Huskies impress in Paradise Jam

November, 25, 2008
11/25/08
11:15
AM ET
No national title contender has looked as impressive as Connecticut did in the Virgin Islands.

It's still hard to judge North Carolina, in part, because the Tar Heels aren't completely healthy. And the Tar Heels haven't been challenged by a top 25 team just yet.

Connecticut pulled away from Miami, a top-four ACC team, and easily dispatched Wisconsin, a projected top-four Big Ten team, to win the title Sunday night at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas.

The Huskies have set their rotation tight with seven players. That will likely grow to eight when Stanley Robinson joins the team in December.

The starting lineup of forward Jeff Adrien, center Hasheem Thabeet, guards Jerome Dyson, A.J. Price and Craig Austrie, with Kemba Walker the first reserve off the bench and Gavin Edwards the primary frontcourt reserve.

This lineup has toughness in Adrien and immense size in Thabeet, quickness with Walker, shooting from Price, Dyson and Austrie, experience from everyone save Walker, as well as a steady role player in Edwards.

"We made a statement," Adrien said by phone from St. Thomas late Monday night. "We've got big expectations for this team. Now we just have to prove it to the world."

The Huskies might be even more impressive, defensively. Of course, Thabeet will block shots on a consistent basis. He had three against the Badgers. But the Huskies forced 20 Wisconsin turnovers and grabbed 10 steals.

Adrien cited Walker's defense on the perimeter as a huge help from a year ago.

The Huskies, who will get Tuesday off to snorkel and relax on the beach before heading home Wednesday, will get another nonconference challenge Dec. 20 in Seattle when the Huskies play Gonzaga.

• Losing Donte Green wasn't a big deal. Getting Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins back after missing all of last season due to injury was for the Orange. Syracuse is on a mission this season to finally get into the NCAA tournament with this group after missing out the past two seasons. Beating Florida by holding off the Gators in the final minutes Monday night in the CBE semifinals in Kansas City was a significant first step.

"This is a big, big win for us," Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn said by phone Monday night. "Last year, I'm not so sure we would have won this game."

Flynn scored 18 points, dished out four assists and had two turnovers. Rautins buried five 3-pointers off the bench. Devendorf didn't shoot well (3-of-12) but did make one trey. The rebounding of Arinze Onuaku (12 boards) and the more mature play from wing Paul Harris (18 points, 11 boards despite five turnovers) has made this Syracuse team much more formidable.

"We have good balance," Flynn said. "We have the outside threat to compliment the inside game."

Flynn is savvy to the importance of winning key nonconference games. The Orange will get another shot Tuesday night against Kansas. Wins in the Big East will be hard to find, so creating some separation with key wins prior to Jan. 1 will become critical.

"We can't lose the silly games like we did last year," Flynn said in reference to losses to UMass and Rhode Island at home last season, although both teams ended up being solid in the A-10.

• Not sure what to think about Alabama anymore after the Tide lost the Maui Invitational opener to Oregon, 92-69. Alabama coach Mark Gottfried was adamant in the preseason how much he thought this team would be very good this season. But the Tide isn't getting much scoring from anyone outside of Ronald Steele and JaMychal Green. No one else is in double figures.

After Alonzo Gee declared for the NBA draft this year, I remember talking to the Alabama staff at the Orlando pre-draft camp where they were saying that Gee really did believe he could be selected. This season, Gee is averaging six points a game. Those aren't exactly draft-like numbers. Gee actually did score 12 points in the loss to the Ducks, while Green only mustered four before fouling out. Shooting 3-of-13 on 3s and missing 15 free throws also doesn't help.

The Tide lost to Mercer at home and now the loss to Oregon means Alabama plays Chaminade in the consolation round which gives them nada in terms of power-rating points. Alabama has essentially three more nonconference chances to impress after this event: Texas A&M, Dec. 13, Georgia Tech, Jan. 3; at Clemson, Jan. 6.

• Oregon State didn't lose every Pac-10 game last season for no reason. The Beavers simply don't know how to win -- yet. Oregon State lost a two-point opener at Howard, was very respectable in an eight-point loss at Nevada and then failed to convert in the final possession in the home opener Monday night against Yale. No one told Beavers coach Craig Robinson that his new gig would be easy. There's a reason that at least two coaches -- San Diego's Bill Grier and Saint Mary's Randy Bennett -- turned down the job.

• Poor Max Good. He can't catch a break. He goes to Loyola Marymount to be with Bill Bayno, leaving a head coaching job at Bryant University (R.I.). Now Bayno is on a medical leave and Good replaces him just in time to play Notre Dame at home before taking an absurd cross-country trip to play Wagner. The Lions got smacked Monday night by Wagner 72-51 to drop to 0-5 on the season.

• Santa Clara flew cross-country to be in the NIT consolation games and came up short against host Georgia, 54-48. Next up is Arizona in Athens after the Wildcats beat nomadic Mississippi Valley State, 86-52.

• Derek Kellogg's home debut was shattered Monday night when the former UMass player lost his Minutemen head coaching debut in Amherst 75-74 to Jacksonville State.

• Give Louis Orr time and Bowling Green will be a factor in the MAC race. BGSU pushed Ohio State to a 61-57 decision in Columbus on Monday night.

• Oh, by the way, Stephen Curry scored 39 points in Davidson's 76-60 win over Florida Atlantic in the NIT consolation games in Charlotte.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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