Alpha Dog Problems at UConn

Connecticut's Jeremy Lamb game action

Alpha Dog Problems at UConn


Connecticut’s last win was a perfect example. Looking past the sloppy play and the FREE THROW SHOOTING, UConn’s overtime win against Villanova this past Monday came down to the final shot.

Shabazz Napier took it: problem number one.

Napier took the shot with more than three seconds remaining on the clock: problem number two.

The shot was so ridiculously deep that even Austin Rivers would have taken another step or two in: problem number three.

Napier made the shot: problem number four.

Coming off last year’s historic run, the Huskies were supposed to be “even better” this season. Sure, Kemba Walker was gone but Jeremy Lamb is perhaps the best scorer in the conference. With a solid point guard (mentioned above) and two top notch in-coming freshmen, UConn should not have missed a beat. Heading into the final week of February, with a game against conference power Syracuse on the docket, UConn has been nothing like the team we thought they would be.

To throw this all on Shabazz Napier is not quite fair. Acclimating two high caliber freshmen into major rotation roles is not easy, especially if they feel they deserve more shots/minutes/etc. Transitioning Lamb from scary, secret scorer behind Walker into The Man cannot be assumed as easy either. Throw in Coach Calhoun’s health issues, the recruitment violation suspensions and the pressure of being the champs and 2012 was not going to be easy to begin with. However, it seems like Napier has made it more difficult than even necessary by thinking he is the best player on this roster.

As with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, outsiders believe there is a power struggle between All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and All-NBA forward Kevin Durant. There very well may be, but we are not inside that locker room and the players are saying all the right things. We outsiders get this feeling though when Westbrook takes a few too many shots, passes too few times and OKC loses. It doesn’t happen often but last year’s playoffs were the catalyst for this feeling. Not being inside UConn’s locker room, the situation seems remarkably similar.

Lamb is Durant: the best scorer and perhaps best player in the Big East. He can score at will from anywhere on the floor. Reminiscent of Tracy McGrady as well, Lamb scores with such a seeming lack of effort, it must be frustrating for opponents. Napier is Westbrook: the ball-dominating point guard who is by no means a bad player, which makes his decision making even more frustrating to behold. Why he decides to force the action or take outrageous threes when Jeremy Lamb needs the ball is beyond me. He is currently shooting below 40% from the floor, which has not stopped him from taking 274 field goal attempts (more than any other Husky other than Lamb).

Connecticut might miss the NCAA Tournament this year. It is a distinct possibility. They currently reside at 10th in the conference, behind the likes of Seton Hall and Cincinnati. They also have a very small number of solid wins, especially in-conference. A victory over Syracuse on Saturday may be necessary for any tournament chance and yet, it does not seem like UConn would make any noise at this time even if they did make it to March. The Villanova win was a microcosm of what has ailed the Huskies this season. With the clock running down and one final shot to take, not only did Napier not look for Lamb; he did not even take a good shot. There was time for him to drive all the way into the paint or even get a better look at the game-winning three. Instead, he pulled up from a few steps past half court and launched a shot to make himself the hero. A miss might have led to enough ridicule and embarrassment that Napier wouldn’t make such a play again, especially with an option like Lamb waiting in the wings. Instead, unfortunately for UConn, it went in.