Calhoun takes UConn into N.I.T.


Calhoun takes UConn into N.I.T.

By Mary Paoletti

The National Invitation Tournament doesn't have the postseason pomp and flair that Connecticut is used to. But the challenges Jim Calhoun's Huskies have faced this season will not end when they enter the 2010 NIT.

"With a quick glance at the bracket, it looks like the field is remarkably tough," the UConn coach said. "There are plenty of teams that were in position to make the NCAA tournament, and I think that with all of the parity in the field, it will be very difficult to win and advance."

Calhoun is talking about teams like Illinois, Arizona State, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State, all of which had a shot at an NCAA tourney berth last Sunday. Last season Illinois was a No. 5 seed in the field of 65 and ASU was a No. 6 that ventured on to the Sweet Sixteen. Other heavy hitters who fell from last year's grace are Mississippi State (No. 13 seed), Dayton (No. 11 seed, Sweet Sixteen), Memphis (No. 2 seed, Elite Eight) and the No. 1 seed and national champion, North Carolina.

This will be no cake walk for Connecticut.

Not much has been easy for the 17-15 Huskies. After reaching the Final Four in 2009, the team struggled to find a new identity this year. UConn at first gave credence to its preseason No. 12 national ranking by winning 11 of its first 13 games. But things began to unravel during the weeks that followed.

Against top-rated teams like Kentucky, Duke, Texas, West Virginia and Villanova, the Huskies showcased their speed and strength. They looked fluid on transition, strong in the paint, and dogged on defense. But they fell completely out of sync when facing lesser-feared foes like Providence, Cincinnati and South Florida. In these games UConn couldn't rebound, couldn't hang on to the ball, and couldn't even penetrate the perimeter when on offense -- much less execute a crisp play. It's as though a cancerous unpredictability is buried at the core of this team that won't allow any of the successes to flourish.

Consequently, Calhoun's postseason ambitions are modest.

"Our goal is to continue to play and give it our best," he said in a statement.

UConn's best will have to rise above its last few efforts if the team plans to seriously compete in this tough NIT field. It was those final four losses, beyond the season's other disappointments, that made up the minds of the NCAA Selection Committee. The last of them, a defeat by St. John's in the Big East tournament, put a line through Connecticut's name; the 73-51 scoring margin wiped it from the board completely. Hopes of returning to the Big Dance came to a bitter end.

At least it wasn't the end of the season.

UConn tips off against Northeastern Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Though college hoops fans around the country might not be anxiously watching with brackets clutched to their chests, the game is an important one for UConn. There are five seniors on the roster who want just one more chance to win. There are also five freshman who would benefit from logging minutes of postseason play in any tournament.

And their coach? He'll have to hurdle some nostalgia before getting down to business.

"Obviously, playing Northeastern has special meaning for me," Calhoun said. "Northeastern is a place that gave me a chance to be a head coach and a place where I have a lot of great memories."

A sincere sentiment, no doubt, but it's not one that will cloud the focus of a 33-year veteran. There is still plenty of work for Calhoun to do.

Acceptance of this new challenge -- to take this tournament one step at a time, to 'keep playing' -- might help shed some of the struggle between talent and unmet expectations that's burdened his team this year. UConn needs to leave that St. John's loss back in Madison Square Garden. The glamour wins over Texas, Villanova and West Virginia should all be forgotten too. The Huskies will miss the real madness of March and that fact should leave them humbled and hungry.

And they should hope, freer to fight.

Mary Paoletti is on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Celtics waive R.J. Hunter as James Young makes roster


Celtics waive R.J. Hunter as James Young makes roster

BOSTON – One way or another, R.J. Hunter or James Young was not going to be a Boston Celtic by the end of the day Monday.
The Celtics made their choice by waiving Hunter just hours before the NBA deadline to trim their roster down to 15 players.
Hunter began to show signs of coming around near the end of training camp, but his improved play would eventually be too little too late.

This is certainly good news for Young, who like Hunter, made it clear that he wanted to remain with the Celtics. But it by no means should be seen as a victory for Young who is entering his third NBA season.
The 21-year-old is now part of the 15-man roster, but it still doesn’t address the issue of him playing better to where the Celtics might actually use him with some degree of regularity.
If not for Kelly Olynyk’s shoulder injury, which will keep him out of action until next month, there was a decent chance that Young would begin the season on the inactive roster. But to Young’s credit, he showed a level of dedication to the game that the Celtics had not seen before. He spent most of this past summer in Boston working on his game, trying to get physically stronger. During the preseason, his level of commitment to improving was noticeable as well.
And when he did get a chance to play in the preseason, he did a lot of little things really well, showing the kind of improvement that ultimately put him a leg up on Hunter whom the Celtics drafted last year with the 28th overall pick.
If Hunter isn’t claimed, he becomes an unrestricted free agent who can then sign with any team of his choosing. Do not be surprised if Hunter is claimed off waivers by a team which then assigns him to their Development League affiliate, similar to what the Celtics did with Ryan Kelly over the weekend.

Bruins recall Subban, Khudobin leaves practice early


Bruins recall Subban, Khudobin leaves practice early

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- The B’s goaltending carousel continued on Monday with young netminder Malcolm Subban getting recalled by the NHL club on emergency recall after Zane McIntyre was sent back down to the P-Bruins on Sunday. Subban started on the ice with the rest of the team at Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena along with Anton Khudobin, but the Russian backup goalie departed the ice early from Monday’s practice presumably with some kind of issue.

Subban has been pulled from two of his four starts for Providence this season, and the former first round pick is 0-3-1 with 4.50 goals against average and .846 save percentage after coming back from last season’s fractured larynx injury.

Tuukka Rask was once again absent from the practice ice, and hasn’t skated with the team since last playing in Thursday night’s win over the New Jersey Devils while clearly dealing with a lower body injury. So the Bruins ended Monday’s practice with only Subban between the pipes, and a swiss-cheese-like blue shooting tarp covering the other net for the B’s shooters.

With that in mind, here are the line combos and D-pairings for Monday’s practice with the Minnesota Wild coming to town on Tuesday:







Liles-C. Miller



Khudobin (left early)