The Connecticut Huskies remain undefeated after knocking off Loyola-Maryland 76-66 on Tuesday night. The Huskies are 7-0, but they have been tested in each of their last three games, as well as the first game of the season versus Maryland. UConn is being pushed to limit because of their inability to play defense for a full 40 minutes, and their lack of a rebounding presence on the inside. The Huskies are surrendering 15 offensive rebounds per game, and have only out-rebounded their opponent twice this season.
On Tuesday, UConn held Loyola-Maryland to 26 points in the first half, and held an eight-point lead. The Greyhounds started the second half on fire, and cut the UConn lead down to 38-35. They were able to cut into the lead because the Huskies couldn’t get stops, and even when they did, Loyola-Maryland was able to secure the offensive rebound. At one point early in the second half, Dylon Cormier beat Shabazz Napier on a backdoor cut to the rim, so UConn head coach Kevin Ollie pulled Napier from the lineup. Napier, the Huskies best player, sat on the bench for roughly four minutes despite the fact that the Greyhounds were getting closer and closer.
Napier is an all-world player for the Huskies; he lead the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. As long as UConn continues to win games, Napier has a really good shot at being an All-American this season, but UConn continuing to win games isn’t going to happen if they continue to play the way they are when the competition gets tougher. Loyola-Maryland grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against the Huskies; that’s right, the freaking Greyhounds. What’s going to happen when they play Florida, Louisville and Memphis? All of those teams have guards that can score, as well as big men that can rebound and score on the inside. UConn cannot afford to have mental lapses on the defensive end and on the glass like they have had so far this season.
As great as Napier is, he is barely six feet tall, and should not be leading this team in rebounding. Even worse for the Huskies is that Napier’s backcourt running mate, Ryan Boatright — who is also barely a six-footer — is the team’s second-leading rebounder. DeAndre Daniels has been phenomenal on offense for UConnn, but his scoring talents are erased when he gets murdered on the boards every night. Daniels is more of a small forward, but for this team he plays the four. His lean frame is a hindrance, but he has good footwork on offense, and a high basketball IQ (which proves he knows what he is doing), so he should be better on the glass.
The only true rebounding forces for the Huskies are Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah, but Nolan can’t stay out of foul trouble, and Brimah has only been playing basketball for a few years and doesn’t have the overall feel of the game to be on the floor more than a handful of minutes each half. If Brimah can evolve into a competent player, he could be a force for the Huskies on the defensive end and on the boards; he has a relentless motor and is crazy-long. Against Loyola-Maryland, Brimah only saw eight minutes of action, but still managed to register three blocks.
This team is good, but they have the potential to be great. As of now they have been able to avoid a dreadful loss, but if they do not shore up their defense and rebounding, we will be disregarding them as a contender really soon.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury.