Wednesday, December 2, 2009

GAMEDAY: Boston University vs. University of Connecticut

The concept of a "big game" is embraced by fans and media. Matchups are built up, beginning from the moment a game is announced and continuing all the way to tipoff. Sometimes the event lives up to the hype; other times, anticipation is forced to yield by mediocrity and disappointment.

Tonight's game between the University of Connecticut Huskies and the Boston University Terriers has been circled on BU's schedule from the very beginning. Sure, no coach or player in his right mind would openly approach this non-conference game as being more important than the others -- after all, teams and their individual components are expected to give 100 percent regardless of the opponent. But like the trip to Notre Dame from a year ago, there's something about playing an opponent you're not supposed to be able to defeat that changes things ever so slightly.

Through seven games, BU hasn't put in a superlative performance, one that makes observers, one and all, leave after 40 minutes thinking to themselves, "Wow, that team is good." There have been impressive stretches of play -- the final few minutes against Indiana, the first 25 minutes against Georgia Tech, any of BU's several runs against Northeastern -- but for the most part, pairs of eyes have seen Terriers playing hard and not getting results.

Tonight, though, is one of those rare instances where BU can play an excellent game for 40 minutes, one worthy of praise, and still lose. UConn is that good.

Hasheem Thabeet may be absent, but UConn is still blocking shots at a ridiculous rate -- 9.4 per game, first among Division-I schools. The Huskies have three players averaging two or more blocks per game; Gavin Edwards is blocking three shots per game. BU has done itself no favors near the basket this year, as opponents have blocked more than five Terrier shots per game. Expect that trend to continue.

Needless to say, UConn is not particularly vulnerable to shot attempts from inside. The Huskies, however, are not good defensive rebounders, creating a catch-22 situation. The best way for the Terriers, or any team, to take advantage of the Huskies' biggest weakness is to crash the glass by sending players toward the hoop, but shots taken near the Connecticut hoop are likely to be rejected. Avoiding the paint, on the other hand, lets UConn off the hook.

Regardless of how often BU attacks the rim, at some point the Terriers will have to hit shots in order to hang around for 40 minutes. UConn has had mixed success defending 3-point shooters. If the Terriers get open looks, those looks have to be converted into three points. Missing those shots is equivalent to giving points away, something BU absolutely cannot afford to do against an upper-echelon Big East opponent.

This year's Terriers are not last year's Terriers, but most of the faces are the same. As often as BU has come up short in big moments the past few years, the Terriers have also managed to look quite good in games where nobody gave them a chance, last year's Notre Dame game being the obvious example. And while few would be bold enough to predict a Terrier victory, stranger things have happened. Most, though, would be pleased if BU looks more like the America East favorite everyone expected this preseason and less like a team incapable of playing 40 minutes of quality basketball.

Expected starting lineups:
Boston University
G Tyler Morris, 11.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.0 APG
G Corey Lowe, 13.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.3 APG
G Carlos Strong, 8.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.9 APG
F John Holland, 19.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.9 SPG
F Jake O'Brien, 11.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.6 BPG

University of Connecticut
G Kemba Walker, 14.6 PPG, 5.2 APG, 2.8 RPG
G Jerome Dyson, 19.0 PPG, 4.8 APG, 3.8 RPG
F Stanley Robinson, 14.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.2 BPG
F/C Alex Oriakhi, 6.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 2.0 BPG
C Charles Okwandu, 0.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG

Link: Playing with the big dogs

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