In anticipation for Friday's Maryland-Connecticut season opener at the Barclays Center, we traded emails with Dom Amore, who covers UConn men's basketball for the Hartford Courant. (For more of Dom's coverage, check out his blog over at the Courant's website.)
TRACKING THE TERPS: This UConn team seems to be pretty balanced. Heading into the season what do you think will be the Huskies' greatest strength and biggest question mark?
DOM AMORE: Obviously UConn's strength is the backcourt, not only in terms of quality but in terms of experience. To have a senior and a junior back there, guys who have started most of their careers and been through a lot of situations, is a huge advantage. UConn's rebounding was a problem last year, and with the infusion of freshmen Amidah Brimah and Kentan Facey, and sophomore Phil Nolan being better, there should be improvement in that area. UConn should have more of an inside game to go with its perimeter game. But until we see it, it’s hard to know how much better UConn’s frontcourt will be. That’s still a question mark.
One of the big questions for Maryland is how Dez Wells will adapt to the point guard role after Seth Allen’s injury. He’s seemingly stepping right into the fire against UConn guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. How do you see the matchups in the backcourt playing out Friday night?
[Coach] Kevin Ollie talks a lot about bringing “ball pressure” with his guards, offensively and defensively. So it will be a difficult task for an inexperienced of unsure ball handler. I would have to believe that Dez Wells, being kind of thrust into this role, will have some problems with this matchup.
What have been some of the differences you’ve seen with the program since Kevin Ollie took over for Jim Calhoun before last season?
Kevin’s way of doing things is not much different. He is very demanding, very stern, and no-nonsense in his approach. The difference is in the tone and language. Kevin is not as apt to call a player out publically as Jim was, and, of course, he is not a guy who curses a lot..
But he has a firm hand on the controls of the program and is molding it in his image. You might say, Kevin is Jim with the bark on. Or that Jim was an irresistible force, Kevin an immovable object.
I think, on the court, he favors an up-tempo game, the way UConn played when he was the point guard in the mid-90s. Calhoun liked that style, too, but didn’t emphasize it quite that much. He likes fast, versatile and athletic players, not necessarily size for the sake of size.
Can you give us one key player to watch from UConn whom Maryland fans may not have heard of?
Amidah Brimah. A freshman from Ghana by way of Miami, he is 7-0 and was kind of unheralded. UConn got in on him last last November and landed him. But in his first exhibition game, he immediately imposed his will, blocking five shots. Not even Andre Drummond made that kind of immediate splash. So it’s going to be interesting to see how much, and how effectively Brimah p lays in his first regular season game against this caliber of opponent.
With the American Athletic Conference being far less stacked than the old Big East, is this an important resume-building game for Connecticut, or is it way too early for talk like that?
Oh, no, it’s not too early for that kind of talk. This is what UConn’s new non-conference schedule is all about. They can no longer count on a league schedule that includes six or seven ranked, NCAA tournament caliber teams -- so they will have to make their resume with games such as this. Maryland, Florida, Stanford, Washington, BC and either Indiana or Washington a second time, are all going to be critical games for UConn, and they must win their share of them. It’s too early, obviously, to say "must win" but this is important, especially with expectations so much higher going into this year. UConn’s season opening win over Michigan State last year really set the tone for the entire year. A bad loss to Maryland would be really be deflating for UConn, and it would take a while to bounce back from something like that.
Check back at "Tracking The Terps" throughout the week for more coverage leading up to Friday night's opener.