By Joe D'Ambrosio

TWO FOR FRIDAY- A year ago, the men’s basketball season began on the night of a football home game. Both teams won. What are the chances of that happening tonight?

The highly anticipated start of the hoop season comes at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn as Kevin Ollie’s troops face off against Maryland.

Last year’s opener at Ramstein Air Base was the impetus for a surprisingly good, extremely entertaining 20-10 season. No one knew what to expect a year ago with a team with no post season motivation and a coach who had just been handed the keys to the car some six weeks earlier. It turned out better than anyone could have expected.

Now, we have seen the coach in action and let there be no doubt, Kevin Ollie is on the fast track to coaching super-stardom. His intensity and work ethic have rubbed off on his players. His attention to detail is second to none. KO’s teams might get beat but they will never be unprepared.

And this edition of the Huskies is truly talented. The back-court of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright have the potential to be among the nation’s best. True, they are not the biggest duo but their height doesn’t measure the fire that burns inside each of them.

DeAndre Daniels has picked up where he left off at the end of the 12-13 season. To me, it is Daniels who by seasons end will be the best player on the team. His improvement on the court has coincided with a change of attitude on the court. The slender native of Los Angeles is more vocal and has become more of a leader. To me, that’s proof that he is ready to emerge.

It’s clear that Neils Giffey is a better player thanks to his summer with the German National Team. More condfident shooting the three and with a more rounded game, Giffey will be a valuable contributor off the bench.

Omar Calhoun looked 180 degrees better in pre season game #2 than #1. It has nothing to do with the competition but just the confidence with which he played. I doubt Calhoun is 100% yet but he still has the ability to knock down shots. The jury is still out on Tyler Olander. The Mansfield native did not have the best off season to be sure and his inability to workout after recovering from off season surgery has him behind his teammates.
I like what I see from Phil Nolan and I think he will be a contributor. The big kid from Milwaukee is more confident and may surprise teams with his range. But Nolan must rebound the basketball, that is job 1 for him and all the Huskies bigs, especially tonight against a tall tough Maryland team.

The newcomers will be asked to contribute immediately. Lasan Kromah, the grad student from George Washington, looks like he fits right in. He has the ability to drive or shoot from outside and his poise, much like R.J. Evans a year ago, will give him the ability to contribute in big spots. Terrance Samuel can run the point and penetrate, his biggest chore will be guarding the opposition point guard. His size and strength will be an asset. Amida Brimah was not as spectacular against Concordia as he was against Southern and it will be interesting to watch what he can do tonight against the bulky Terrapins front line. Kenton Facey probably won’t be counted on for big minutes immediately but has to be ready to contribute when asked.

Tonight will be a great matchup of one team with speed against one team with strength. Maryland won’t start a player under 6’5 and that is the multi talented Dez Wells who plays point guard for the injured Seth Allen. The Terps have seven players who are 6’8 or taller and in Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz, they bring in a 6’8 player who can shoot from the perimeter, and bang inside. UConn has to impose its will, create turnovers and hold their own on the boards to replicate last years win over Michigan State.

As far as the football game with Louisville is concerned, last years triple overtime win in Kentucky doesn’t have any barring on tonight. That was a far different UConn defensive unit. They will face a quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater who completes a mind boggling 74% of his passes.The possible abscence of Ty-Meer Brown in the secondary will only complicate the problem for the Huskies. Seven Louisville receivers have caught at least ten passes this season, UConn has five, one of them being Lyle McCombs. The Cardinals allow a measly 80 yards per game rushing so it will be incumbent on the Huskies to be able to move the ball thru the air.Tim Boyle has to play better than he did at Cincinnati and at Central Florida. And the pressure is on offensive tackles Jimmy Bennett and Kevin Friend to slow down the Cardinals defensive ends,Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin who have combined for 14.5 sacks this season. UConn as a team has five. The challenge is a stiff one, indeed for the Huskies.

Once again, Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun will join me for the basketball broadcast which begins at 6 pm. Bob Joyce works with Wayne and Kevin on the football broadcast immediately following.

Enjoy your Husky Friday.


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