The UConn Huskies are just one win away from an improbable Final Four run. Improbable not just because they were handed a 7-seed by the selection committee, but because this time last year, the team was sitting at home, watching the NCAA Tournament on television due to a postseason ban stemming from low APR scores in seasons prior. But as was the case then, it’s one player who holds the key to the team’s future success. Shabazz Napier.
Napier, now a senior, has emerged into one of the best guards in the country. He’s single-handedly capable of taking over a game. His combination of speed, quickness and the ability to finish at the rim presents a matchup problem for every single team in the nation. But at the same time, for UConn to advance Sunday afternoon, he will need to play his best. As impressive as the rest of his teammates have been during their NCAA Tournament run, how Napier performs will be the deciding factor in what’s sure to be a slugfest against Michigan State.
Don’t believe me? The Huskies have lost eight games this year. In all eight contests, Napier shot below 50% – and in most, it was well below that number. Against Stanford on December 18th, he shot 4-for-13. Against SMU on January 4th, he finished 2-for-9. Louisville on March 8th? He made just 2-of-13. So more than anything, it’s actually how Napier shoots that could be the biggest factor in the contest. Of course, those numbers don’t just include jump shots, but you get the point.
That being said, UConn has certainly won games in which Napier has not performed his best. The victory over Saint Joseph’s back in the second round is a great example. But simply put, Saint Joseph’s is not Michigan State.
The Spartans are one of the most athletic teams in the nation – they can win an offensive game in the 80s or a defensive game in the 60s. Expect Tom Izzo to focus all resources on shutting down Napier, given the statistics provided above.