College Basketball Nation: Lasan Kromah

Weekend homework: Louisville-UConn big

January, 17, 2014
Conventional thinking about the American Athletic Conference race in the preseason figured Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut would compete for the crown. Through five games, they’re all chasing Cincinnati.

The Bearcats’ 5-0 start in the conference means Louisville game at UConn on Saturday just got real. Should the Cardinals lose, they’ll likely fall two games back of the Bearcats, who play at USF on Saturday. Should the Huskies lose, they’ll be looking at three conference losses just a third of the way through the AAC schedule.

On paper, the game will be a matchup of two of the nation’s best guards, Louisville’s Russ Smith and UConn’s Shabazz Napier. Both seniors can now be described with words no one associated with them as freshmen: mature and reliable.

Smith is averaging 18.1 points, 4.8 assists and has increased his shooting percentages to what would both be career bests from the field (45.3) and from the 3-point arc (38.8).

Napier averages 16.1 points, a league-leading 6.2 assists and a team-leading 6.2 rebounds. He’s the only player in the nation who leads his team in all those categories, in addition to steals and minutes played.

But this game might not be decided by either player. It might be tipped by the play on the wing.

For Louisville, it’s possibly Wayne Blackshear. The junior guard/forward entered Thursday night’s game having scored a combined five points in his past two games. Louisville coach Rick Pitino opted to bring him off the bench for the first time this season instead of starting him. Blackshear responded with a career-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting and had seven rebounds.

Blackshear has had a tendency to go silent in the Cards' big games this season. He was scoreless against North Carolina, had five points against Kentucky and just two against Memphis. But if he can make his presence felt against UConn, Louisville will be that much harder to defend.

For UConn, it’s possibly Lasan Kromah. He has reached double-figure scoring in only four games this season. But one of those was his 13 points Thursday night in the win at Memphis.

The Huskies can be overly reliant on Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels to score. Kromah averaged double figures in each of his three seasons at George Washington before transferring to UConn, so he can be a difference-maker.

Louisville could again be without junior guard Chris Jones, who injured his right hip and missed Thursday’s win over Houston. If he’s unable to play, freshman Terry Rozier will probably get the start in his place. Rozier had a career-best eight assists and one turnover against the Cougars.

The Cards have won six of their past seven matchups with UConn, with the last Huskies victory coming in the 2011 Big East Tournament championship game.
1. Lasan Kromah originally told George Washington he was returning as soon as the season ended. And then in late April he met with GW coach Mike Lonergan and athletic director Patrick Nero in late April and said he was leaving (once he earned his degree). He ended up landing at UConn Tuesday, where he’ll play for Kevin Ollie and former GW coach Karl Hobbs. Kromah was Hobbs’ best player when he was the head coach. As a freshman Kromah averaged 11.8 points a game, led the team in 3s (48) and had 62 steals. Kromah then injured his left foot and missed his sophomore season. The Huskies expect Kromah to be that seasoned, versatile guard who can create his own shot. He’s a decent 3-point shooter and has good size for a defender. Adding Kromah means the Huskies are even deeper in the backcourt with Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun. The Huskies should be the top challenger to Louisville in the American Conference next season and a legit Top 25 contender. GW added Indiana transfer Maurice Creek to offset the Kromah departure.

2. Kentucky coach John Calipari said he went with a different approach since he had so many new freshmen in summer school. Instead of using the team workouts with the newcomers like he did last year, he is focusing on individual workouts to improve the skill level before the team starts to learn the dribble-drive offense. “It may hurt us early in the season but it will help us later,’’ said Calipari. Kentucky will play Michigan State in the Champions Classic on Nov. 12 in a matchup between two of the top 5 teams in the country. The Wildcats have eight newcomers next season.

3. Pitt guard James Robinson was a surprise cut of the final U-19 FIBA USA roster after winning gold in Brazil last year under Florida coach Billy Donovan. But he was a late add to the roster and flown to Prague to replace Syracuse’s Jerami Grant, who was suffering from mono. This could turn out to be a critical three weeks for Robinson heading into the season. Pitt will need Robinson to be an anchor for the Panthers, who join the ACC. Having the experience of competing against some of the best players in the world in his age group should be immeasurable for Robinson.