Is Kevin Ollie underachieving at UConn?

UConn head coach Kevin Ollie still gets credit for that 2014 national title, but is he partly to blame for this year's struggles? (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie still gets credit for that 2014 national title, but is he partly to blame for this year's struggles? (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

(WTNH)–Sometimes in life, you have to have hard conversations.

You know, the ones when you have to be honest with yourself and those around you. The ones that might hurt.

So, UConn fans, you might want to sit down for this one.

I’m just going to come right out and say it:

Is Kevin Ollie (grits teeth) doing a bad job as head coach?

Huskies fans were smitten with KO when he and Shabazz conquered the college basketball world back in 2014. (AP Photo)
Huskies fans were smitten with KO when he and Shabazz conquered the college basketball world back in 2014. (AP Photo)

I know, I know—your first instinct is to defend him. After all, you fell in love with the man when he stepped right on campus and led the Huskies to the 2014 national title. It was every bit as unexpected and euphoric as the Kemba-led 2011 title run, and you thought KO, Shabazz Napier, and DeAndre Daniels were going to be UConn legends forever.

That magical March (and April) made you forget that UConn kind of underachieved all season long. That they were beaten by Houston and SMU. That they lost by 40 to Louisville just weeks earlier.

You were swept up in the moment—the evisceration of Villanova, the outclassing of Michigan State, the upset of Florida, and the takedown of Kentucky, that evil Calipari dude and his band of NBA-bound mercenaries.

You loved Kevin Ollie.

He had confidence (swag, even), cool sayings (“No Escalators! We take the stairs!”) and awesome halftime interviews on CBS (“We’re a second half team, too!”). He connected with players in a way most coaches can only dream of, as evidenced by the five-star prospects and would-be star transfers who would decide to spend their winters in Storrs, Connecticut, to play on his teams.

Jim Calhoun? That old, crotchety guy who yelled all the time and kicked signs at the Garden? That guy was all right, but Ollie was cooler. Everybody in the country wanted him on their bench, but he even turned down the NBA to stay in Storrs. He was just getting warmed up, ready to take UConn to the next level.

Lost in all of that euphoria was the fact that, I mean…UConn got kinda lucky.

If Amida Brimah, the same guy who couldn’t execute a drop-step if his life depended on it, hadn’t come up with that miraculous, serendipitous three-point play to save the season in the first round against St. Joe’s, Huskies fans would have been lamenting a mediocre year.

You know, like the one they had in 2015, when they went 20-15, and lost to Arizona State at home in the first round of the NIT.

And let’s be honest, if Jalen Adams doesn’t hit a 68-foot shot to send the Cincinnati game to another overtime in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals, UConn would have been back in the NIT last season.

The NIT looks pretty good this year.

Rodney Purvis still can't shoot, and that's a problem for the Huskies. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Rodney Purvis still can’t shoot, and that’s a problem for the Huskies. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Sure, the most apologetic of Huskies fans will blame this season on youth and injuries, but that’s lazy.

Nobody was hurt when UConn lost season-opening games to Wagner and Northeastern. The team just wasn’t ready to play–plain and simple.

There’s no reason to lose to teams from the NEC and America East. There’s no reason to get outrebounded by BU, or for rebounding to still be such a pressing issue with this team, which has four players 6-10 or taller. This group, with all of its young talent, should be embarrassed to put up just 51 points against Boston University at home.

One of the main problems over the past few years has been a lack of improvement.

Rodney Purvis, the “Ferrari in the garage,” as Ollie called him, still can’t shoot. He went an atrocious 2-for-10 against Boston University on Wednesday, putting up just six points. He’s shooting just 35% on the season, and 41% for his UConn career.

Purvis is a fifth-year senior. He’s a former McDonald’s All-American. He’s playing like a Winnebago.

Amida Brimah figured to have a ton of potential when he came to Connecticut. He’s seven feet tall, smart, and athletic. How athletic, you ask? He won the Husky Run, twice!

Connecticut's Amida Brimah looks to shoot as Boston University's Justin Alston, right, defends, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Brimah hasn’t improved much in four years at UConn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

But Brimah has been a massive disappointment over the last few years. He’s averaging just 7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game this season, and he grabbed exactly FOUR boards in 27 minutes against the Terriers on Wednesday. How can a guy that big and that athletic possibly only come away with four rebounds?

How has he not learned to put together a drop-step, pump fake, and finish? How can he still have absolutely no reliable low-post game?

It’s not just those two who haven’t lived up to expectations. Sterling Gibbs came to UConn from Seton Hall with a reputation as a “Microwave”-type scorer, a guy who could go off for 30 points any given night. He averaged a career-low 12.3 points in his post-grad year at UConn, shooting a career-low 38% from the field and 38% from three-point range.

Daniel Hamilton, for all of his high school hype, was disappointing. He was a turnover machine, and never learned to stop putting his head down when he dribbled, something they teach you in middle school. He was an awful shot too, hitting at just 38% and shooting an anemic 33% from three-point range.

These guys all had the potential to do bigger things. It just hasn’t happened.

Fans have to fear a little bit for Jalen Adams, who came to Connecticut as a big-time recruit and looks like he has all of the raw talent in the world. He should be a future All-American, and yet he shot 4-of-15 against Wagner, putting up just nine points. He was a ridiculous 3-of-15 against BU on Wednesday, for seven points.

At some point, you’ve got to wonder whether the Huskies’ offense is putting these guys in position to take the kinds of shots they can make. You’ve got to wonder why they look so disjointed, why they seem to be going one-on-one at the worst times and kicking the ball around until the shot clock winds down, before launching an ill-fated three.

Maybe we’re being too hard on Ollie. He does have that national title under his belt, and nobody can take that away from him. He has proven to be a great recruiter, and his team last year was among the best in the nation defensively and led the country in free throw shooting.

Those are the signs of a good coach.

But as KO himself said, this ain’t no Cinderella.

This is UConn.

Expectations are high.

Let’s hope Kevin Ollie is a second-half coach.

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