The American Athletic Conference is proving to be much more difficult than the UConn Huskies were expecting, as they opened conference play with a pair of losses in Texas to Houston and SMU that cost UConn their place in the Top 25. UConn is returning home for its final non-conference game of the season, a challenging matchup against Harvard. Harvard is one of the better mid-major programs in college basketball, and they are 13-1 this season.
Against Houston, star point guard Shabazz Napier had a big game but simply didn’t get enough support from his teammates. Against SMU, the supporting cast played well but Napier was completely shut down, scoring 12 points on 2-9 shooting. The Huskies need to find a balance of both worlds against Harvard offensively. Defensively, UConn continues to struggle on the interior, and rebounding remains their biggest weakness. The Huskies have to use their two home games against Harvard and Central Florida this week to get back on track, because they must play both Memphis and Louisville next week.
The games against Memphis and Louisville are going to really show us what this team is made of, but obviously UConn would like to go into those games playing better than they are. Lasan Kromah has been playing well of late, and he is starting to push Omar Calhoun and Niels Giffey out of the rotation. He and DeAndre Daniels are the two players that really need to step up and support Napier and Ryan Boatright. Unfortunately, UConn’s seven best players are all either guards or small forwards, meaning that Kevin Ollie can very rarely have all his stars on the court together.
Amida Brimah has been a strong presence for UConn defensively, but his huge offensive shortcomings make it difficult to trust him for long stretches, as well as in the last two minutes. Tyler Olander and Phillip Nolan have failed to make an impact with their minutes, but perhaps a strong game against an undersized Harvard team could get one of the big men going. The Huskies badly need improved play in the frontcourt, or they are going to continue to struggle.
What UConn needs more than anything, however, is Napier and Boatright to be at the top of their games every night. Obviously, this is an unfair amount of pressure to put on the two star guards, but that is the simple reality that UConn faces. Harvard is a very good team, and UCF is no pushover. It is essential that UConn rise the occasion during these next two games and find their form, because things are only going to get more difficult from here. UConn has a week to get back on track before their two biggest games, and they need to start getting their issues sorted out tonight against Harvard.