Men's College Basketball
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate Editor - Archive - Email
Rule changes have made UConn a contender
Ryan Boatright The Huskies have one of the quickest backcourts in the nation.
Philadelphia, PA ( - Basketball has been known as a big man's game since Wilt Chamberlain came on the scene, but that is all about to change due to the new rule changes this season.

Connecticut would have been a difficult opponent in 2012-13, this year it is impossible to match up with the Huskies. The new rules place an emphasis on hand checking and have made it a requirement for defenders to be already in the path of the offensive player prior to upward motion to attain a charge.

Many of the nation's coaches have been very outspoken about their displeasure with adjustments the NCAA has made for this season. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie was not among the critics.

"We're still going to play our type of defense, and that's ball pressure," Ollie said. "We're also going to put offensive ball pressure on the defense and make the refs make calls."

Ollie's squad has all the key attributes that it will need to thrive in the new era of frequent whistles. The Huskies have one of the quickest backcourts in the nation with junior guard Ryan Boatright running the show and the 6- foot-1 Shabazz Napier playing off the ball. Both players possess excellent vision, a lightning quick first step and the ability to score from anywhere on the court. Previously the undersized backcourt struggled against bigger teams, but there are very few teams that have two guards agile enough to stay in front of these playmakers.

As a result, Napier has already attempted 15 free throws through three games and he has taken advantage by converting 80 percent of his tries. The senior registered the second triple-double of his career on Monday versus Yale with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Napier followed that performance up with 10 points, eight boards and eight more assists in only 22 minutes of action against Detroit on Thursday. His all-around athleticism makes him nearly impossible to box out and his non-stop effort is yielding incredible results on a nightly basis.

Boatright posted similar numbers versus the Titans, finishing with 12 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while playing just two more minutes than Napier. The stellar play of the speedy guards is not the only reason why UConn has become one of the most dangerous teams in the country.

"What you're seeing with them I see as a balanced team, with the great guard play making guys better, with their length, with their three-point shooting," said Detroit head coach Ray McCallum following his team's 46-point loss to UConn on Thursday. "Calhoun making those first couple of threes and we knew Giffey was going to come in and shoot the ball. We had him identified."

McCallum was referring to the team's lights-out shooters on the perimeter in sixth man Niels Giffey and starting swingman Omar Calhoun. The 6-9 DeAndre Daniels also sank his first 3-pointer of the season on Thursday.

When Boatright and Napier are beating their defender off the dribble and getting into the paint, they are either getting to the rim for a high percentage shot or finding one of their teammates wide-open on the perimeter.

Giffey has been incredible through three games as he has knocked down 11-of-13 tries from beyond the arc. Calhoun has also been extremely effective with eight makes from 3-point range, en route to a team-best average of 15.0 points per game.

Although Calhoun is having an impressive sophomore campaign, his performance was expected after his appearance on the Big East All-Rookie Team last season. Giffey has been the x-factor as he started just one game in 2012-13 and finished the year with pedestrian averages of 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. The Berlin native started for the German National Team that competed in the European Championships over the summer and since he has come back, he has looked like his fellow countryman Dirk Nowitzki, netting 14.3 ppg, while clocking only 18.7 minutes per contest. McCallum even noted his team was well aware of Giffey's shooting ability, yet he still scored all 15 points in the first half. He has yet to register a point after halftime this season.

"Niels always works hard," said Calhoun of his teammate. "He's always in the gym trying to improve in every aspect he can and it's definitely paying off for him. He's hitting shots and we'll keep working with him and feeding him until something changes."

Opposing coaches have to make a decision on whether to leave their guards on an island against Napier and Boatright or provide help with his forwards to give Giffey and Calhoun open looks. Neither option is very appealing at the moment.

UConn will get better with time as the 7-foot freshman Amida Brimah develops his strength and basketball I.Q. Brimah, who averaged 7.2 blocks per outing as a senior at Archbishop Coleman Carroll High School in Miami, has already swatted 15 shots through the first 53 minutes of his career.

"He's going to be a force," Ollie said. "The kid is going to be great if he keeps that passion about the game. He loves the game. You don't see a lot of people with that love for the game."

Ollie led the team to a 20-10 finish last season in his inaugural year as a head coach. The former NBA point guard was hired on a full-time basis after the sudden retirement of the program's long-time leader Jim Calhoun. There was some speculation that the three-time NCAA Champion and Hall-of-Fame coach waited until last September to retire so the school would have to give Ollie, one of his former players, his position on the bench. Ollie's first season could only go so far due to an NCAA ban from postseason play because of sub- par Academic Progress Rate scores. Although it is early, it is hard to imagine the 18th-ranked Huskies not making an appearance in the Big Dance.

"I don't care if we don't play for the NCAA Tournament, I don't care if we do," Ollie said. "I don't have any pressure. The guys don't have any pressure. Hopefully, we get back into the NCAA Tournament, but it's going to be one game at time, one practice at a time."

There will be many doubters along the way who think a team whose leading rebounder is a 6-1, 180-pound combo guard will eventually be overmatched by a traditional lineup. The Huskies are bound to have some off-nights, but they are making great decisions on the offensive end to get the best shot available. Napier, Giffey and Tyler Olander were all members of the last Huskies National Championship squad that came out of nowhere to win it all in 2011. If this year's team stays healthy, UConn is built for another deep run in March.

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