HARTFORD — The UConn men's basketball team has the size and it has the numbers, and it has options it didn't have last year. Now, it's a matter of finding the formula.
"We call that place 'the lab,'" coach Kevin Ollie said, referring to the gym. "There are a lot of things we want to get to."
The Huskies beat Southern Connecticut 93-65 in the first exhibition game last Wednesday, but were outrebounded 48-43, giving Ollie a teaching moment and perhaps a few more ideas to experiment with in the second and last preseason tune-up, against Division III Concordia of Chicago on Monday night at the XL Center at 7 p.m.
"I know everyone says we're a small team," said sophomore Phil Nolan, 6 feet 10, who had six rebounds in 11 minutes vs. Southern, "but when you look at it, we're not a small team. Especially when Niels [Giffey] is playing [small forward] at 6-foot-7. I think we're a pretty large team and we can do a lot of things with the team we have."
After the Southern game, Ollie's forecast was for three consecutive days of hard work on rebounding in practice.
The number, as it often is, was misleading. UConn shot well from the floor, 63 percent in the second half, and blocked 10 shots on defense, so there weren't as many opportunities for rebounds. The total of 43, with frontcourt players DeAndre Daniels (10), Nolan, Lasan Kromah (four), Giffey (four), Tyler Olander (three) and Amida Brimah (three) getting most of them was promising, and UConn had 51 points in the paint, so there was production. In the first exhibition game last year, UConn outrebounded American International 39-31, and had 28 points in the paint.
"I'm looking for one guy to step up and separate himself," Ollie has said. "I'd like to have two, three or four, but I need one. If not, we'll do it by committee.
"… We've simplified it a lot — the way to get minutes is to rebound."
The committee option is there. Ollie gave all 12 of his eligible scholarship players significant minutes against Southern, creating competition for minutes in the eventual rotation. Brimah, the 7-foot freshman, made his presence felt immediately with five blocked shots and eight points.
"That guy's amazing," Daniels said. "He doesn't allow anyone to lay the ball up easy in the paint. He blocks everything. He runs hard. He can finish. He's going to be a great player here at UConn."
Ollie said he'd like to see what it looks like with two big men in the game, Brimah and Nolan, perhaps. Southern's guard-oriented lineup made that difficult to try. Concordia has only one player taller than 6-4 — freshman Elijah McGuffin, who is 6-9 — but Ollie will probably try the big lineup anyway. Ollie said he'd also like to play Giffey at power forward.
But to play the fast-pace style Ollie wants to play, rebounding is essential. UConn's was outrebounded 36.5- 31 over the course of the 2012-13 season, and was ranked 290th among 345 Division I schools. Freshman Kentan Facey, 6-9, can also help on the boards.
"The fact that we weren't really good in rebounding last year, the coaches emphasize that every day in practice," Facey said, "and that could be part of my role on this team."
Olander, who started against Southern, was "solid," Ollie said. Nolan, who improved during the course of last year, has some momentum with his productivity.
"We're still working on it, the outrebound thing," Nolan said. "We'll get back to the lab and you're going to see some improvement [against Concordia]."
Concordia is coming off a four-win season, and has a lot of new players. Coach Tyler Jones, from East Hartford, played at Trinity and was later coach and GM with the Connecticut Pride of the Continental Basketball Association, while Ollie was a player.