, but he's grown out of a lot of that as a junior. If there is one Napier-related trend to keep an eye on, watch his first half scoring. He's had a tendency to start off a little slower while trying to get his teammates involved, and then really pours the scoring on during the second half.
AE: Aside from Shabazz, the player's who's most crucial to UConn's success is _______________.
TUB: Ryan Boatright, Napier's backcourt partner. It's not right to say Boatright got off to a slow start, but he didn't jump out of the game with the same spark UConn fans were used to. Then Napier asked to play a bit more PG so he could get Boat the ball. The result? Boatright is averaging 18.6 points in his last six games. I'll put those two (along with freshman Omar Calhoun) up against any backcourt in the Big East, including Louisville's. If you wanted to go the other way for crucial players the answer would be either Tyler Olander or Enosch Wolf, UConn's main big men. Neither is anywhere near the top of the Big East big men, but UConn's front line is so thin that if those two don't play well the Huskies are in a lot of trouble.
AE: With UConn ineligible for the post-season and the Big East tournament, it's almost like the Huskies are playing 30 exhibition games this year. That's gotta be a surreal feeling, doesn't it? Is it having any tangible effect on attendance or general interest in the program?
TUB: It is a bit surreal, but the Kevin Ollie story line has given it a lot of weight so far. Sure the Huskies couldn't make the postseason if they did well, but they could get a well-liked former player a contract, which was its own challenge. I might have a very different answer in February though, especially if the Huskies are struggling.
AE: (BONUS) KILL BANG MARRY: Jim Boeheim. Ray Allen. Geno.
TUB: I'm marrying Geno and killing Boeheim.