For the first time in a long time, I voluntarily sat out yesterday's UConn game. It was more because I wanted to watch Giants/Packers than it was me giving up on the team (I'm sure you all will be thrilled to know we have another game coming up schedule against the AFC Championship...), but still...I don't do that often. Incidentally, for the first time in a long time, we saw something yesterday that looked like UConn basketball. And, for the first time this season, they played a game worth watching, slowly, on tape. (Props again to @gampelcrazies and @tcf15 and whoever else makes that possible). So I did. The first thing that jumps out to me is the dominance of Amida Brimah. UConn held UCF to eight 2-point field goals, a stunning number that probably ranks among the fewest surrendered in recent history. By my unofficial count, Brimah blocked or altered 14 shots and likely discouraged several more. UCF converted only two field goals in the paint with him in the game, and when they did, they were answered prayers from the likes of B.J. Taylor like you can see at the 18:55 mark in the second half. The Houston game notwithstanding, Brimah has taken his game up a few pegs in AAC play. In the last three, he's averaging 9 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks, which aligns with my earlier suspicion that he - and the defense at large, by extension - would blossom against the more conventional offenses run by conference opponents, most of whom share in common the lack of either a reliable pop man to pull Brimah from the basket or a skilled post presence to punish him down low (a task of which, thanks to Brimah's improvements, has grown far more difficult). It should temper our enthusiasm some that UCF sports one of the worst offenses in the conference, but even by their lowly standards, it was ugly for them yesterday (and could have been much worse were it not for a handful of contested threes that found the bottom of the net), and UConn's defense - as I've yelled throughout the Brimah era - boasts foundational advantages that confound the programmed reads of guards. It's not all Brimah. Purvis, when he's dialed in, grades out as a terrific defender. His stance - bent at the knees, back straight - is a teaching tool for all young players. It's a simple thing, but basketball is a bit like football in that the low man wins, and the leverage he acquires by engaging in a borderline obnoxious way allows him to wall off the ball-handler and navigate screens like nobody else on the roster. Vance guards the ball better than I expected to coming in. He'll lose focus away from the ball, and he's a bit hesitant guarding ball screens, but for what we are asking him to do - chase smaller guys around, often as an oversized three - he's managed better than we could have hoped. Nobody will mistake him for Stanley Robinson or even Roscoe Smith, but he's agile and big-bodied in a way that makes him preciously versatile to a team with only three other bodies capable of managing the 1-3 slots (though, remarkably, Durham has spent time there in brief stints). Facey is playing the best defense of his career. The fact that he can guard the perimeter and even switch onto guards enables Brimah to attend to the paint-bound big that centralizes our entire defensive philosophy. Adams guards well enough, though it should be mentioned that he should be better, likely when he no longer needs to play 40 minutes every game, Vital offers much of the same fundamental soundness that Purvis does, and Durham possesses gifts that changes games. All of the scholarship players, sans Enoch, have demonstrated an ability to adapt to Ollie's demands on that end, and given they are just now tapering off some bad habits, it's reasonable to expect them to continue to inch closer to the top ten defensively from their current 29 ranking. The other end of the court, however, is the reason for the post (I said after eight paragraphs), because it is conceivable that, after 14 games of pure abhorrence, yesterday's performance represents an epiphany of sorts, if not in the eyes of the players, then through the emotional lens of the fan. UCF, ninth in adjusted defense entering play, yielded 47% shooting (49% before the walk-ons came in, who are not good, in case anybody was wondering why they don't crack out depleted rotation) to an offense that weltered before the slightest resistance. Something changed. Making shots helped. Also helping, in a more sustainable way, was execution, and at the epicenter of that transformation was Vance Jackson. Such a claim invokes the prevailing offensive philosophy of Ollie and Calhoun before him. My own basketball career having died after middle school, I am not particularly familiar with the terminology, but conceptually, many of our sets are born out of these formations: It's a 1-4 alignment that, in its remedial stages, looks like a bunch of dribbling and nothing else. This is an important disclaimer, because when it isn't executed, it can be misconstrued by spectators and fans as "not running offense." This isn't fair, not because the current level of production is acceptable, but because it's an accusation that is incompatible with reality. In basketball, aesthetics typically derive from simplicity; the prettiest offenses are often the ones predicated on individual greatness, and the ugliest ones - like ours - the most structured. This offense has been bad, but it isn't because Ollie lacks sophistication. Yesterday, that structure finally paid dividends, largely because the players succeeded, but also because Ollie and the staff positioned them to do so. Here, Jackson's flare to the left wing corresponds to Facey's screen on the left block, and Vital's flare to the right wing corresponds to Brimah's screen on the right block. This action serves to de-centralize the help, which facilitates the ensuing side ball screen. This screen grab encapsulates what I mean: The ball is already swinging to Vital on the right wing, but Jackson's man - still entrenched in the continuous action - is still face-guarding despite now occupying an invaluable weak side position. Meanwhile, the curls serve to imperil the strong side defender in a way that places them in a trailing position. Some defenses - generally those with top-end shot-blocking - self-identify by such a technique, but not typically on side ball screens, and never when a key weak side defender is out to lunch like this. This gives Vital the option of catching the ball with the defender on his hip, forcing the strong side defender to help and feeding Brimah before Jackson's defender can get back into the play (Adams' and Facey's guys are one pass away, and not in a position to help). It doesn't happen this cycle, but it happens the next cycle, as Jackson catches the ball in the same spot and slices to the rim, drawing the foul. Basic cut, screen, and replace action that isn't incredibly complicated but is hard as hell to guard, and it has become harder to guard with Jackson being installed as the primary wing across Purvis (this is important, because the crossing action only draws one set of eyeballs if only one player is a threat to shoot). His ability to make reads out of those side ball screens - and really, his handle and control in general - has impressed me, especially now that he's added a mid-range jumper to his arsenal. Virginia runs a lot of this same stuff, often supplemented with blindside screens to free shooters and timely dives to exploit defenders cheating on the hedge. They have the shooters and the big men to execute it with more proficiency, but UConn - assuming continued progression from Jackson and a resurgence from Purvis - may be able to pull off a decaffeinated version that churns out just enough mid-range jumpers, post baskets, and open threes to skirt by on the strength of a top ten defense in a winnable conference.