Allow me a Jim Calhoun retort.
Perhaps it isn’t fair to criticize comments made prior to this run UConn has gone on in the Big East Tournament. Prior to this week, they were definitely struggling to perform, struggling for offense, struggling to find a second banana.
However, perhaps none of that had anything to do with Jim Calhoun’s coaching. A more likely scenario than a Hall of Fame, championship winning coach dropping the ball may be out there.
It seems to me this team just got tired the second half of the year. The freshmen certainly got tired.
Jeremy Lamb was on fire for a chunk of the season, taking the scoring load off Kemba Walker’s shoulders by scoring in double digits eight straight games at one point, but he’s a freshman. He then only scored in double digits one more time before the Big East Tournament got under way. Freshmen get tired.
Shabazz Napier lost his legs a bit after a nice start to his career. He’s a freshman. His scoring was helter-skelter all year long but his minutes too got chopped down. Freshmen get tired. The same thing happened to Roscoe Smith and even sophomore Alex Oriakhi. Guys who aren’t used to playing 30 games against Big East competition wear out during a long season. And perhaps Calhoun knew this.
He didn’t seem to feel the need to push these young guys too much. They were almost assured of a trip to the NCAA Tournament rather early in the season. After wins in the Maui Invitational against
Jim Calhoun even admitted as much in an interview with Mike Francesa this week during the Big East Tournament. Although he wouldn’t say his team was a lock for the big dance, he made it clear that pushing these freshmen too hard during the middle of the year would not have been a good thing. Paraphrasing Calhoun’s sentiments: it’s better to come out of the gates hot so everyone knows how good you are, and then peak in March.
He wasn’t much concerned with the rest, other than having these young players learn and develop, i.e. make mistakes when it wouldn't mean the end of their season.
Another important factor that led to some midseason swoons was the fact that Kemba Walker, as great as he is, is really a streaky player. He has many games where he shoots very poorly from the field. He will take too many threes in some games. He also may have been getting tired, carrying a team for the first time in his career. There has been no consistently reliable second scorer behind him and that is something he had to adjust to.
So perhaps Jim Calhoun was coaching brilliantly all along. This team seems to be peaking right now, at the perfect time. The freshmen seem to have their legs back a bit in the Big East Tournament. If Oriakhi settles himself in the middle, this team can be very good. Also, Kemba has gotten back on track after some poor late-winter performances.
Whether they win the Big East title or not, this team is playing just the way they want to be, at just the right time of the season.
I'd like to think Calhoun knew what he was doing all along.
(Image courtesy of xlcenter.com)