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Huskyball----The Winning Recipe/Syracuse Preview

By Mitch Mullins


To the trained eye, the problems of this year's version of Uconn Men's Basketball are clear. Far too many turnovers, lack of any reliable outside shooting and starting low post players who are nothing more than remote scoring threats in the half court set. This is what they are AND WILL BE for the remainder of the season. The personnel will not change. That is the bad news. The good news is that I have the solution using nothing more than the existing abilities of the roster as it already stands. No better time than the present, as the Huskies role into the Carrier Dome to face the best zone defense in the last 30 years, to roll out the fix. Coach Blaney: Scrap your game plan and check your e-mail, here is all you need!

The answer, in part, lies in one of the themes of the Michael Lewis book "Moneyball." Without getting into the multiple angles and in-depth statistical analysis of the Lewis book, I am condensing many of the findings into a usable, simple construct. There are a finite number of possessions in a basketball game. Consequently, to maximize offensive output, wasted possessions must be minimized and the opportunity for positive scoring outcomes maximized. To me, that is the heart of "Moneyball," and now, Huskyball. Conventional thinking on how to most efficiently utilize the current Uconn squad needs to be replaced by a different style of play that will produce better results. This thesis is strongly supported by basic game statistics.

The basic premise is as follows: Due to unacceptable turnover levels and poor point guard decision-making, the Huskies simply do not attempt enough field goals. Sounds overly simplistic, yet my constant trumpeting of this theme continues to fall on deaf ears. FINALLY, during the Texas game, Clark Kellogg alluded to this point during one of the all-to-frequent Husky turnover frenzies. When a player shoots the ball, four GOOD things can happen. The shot can go in. The shooter can draw a foul and shoot free throws. A missed shot can result in an offensive rebound for a rest. A missed shot can result in a quick put back from a player in an advantageous offensive position. The last scenario is the best way to get Majok and Oriakhi productively involved in the offense, anyway. Nothing good happens on a turnover.

Let's take a statistical look at the team's nine losses so far this season. Uconn's nine lossess have been characterized by these statistics. They are getting outscored by an average of 6.8 points per game. They are turning it over 4.7 times more per game than their opponent, shooting 8.4 fewer total shots per game and a whopping 10.2 fewer 3-point shots per game. Using only their mediocre-to-poor season long shooting statistics as a baseline; if they shot the ball ONLY AS MUCH AS THEIR OPPONENT, it would result in an additional 7.3 more points per game. That would turn five of their nine losses into wins. 19-4 would look much better than a 14-9 bubble team! There is a slew of additional supporting statistical analysis that is outside of the scope of this piece, however, the point should be clear.

Now that the problem has been illustrated statistically, what is the fix? Again, it is not overly complex. It simply requires the coaching staff to fully and honestly assess their talent. The transition game is a strentgh of the team and needs to be used whenever possible, which it pretty much already is. The Huskies do a real good job of getting into transition even AFTER an opponent's basket. In order to maximize the efficiency in transition, Kemba Walker needs to make better decisions and show some shreds of respect for ball security. The nuts and bolts of the solution are aimed at maximizing the probability of positive outcomes in the half court "offense." To call what the Huskies do in the half court an "offense" is quite a stretch. It's more like a game of "Choose your turnover Jeopardy." I'll take Oriakhi stepping on the end line for $500, Alex.

Here are my "musts" for maximizing the probability of half court scoring success:

1. Dyson needs to shoot or drive every time he has a decent opportunity. Every Time. Dyson
has carte blanche. Richard Hamilton is not coming back, so Dyson is it.
2. The ball only goes into Majok or Oriakhi if the design of the play is to immediately kick the
ball out or they have a huge advantage over their defender (rare).
3. If Stanley Robinson gets an open shot with his feet set, he must shoot it. With his feet set, he
is a legitimate threat from the three point line.
4. Feed Gavin Edwards in the post ONLY if it is clear that he will not try to spin baseline.
5. When Kemba Walker beats his man off the dribble (often), he needs to pull up at the foul
line and shoot. Do not over penetrate into the trees and get your shot blocked, leading to
a fast break the other way.
6. Coombs-McDaniel ONLY touches the ball, unless of course a turnover is imminent, in a true
catch-and-shoot situation. There is no other reason for him to be on the floor. He has been
sold to us as a good shooter. We might as well find out one way or another.

That's it. Real simple. Shoot on the first good look (before the balls get turned over) that your
shooters see. Protect the ball better (more shooting helps this). I am not endorsing a Loyola-Marymount circa late 1980's style of total run and gun. It is simply a matter of, based on the offensive capabilities and limitations of your current big men, maximizing the probability of a positive scoring outcome. The best way for this team to do that is to shoot every decent shot that presents itself. If Alonzo Mourning and Walter Berry were here, it would be different. Remember how it used to be when Johnny Selvie used to demand the ball in the post like he was the second coming of Kevin McHale? How did those offensive sets look?

This style may not work in the end, but at least it has a chance. Playing a traditional half court set as if we had viable scoring threats down low, is a surefire way to score in the fifties. What is there to lose with a new style? This team is going nowhere without a major style change. The timing of this article is not accidental. The Syracuse game is tonight. There is only one way to beat them and that is by shooting as soon as the bus stops! Does Brian Fair have any eligibility left? I can't wait to see the "Game Plan" tonight.

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