Sep 13, 2012; Storrs, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun and new head coach Kevin Ollie during a press conference to announces Calhoun

Connecticut Huskies Basketball Season Preview

The college hoops season is right around the corner, and Busting Brackets is here to whet your basketball-starved appetite. Over the next five weeks, we are publishing season previews team by team, conference by conference, to offer a glimpse into the upcoming season. Busting Brackets is giving you the lowdown on the biggest storylines, offseason changes and x-factors for each team and each league as we roll into the 2012-13 season. Our complete season preview archive can be accessed here. Buckle up, peeps.

Connecticut Huskies

Last Season 20-14 (8-10 Big East)
Lost to Syracuse in Big East tournament quarterfinals
Lost to Iowa State in second round of NCAA tournament
Key Returning Players: Shabazz Napier, G
Ryan Boatright, G
Tyler Olander, F
DeAndre Daniels, F
Niels Giffey, G/F
Key Additions: Kevin Ollie, Head Coach
Omar Calhoun, G (Christ the King HS)
Phillip Nolan, F (Riverside University HS)
Leon Tolksdorf, F (Berlin, Germany)
Key Losses: Jim Calhoun, Head Coach
Postseason Eligibility
Jeremy Lamb, G
Andre Drummond, C
Alex Oriakhi, F (Transferred to Missouri)
Roscoe Smith, F (Transferred to UNLV)
Top Non-Conference Games: Nov. 9 vs. Michigan State (Ramstein Air Base, Germany)
Nov. 16 vs. Wake Forest (U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam)
Nov. 17 vs. Iona or Quinnipiac (Paradise Jam)
Nov. 19 vs. TBD (Paradise Jam)
Dec. 4 vs. NC State (Jimmy V Classic, MSG)
Dec. 7 vs. Harvard
Dec. 29 vs. Washington
Top Conference Games: Jan. 12 @ Notre Dame
Jan. 14 vs. Louisville
Jan. 19 @ Pittsburgh
Feb. 13 vs. Syracuse
Feb. 21 vs. Cincinnati
Feb. 27 vs. Georgetown
Mar. 2 @ Cincinnati
Breakout Player: DeAndre Daniels. The esteemed high school recruit was among the last class of 2011 prospects to sign. And sometime between his original commitment to Texas and his belated commitment to UConn two years later, Daniels lost his game. The Huskies had to deal with the consequences. Simply put, Daniels was a dismal disappointment during his rookie year in Storrs, showing no signs of the prized prospect that had John Calipari, Coach K, Bill Self and other notable coaches putting out feelers. Once considered a lights out shooter, the lights were off all season for Daniels, who shot a paltry 34-percent from the floor and 24-percent from downtown. The freshman forward was constantly out of position, guilty of blown assignments and a culprit of too many ill-advised corner 3’s that barely drew iron, which made him a popular sounding board for Jim Calhoun on the bench. Daniels’ struggles got lost in the shuffle on last year’s squad, with bigger names like Lamb, Drummond, Napier, Smith and Oriakhi overshadowing him and the struggles of the team as a unit stealing the spotlight. But four-fifths of last year’s starting lineup is now out of the equation, and so Daniels won’t be able to lay in the weeds and hide behind the scenes for a second straight year. Expect a new-and-improved Daniels to take advantage. Just one breakout game in the non-conference—even against a non-descript opponent—is all it may take to restore D-square’s confidence and get the sophomore back on track. If he can find his 3-point stroke early in the season, and with a full season of growing pains already under his belt, Daniels could be poised to break out in 2012-13, proving why he was a hot commodity on the recruiting market. His game may not always look pretty or fluid, but Daniels can be a productive player at the collegiate level.
X-Factor: Coexistence of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. This is hardly important in the big picture, especially in light of the program’s one-year, NCAA-sanctioned postseason ban. The 2012-13 season is the advent of a pivotal transition period into a new era of Huskies hoops—important not for what the program accomplishes this season, but for how it positions itself for the future. There’s realistically nothing this current cast can do on the court to ensure the legacy of Jim Calhoun continues under the new regime. The school’s short-term prospects are dim, and Big East relevance in the immediate future is no longer even guaranteed. The fate of the Huskies’ future runs much deeper than Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. But the fate of this specific Huskies team falls directly on their shoulders. Napier and Boatright will likely share the floor for most of next season with Jeremy Lamb out of the picture, comprising a two-combo-guard-look that will make or break the 2012-13 Huskies. The two combo guards are hands down the top two players on Connecticut, and it’s inconceivable that Kevin Ollie would have Boatright coming off the bench in back of Napier as he did as a freshman. Napier and Boatright are not going to split 