The UConn Huskies got back on track following a tough loss to Cincinnati with a 75-55 win over Central Florida. This was a game the Huskies expected to win and needed to win, and they got strong performances from Shabazz Napier, Lasan Kromah and DeAndre Daniels on their way to the victory. However, the game was not as lopsided as that score makes it sound, and Central Florida exposed a key flaw that could come back to bite the Huskies.
With UConn’s lead growing in the second half, UCF put in reserve center Justin McBride, and the game turned almost immediately. McBride scored 13 points and grabbed 3 rebounds, and UConn had no answer for his presence in the post. McBride eventually tired out and UConn pulled away, but the inability to defend McBride in the post has to be a major concern for Kevin Ollie.
To be fair to UConn, they are not going to see too many players that are as big as the 6’10″, 310 pound McBride. That being said, McBride showed an impressive array of post moves and a soft touch, and the Huskies are certainly going to see more skilled post players before the season is over. They have to face Shaq Goodwin and Montrezl Harrell before the regular season ends, and who knows what the Huskies could draw in the NCAA Tournament.
Amida Brimah and Phillip Nolan have emerged as UConn’s two primary big men, and they struggled with their post defense yesterday. Brimah is still learning the game, and as a result he is extremely foul prone. Brimah is an excellent weak side shot blocker, but he has to make huge strides as a one on one defender. Nolan is slightly better than Brimah in this area, but both players are very thin and don’t have the strength to bang bodies in the post.
What was also concerning about UConn’s struggles was Ollie’s unwillingness to make adjustments. Instead of switching to a zone, doubling across with another big man or doubling down with a guard, Ollie chose the sink or swim approach with Brimah and Nolan. While this was probably at least partially a test, it also shows some of the NBA style coaching in Ollie. Unfortunately, his big men simply aren’t at the level needed to handle that challenge.
If UConn is going to make any significant run in the NCAA tournament, they are going to have to improve their interior defense. Development from Brimah and Nolan is the ideal solution, but that is not likely to happen in a month. That means Ollie is going to have to change his schemes when UConn faces a top post threat. UConn was fortunate that McBride tired out before UCF could complete their comeback. Against more talented and experienced players who are in better condition, they will not be so lucky.