How good is UConn? W.Va. will be a test

Ex-Huskies struggling in pros, but new group may be stronger

Notebook

College basketball

December 27, 2006|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Reporter

Rudy Gay plays half the game for the Memphis Grizzlies.

In New Jersey, Marcus Williams is a reserve guard and Josh Boone gets mop-up duty.

Hilton Armstrong's minutes are increasing for the New Orleans Hornets.

Cut by the Seattle SuperSonics, Denham Brown is in the developmental league.

Connecticut became the first team in the history of the NBA draft to see five of its players taken in the first two rounds, but it didn't get to the 2006 Final Four. In an NCAA regional final in Washington, the nation's most talented team was undone by George Mason's magic and the dollar signs that blurred the Huskies' focus.

"The three-letter word [NBA] became more important than the four-letter word [NCAA]," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said.

For the first time in his 35 seasons as a college coach, Calhoun does not have a junior or senior on scholarship. This season's team has as much or more NBA potential than last season's, but it is unproven.

"I'm not so sure it's a more captive audience, but it is a hungrier one," Calhoun said. "The guys we lost had won a national championship [2004], won the Big East tournament, a couple of regular-season titles. Do that, you probably think you're pretty good. No matter what I say, the facts speak for themselves. They had accomplished a lot."

This Connecticut team will take a 10-0 record and a No. 12 ranking up against Coppin State tonight at 7 at the Hartford Civic Center. The Huskies have played all of their games there or on campus in Storrs, and Calhoun is as curious as anyone to see how they'll react Saturday at West Virginia, in the Big East opener for both.

"We beat a solid St. Mary's team and dropped four spots in the coaches' poll, rightfully so," Calhoun said. "People can't get a gauge on us, and a lot wonder, `How good is Connecticut?' They have legitimate questions."

They'll begin to get answers in Morgantown. The Mountaineers lead the nation in scoring defense, but Calhoun has found new options at the offensive end.

A.J. Price missed the 2004-05 season after a life-threatening condition required brain surgery, then was the other culprit with Williams in the computer theft scandal that disrupted the Huskies in the summer of 2005. Finally showing his stuff at the point, the sophomore guard is averaging 13.7 points and 5.3 assists.

Rockville native Jerome Dyson, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard who played at a prep school in New Hampshire, is also scoring 13.7 per game. Though Gay never appeared comfortable being pushed as Connecticut's next great wing, Calhoun isn't shy about laying that hype on Dyson - or suggesting that Price is as good a point guard as he has ever had.

"Price is the best we've had in a while," Calhoun said. "Dyson could be the next Rip [Richard Hamilton], Ray [Allen] or Ben [Gordon]. He played high school football, and doesn't mind when you put a body on him. He can flat out defend, as good an on-the-ball defender as I've had as a freshman, but he can also score 25 or 30 a game."

As is custom, Connecticut leads the nation in blocked shots. Hasheem Thabeet, a 7-3 freshman from Tanzania by way of Houston who's averaging 4.4 per game, could be a lottery pick next year.

Once again, the NBA talk is getting the Huskies ahead of themselves.

Eagles' long road

According to Ken Pomeroy's simulation of the Rating Percentage Index, Coppin State has played the 12th toughest non-conference schedule in the nation. By week's end, the Eagles could be No. 1 in that category, as they follow Connecticut with a trip to No. 6 Ohio State.

Greg Oden and company figure to be in a foul mood. It will be the Buckeyes' first game since Saturday's 26-point embarrassment at Florida.

Coppin State has already been to Virginia Tech, Hawaii, No. 21 Tennessee, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma and No. 8 Alabama, so Ron "Fang" Mitchell's team should not back down from anything it sees in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Eagles' first two games of the new year will be at the Coppin Center, where the Jan. 6 opponent will be MEAC favorite Delaware State.

Focus on Knight

Tomorrow's attention will be on Bob Knight. If Texas Tech defeats UNLV (ESPN2, 8 p.m.), it will make him the winningest men's coach ever, but that's not the only intriguing game on tomorrow's calendar. SMU goes to Oklahoma with a higher RPI than the Sooners. The Mustangs' only loss for first-year coach Matt Doherty came at Florida State. It's a Tar Heel, Doherty, against a Duke alum, Jeff Capel.

It took guts for Virginia to schedule American and former Cavaliers coach Jeff Jones. Elsewhere in the commonwealth, Tulane goes to Richmond, the closest Green Wave coach Dave Dickerson will get to College Park since he left Maryland.

Tap-ins

Knight and Texas Tech have the best three-point-shooting team in the nation. The Red Raiders have made 48.5 percent of their attempts. ... Towson is having trouble finishing. The Tigers have made 42.6 percent of their field-goal attempts, but thanks to Gary Neal's 89.7 percent success rate, the Tigers are one of the nation's best free-throw shooting teams (77.9). ... Exams and a blizzard cancellation have made for a 21-day break for Colorado, the longest in school history.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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