40 minutes. No way, no how. Not with the rest of the roster in the shape it’s in. How the two guards handle sharing the floor together—and they did, for extended stretches last season—will ultimately determine how good [or bad] Connecticut can be this season. Though he is an adept passer—one of the best, even, in the Big East—Napier at his heart is a combo guard, not a true facilitator. He’ll mix in a sweet dime here and there, but he has a natural tendency to score. Of returning Big East point guards, only St. John’s D’Angelo Harrison attempted more shots per game than Shabazz. Boatright, who had an outstanding freshman season, is in the same vein. While Napier was second on last year’s Huskies team in shots attempted, Boatright was right behind him at third. Together, the two combo guards could form one of the most dynamic backcourt punches in the Big East, each a unique playmaker with the ability to score and distribute. The aggregate production between Napier and Boatright last season was good for a shade under 10 assists per game and more than 23 points. But for the Huskies to make moves in 2012-13, the two will have to be more efficient scoring the basketball (Napier shot just 39-percent from the floor) and better at feeding off each other in the half court. Two combo guards don’t make one point guard, keep in mind, but the duo could be cause for double-trouble this season. UConn will certainly need them to be to stay abreast in a crowded Big East.
Best Case: Napier and Boatright gel, forming the most dynamic one-two backcourt punch in the league. With refined passing instincts and more mature decision-making, the two combo guards are much improved as floor generals. Connecticut’s unique backcourt makeup creates serious mismatches on the offensive end, as no other team in the Big East has the personnel to combat a two-point guard look. With most Big East teams only having one player (presumably their point guard) to match up with the speed and quickness Napier and Boatright each bring to the table, one of Napier or Boatright will have a distinct match-up advantage each game. The two feed off of each other extremely well, and with improved play from DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander, Connecticut is better than expected. Daniels rediscovers his missing outside shot, and Niels Giffey in an expanded role is one of the top perimeter shooters in the country. The Deutsch trio of Giffey, backup center Enosch Wolf (who should see extended playing time this year) and incoming small forward Leon Tolksdorf is effective in year one, and UConn uses their successes to expand its recruiting footprint overseas (especially in Europe). Omar Calhoun is one of the top freshmen in the Big East, having a rookie season similar to the one Boatright had last year. The Kevin Ollie era gets off to a hot start, and Ollie lands multiple 3- and 4-star recruits mid-season. Although the 2012-13 squad is a middling, run-of-the-mill Huskies team, the future looks much brighter in Storrs than initially forecast. Optimism abounds in Connecticut, and Huskies fans are led to believe that Connecticut basketball can endure, even thrive, post-Calhoun.
Worst Case: Boatright and Napier conflict, and the two-combo-guard experiment fails. Though he can drop in a sweet dime every now and then, Napier is still too much of a gunner and not enough of a distributor. The weight of having to carry the team offensively turns Boatright and Napier into close-minded scorers. With no reliable inside presence (Olander is a consistent, handyman  type of player, but not a reliable offensive threat inside), the Huskies turn into a team of Jack-em-up Joes with zero rhythm on the offensive end. The absence of Oriakhi and Drummond down low proves fatal on the defensive end and on the glass, usually two staples of Huskies hoops. Connecticut, for the first time in eons, is not a top-flight rebounding team, and the interior defense is exploited by dribble penetration. DeAndre Daniels still can’t find his shot, Niels Giffey owns nothing but a shot and Connecticut’s slim shot at finishing .500 in the Big East is shot after an ugly start in conference play. UConn strikes out on recruits during the season, while rumors of players eager to transfer out of the program surface. Connecticut basketball takes a giant step back in year one under Ollie, and the head coach’s contract is not renewed at the end of the season. UConn’s coaching search comes up empty, and the Huskies have to settle on a less-known head coach who lacks the necessary cachet to excel in Storrs. Talks of UConn’s inevitably demise post-Calhoun are not imagined or exaggerated. They’re real. And the first traces of decay materialize in year one of the new era.
Projected Finish: Regular Season: 13-17 (6-12 Big East), 11th place Big East
Not eligible for Big East tournament

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