In 2011, Kemba Walker went on one the most extended hot streaks in recent memory and carried his UConn Huskies to a Big East and NCAA tournament win. It was one of the most fun runs to watch as he was a man possessed and nothing could get in his way of a victory. Historically speaking, it became one of the school’s best moments.
Then Walker went on to the NBA and times got bleaker around the Huskies campus. News came out in 2012 that UConn would be barred from competing in the 2013 NCAA tournament due to some past players’ academic performances. A few other schools were suspended at the same time as the Huskies but UCon was easily the highest renowned team to be punished. Knowing that he would not be able to play in the NCAA tournament for his senior season, Alex Oriahki, one of the team’s best big men transferred to Missouri. The Huskies were left with an unfortunate situation and had a hard time recruiting high profile recruits for last season.
Considering all that tough luck in the past two years, combined with Calhoun retiring after 2012, the Huskies going 20-10 last year was a good sign. The team had virtually nothing to play for and a new coach at the helm in Kevin Ollie and they still managed to surpass expectations.
Now slotted in the new American Athletic Conference because of the Big East exodus, the Huskies will look to find success in Ollie’s second year and play themselves back into March Madness.
Notable Departures: None
Notable Arrivals: Kentan Facey, Power Forward (4*)
In Shabazz Napier, the Huskies have a potential player of the year. The do it all guard is a force of the offensive side of the court. Entering his senior season, Napier is unquestionably UConn’s leader and best player, having learned from Walker and now having his own chance to write his page in the Huskies’ storied history books. Last season, Napier averaged just over 17 points per game to go along with 4.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists. From deep, Napier is one of the most accurate marksmen in the nation and he is not afraid to dial it up when given the opportunity.
Alongside Napier will be guard Ryan Boatright who showed last season he could also fill the bucket when needed. Boatright is a smaller guy in stature then a lot of guards in the NCAA but he is quick footed and shifty. He also has displayed fantastic vision on the floor and is quick to find open players out on the floor. Both Napier and Boatright are willing passers which really opens up the court for the entire team and makes the offense run quite smoothly. For UConn to have a good run in the NCAA tournament this season, Boatright will need to step his game up another level and be the second fiddle to Napier’s leading act.
For the big men, Junior DeAndre Daniels will be expected to lead the way. The 6”8 forward averaged 12.1 points per game last season and shot the ball effectively from everywhere on the court. While he can mix it up in the paint, Daniels’ best attributes is that he can stretch the floor with his jump shots, opening up more lanes for Napier to drive the paint. As for the traditional big man role, UConn staff hopes that incoming freshman Kyle Facey can fill that role. At the moment, Facey is a long, athletic big who runs the floor and gets most of his stats from effort plays. Because the Huskies are not terribly deep with big men, Facey should get a lot of minutes in his first year and he will be an important part of UConn’s success.
Defensively, both Napier and Boatright are very active on the perimeter. They play the passing lanes well and their on ball defense is more than adequate. The same can be said of Omar Calhoun, who provides the back up at both guard spots when either of the Huskies’ star players need a breather. As a team, the UConn’s perimeter defense is undoubtedly their strength in defending the ball.
In the paint, Daniel provides a good shot blocking presence when he is on the court and in spot minutes, Enosch Wolf can use his size to intimidate opposing guards. A lot of hope will be lying on Facey’s athleticism and speed to both block shots and pull down rebounds. The Huskies were one of the worst rebounding teams in division one last season and they will need to find more rebounding opportunities in order to continue to get better.
Due to the Big East transfers and changes, the new American Athletic Conference is a considerably weaker division than what UConn once found themselves in. Other than Louisville, who are the defending champions, most of the teams in the AAC have been struggling or under-performing for most of the decade. For UConn, that means a lot of easy opportunities come conference play. They should be able to beef up their record over that time and make a good case for themselves as a fairly high seed in the NCAA tournament.
As mentioned, the Huskies are not a good rebounding team. A lot of that comes from not having a traditional big man who spends his time down in the paint and boxes people out. Daniels pitches in and Napier is a solid rebounder from the perimeter but that is about as good as it got last season for UConn.
If Facey is too small to handle himself down low from the start of the season, and that could happen as he is barely 200 pounds, then the Huskies will have to find ways to get more rebounds as a team. Playing more zone defense or possibly focusing on boxing out every opponent instead of leaking guards out might be some solutions for coach Ollie. We won’t truly know until we see the team in action if rebounding will be as much of a problem as last year.
On the offensive side of the ball, not having a traditional big man can sometimes hurt UConn. Most teams know that the ball is going through Napier and oftentimes, he will be the one taking the shot. Not having more options, especially down low, clogs up lanes for Napier who then has a much harder time finding good shots for himself. One way to remedy the situation is to focus the offense more on the team rather than on Napier, if Boatright, Daniels, Calhoun and the freshman Facey all get more shots, it will make the Huskies’ offense much more unpredictable. In late game situations, not having a post presence will most definitely hurt UConn in a considerable way, they will have to rely on long distance shots much more often than a team that has a reliable post offense.
While their strength of conference is a positive for the Huskies in the sense that they should get some easy wins, it could also come to hurt them in the long run. A lot of experts will call their wins cheaper than other teams in stronger conferences because UConn is playing much weaker competition. Should they lose a few games in conference season that they should have won, it will probably impact the way the team is viewed by the public, whether or not it is legitimate.
What to expect at UConn next season:
With Napier playing for a possible player of the year selection and ultimately his NBA chances, the Huskies should be an exciting team to watch. They should have no worries from their guard rotation but their lack of an experienced big man could very well hurt them in a few games next season.
Because the AAC is so much weaker than the Big East, they should do much better than last year’s 10-8 conference record. It would not be a stretch to expect them to win around 15 games in AAC play. Combined with what should be a non-conference record that will be over.500, the Huskies should be an easy pick to make the NCAA tournament.
Once there, they will go as far as Napier can take them. The NCAA tournament always becomes a much tighter affair on D and if Napier can’t go on a Kemba Walker like run, UConn will probably hit a brick wall a few games in. If that is the case, Huskies fans should not be disappointed because UConn is a team still very much in transition. Ollie has shown to be a good coach in his first year and he will continue to learn. Looking towards 2014 and beyond, the Huskies will once again start recruiting highly ranked recruits and should find themselves back up with the NCAA’s elite in no time.
Once the full schedule is released, make sure to grab some Uconn Huskies tickets here for the 2013-14 season. One matchup to check out: the Huskies will face the defending champion Louisville Cardinals.