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Kevin Duffy: UConn's frontcourt must improve

Updated 12:50 am, Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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HARTFORD -- Midway through the first half of UConn's 34-point romp over winless Maryland Eastern Shore, Huskies assistant George Blaney put his left hand to the side of his mouth and barked, "C'mon Phil, get a rebound!"

And when Blaney is yelling, you know it's for real.

UConn's rebounding struggles -- it ranks 318th in the nation, according to ESPN.com -- have been well-documented. They've been borderline exhausted.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, so have the cupcake opponents.

Maryland Eastern Shore, now 0-10, was the last truly overmatched team on UConn's schedule, which means the frontcourt of Tyler Olander, DeAndre Daniels, Enosch Wolf, Phil Nolan and Leon Tolksdorf -- averaging a combined 16.5 boards per game -- must improve.

Daniels, who enjoyed a breakout 23-point performance versus Harvard last week, has grown more comfortable with his role at power forward. The center position, though, remains unsettled.

"We're going to need those guys to play better," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. "We're going to need them to play better -- all three of them."

Here's a closer look at the contributions -- and outlooks -- the three centers:

ENOSCH WOLF

THE GOOD: As Ollie noted following Wolf's 12-point, nine-board output against N.C. State, the 7-foot-1 junior seems to enjoy the big stage. He's been remarkably efficient offensively -- 67 percent from the floor -- and always plays within the framework of UConn's system. Although the Huskies don't often dump the ball down low, Wolf generally makes smart decisions and, as indicated by his percentage, scores baskets when his number is called.

THE BAD: Ever since he earned the starting gig, Wolf has four points and four rebounds in 33 minutes. If you subtract his two outbursts against Wake Forest and N.C. State, the big fella only has 14 points and 14 boards in 90 minutes (that's a 40-minute average of 6.2 points and 6.2 rebounds). Not exactly lighting it up.

THE SKINNY: Wolf has been UConn's most pleasant surprise. He gives the Huskies a big body, which will be much-needed when the three-game stretch is Notre Dame, Louisville and Pittsburgh instead of Harvard, Maryland Eastern Shore and Fordham. Wolf will always be in the rotation, but he's yet to show the consistency of a starting center in the Big East.

PHIL NOLAN

THE GOOD: "Philly," as they call him, runs the floor better than most big men. In Monday's rout -- albeit in garbage time -- Nolan beat UMES forward Ron Spencer on the break, converting back-to-back layups on feeds from Ryan Boatright and Leon Tolksdorf.

THE BAD: Nolan got the best of Spencer in transition, but wasn't so fortunate in the halfcourt. In one first half sequence, Nolan was bodied by the 6-foot-9, 210-pound Spencer for an easy layup. Nolan then committed a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass, compounding a physical error with a mental miscue.

THE SKINNY: Think Hilton Armstrong with Nolan. The former lottery pick arrived in Storrs at a reported 190 pounds, then left as the 235-pound Big East Defensive Player of the year. As a freshman, Armstrong averaged 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds. Likewise, Nolan isn't ready to provide anything more than some filler minutes if Daniels, Olander or Wolf hit foul trouble (as they inevitably will).

TYLER OLANDER

THE GOOD: Remember the days when Olander -- not Andre Drummond or Alex Oriakhi -- was UConn's most consistent big man? Well, they ended about a year ago today, and Olander has struggled to find a groove ever since. Of the three centers vying for time, though, he's far and away the most skilled.

THE BAD: Problem is, he might have trouble believing it.

"I love Tyler, but he's got to go get the basketball and play for me," Ollie said. --¦Tyler won a national championship with us, so I want to count on him heavy. I'm not going to lose heart in him and hopefully he doesn't lose heart in himself."

A 6-foot-9 junior, Olander has appeared passive for most of the season, and Monday was no different: He played 12 minutes and didn't grab a single rebound.

THE SKINNY: If one of the three centers emerges as a viable threat, it's likely going to be Olander. UConn will struggle in the Big East without a legitimate presence on the glass (right now, Daniels is the team's leader with 4.4 rebounds per game). A double goose egg from Olander (zero points, zero boards Monday) just won't cut it against legitimate opponents.

kduffy@newstimes.com

@KevinRDuffy