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April 4, 2014

Opponent Q&A: UConn Report

Florida and Connecticut meet this evening for the second time this season. This time, a trip to the national championship game is on the line. Before the Gators face the Huskies in Arlingon, Texas, ITG spoke with Eric Nadeau of Rivals.com's UConn site -- UConnReport.com -- to take a glance at the game from a different perspective.

ITG: The Dec. 2 meeting has been relived aplenty in Gainesville the past week. How has a previous victory against Florida impacted the build to the Final Four rematch in Storrs?

Nadeau: "I'm not sure that the win over Florida in December has carried the team in March, but there's no doubt that the win gave the team something to hang its hat on in conference play. After the win over the Gators, the Huskies actually went on a little bit of a skid. UConn won its next game against Maine, but then lost three of its next five games. They finally picked up another good win on Jan. 8 against Harvard, but the Crimson were missing their best player and the Huskies only won by five.

"At that time in early January, fans were questioning if the win over Florida might have been a fluke since it looked like the only solid win at that time. For the team, the win represented that they could beat quality teams and it gave them confidence that they could turn the season around.

"Another positive from the win was that it was one of Shabazz Napier's first (of many) buzzer beater shots in the season. Napier's teammates always had it in the back of their mind that if they kept the game close they could count on their senior leader in the end."

ITG: Scottie Wilbekin-Napier II is how a lot of folks will view this game. What can Wilbekin do to give Napier trouble and avoid a 20-something night?

Nadeau: "It might sound strange hearing this analysis for a point guard, but Wilbekin has to do a good job of getting in Napier's grill and making sure all of his jump shots are contested. Wilbekin is probably best off letting Napier try and create off the dribble and drive to the hoop rather than letting him get off an open jumper.

"That kind of scouting report is what you might hear for a shooting guard instead of a point guard, but Napier is an interesting point guard. Napier's strength is his jumper and he shoots long range jumpers much more than he takes shots in the lane or layups.

"Napier has two weaknesses to his game. One is that he will still shoot a jumper even if he is contested, and the second is that he can get careless driving to the hoop and trying to create for teammates. Napier's 17.5 percent turnover rate on the season is not an aberration."

ITG: A lot of time has passed since these teams last met. What is the biggest difference between the UConn of today and the UConn that last faced Florida?

Nadeau: "UConn's front court has improved immensely since the matchup in December and as a result the defense overall has improved. Center Amida Brimah has learned to stay on the court longer by not getting into foul trouble so quickly and that's been huge. Brimah blocks 15 percent of all shot attempts when he is on the court, which is the fourth highest in the nation.

"The other player that has become more consistent is DeAndre Daniels. The former five-star recruit looks like an NBA Lottery pick at times as was evident in his 27-point explosion against Iowa State in the Sweet 16. There was a four-game stretch in February and March when Daniels inexplicably had single-digit scoring games. There's just no excuse for that with the talent that he has. Daniels hasn't had a single-digit scoring output in more than a month, and UConn is a much better team because of it."

ITG: On paper, what do you see as the biggest matchup red flag for the Huskies coming into this game?

Nadeau: "Without a doubt it's rebounding and the front court match-up. The UConn frontcourt has come a long way since the beginning of the season, but its 32.9 percent offensive rebounding percentage allowed is still a huge concern heading into this game. Florida is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country and should be able to score a lot of second chance points in this game.

"If you look at UConn's losses this season, there is one common theme -- with the exception of the loss to Houston -- UConn has lost to teams that have solid front courts. It has managed to beat teams with good front court players, like it did last game against Michigan State. The reality is that UConn matches up better with a smaller team that likes to run."

ITG: Score and reasoning: How do you see this game playing out?

Nadeau: "I think I've learned my lesson picking against the Huskies the last two games, so I will go UConn 64, Florida 62. Shabazz Napier just feels like he is on one of those Kemba Walker-like runs and you'd be crazy to bet against him right now. With the consistent play from Daniels that it has been getting, UConn is a much better team than it was a month ago."

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