We don't often do Q&As during the basketball season, mainly because so few of USF's opponents have SB Nation sites, but we like to take any opportunity we can get to chat with the folks over at The UConn Blog. Our friend Aman Kidwai was kind enough to answer a few questions for us before tonight's game.
1. Let's start off with some happy memories: last year UConn went on a ridiculously awesome run in the NCAA tourney and won the national title. Which was cooler, Shabazz in 2014 or Kemba in 2011?
AK: That's a tough one. Both championships were surprising, but I would say last year's was more unexpected so I'l go with that one for a few additional reasons as well:
First, there were about a dozen articles in 2011-2012 predicting a rapid decline for UConn with the departure of Jim Calhoun, NCAA sanctions and decimation of the Big East. It felt good to shut that down pretty quickly. Second, there was a core group of players who stayed through those sanctions who could have easily left. Instead Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright and Niels Giffey all stayed on and led our team to the promised leand.
Beating Kentucky felt great, what with them representing everything wrong with college basketball and everything. Lastly, when Shabazz stuck it to the NCAA by dropping "this is what happens when you ban us" on the crows in North Texas, I cried actual tears, and still get teary thinking about it today.
2. The Huskies are just 7-5 to start the season, but all five losses have been by ten or fewer points to some pretty decent teams, and KenPom has UConn ranked a very respectable 40th. Is the general consensus that this is a talented team that's yet to hit its stride?
AK: That's exactly right. There are a lot of new moving pieces on this team with the departure of the aforementioned team leaders and it's just taking some time. We have been abysmal at shooting so far this season until the Florida game, where previously invisible guards Omar Calhoun and Rodney Purvis found their shooting touch.
3. How has UConn filled the void left by Napier's departure? Is Ryan Boatright, injuries aside, able to carry the load?
AK: Ryan Boatright is able to carry the load, but interestingly enough there isn't someone to fill the "1B" void left by Boatright's move into the alpha role. If anything this season has taught us how valuable Boatright was to last year's team.
4. USF's frontcourt is progressing, but it's still a bit of a mess right now. UConn had some young, talented bigs like Amida Brimah that were really starting to come into their own in the tourney last year. How have they progressed this season?
AK: Amida Brimah's progress has been modest, though he has seemed to fare well against inferior competition so this could be a big game for him. Another player to look out for in the low post is PF Kentan Facey, a long, instinctive rebounder who is starting to come into his own. Beyond that, watch out for backup C Phil Nalon after Brimah gets his two quick fouls, Nolan is a charge-flop machine.
5. The Huskies have struggled to score the ball at times, but they're one of the top defensive teams in the country. What's the best way to attack the UConn D? How have teams had success scoring against the Huskies?
AK: If you can get Amida Brimah into foul trouble and open up an inside-out attack that would be the best way, the other option would be to hope you can hit a lot of threes.
6. Kevin Ollie vs. Orlando Antigua in one-on-one, who wins?
AK: Well Kevin Ollie's a pretty tough guy but Orlando Antigua is pretty big so...
Oh wait you're talking about basketball?
Hmm, one played for UConn and then spent 13 years in the NBA and the other played for Pittsburgh (ew!) and the Harlem Globetrotters. You tell me which one.
7. If you could kick one AAC team out of the conference, who would it be?
AK: UConn. (ed. note: fantastically played)
8. At the moment I am typing this, USF has a better record in AAC play than UConn. In basketball. This is not a question, I just wanted you to know.
AK: You guys are so adorable sometimes.
9. Prediction for tonight?
AK: Good things happen when UConn plays in Tampa so I like the Huskies to win. You guys don't seem to be very good this year and while UConn has lost more games than expected at this point in the season, I don't think we fall into any traps tonight. We should cover the 9-10 point spread.
Thanks again to Aman for his help, and make sure to check out The UConn Blog before the game for all the coverage from behind enemy lines.