UConn Basketball: Keys to Huskies' 2012 NCAA Tournament Run

Donald Wood@@Donald_WoodFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2012

UConn Basketball: Keys to Huskies' 2012 NCAA Tournament Run

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    While the Big East Conference is all about the Syracuse Orange, the NCAA tournament will feature another conference foe that may be just as dangerous—the University of Connecticut Huskies.

    The defending NCAA national champions come into the tournament with a less-than-stellar 19-12 record, but as they proved last year, it’s all about momentum. With a mediocre performance in the Big East tournament, the Huskies are ready for the NCAA madness.

    With head coach Jim Calhoun returning from back surgery just in time for the Big East tournament, he has proven to be the spark that the team needed to push for another national title.

    While three titles for Calhoun seemed like enough, winning another NCAA tournament is just too alluring for the coach to turn down.

Superstars Who Must Shine

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    Jeremy Lamb

    There is no better player on the UConn Huskies than sophomore forward Jeremy Lamb. With Lamb averaging a team-high 17.8 points per game while adding on 4.8 rebounds, UConn knows who their No. 1 guy is.

    Lamb is most dangerous when he is playing against a man defense where he can exploit his size and first-step ability on slower or smaller defenders. With his versatility to play guard and forward, Lamb works in every offensive set.

    UConn will have to ride his talents through NCAA tournament if they want to make it back to and win another national championship.

    Shabazz Napier

    The other major cog in the offensive schemes is guard and versatile point man Shabazz Napier. If it’s not Lamb scoring in bunches, it’s probably Napier.

    Napier will be the court general that gets the plays moving, but one thing he cannot try to be is Kemba Walker. With Walker’s NCAA run fresh in everyone’s mind, Napier needs to remember that he is more of a facilitator than a scorer.

    If Calhoun and the coaching staff can keep their point guard under control while continuing to give him enough looks to be effective, Napier will help lead them through a deep NCAA run.

Role Player Who Must Emerge

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    Andre Drummond

    Free throws. If UConn center Andre Drummond starts hitting his free throws, there aren’t too many games the Huskies will ever lose. The 6’10” behemoth is only shooting 29.1 percent this season.

    Drummond is already the main defensive cog down low that can rebound and put shots back for the Huskies when needed. While he doesn’t have many plays drawn up for him, he is the kind of player that can take over the paint in the NCAA tournament.

    If the Huskies want to make another national title run this season, they will need Drummond to emerge as more than a role player and become a star.

Offensive Strategy to Watch

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    Jim Calhoun is a perennial contender in the NCAA tourney each and every year because he plays to the strengths of his athletes. With a diverse group of scorers and playmakers on the Huskies team, UConn can and will throw everything at their opponents.

    The offense will always be run through Jeremy Lamb to start because he can not only make plays for himself, he can make plays for others. The Huskies will continue to feed the ball to Lamb early and often until any opponent proves that stopping him is possible.

    One of the lost arts to the UConn offense is their ability to shoot from the perimeter. With four shooters at over 33 percent three-point shooting, this team is a bit different than Huskies teams of years past.

Defensive Strategy to Watch

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    One of the biggest reasons the UConn Huskies have had the kind of success they have under head coach Jim Calhoun is because of their man-to-man style defense. When performed well, their style is hard to exploit.

    With the amount of hustle coached into these kids, the key for any offense is to catch the Huskies when they collapse down low. If UConn can avoid being sucked into that inside-out game, they will dominate almost any team in the nation.

    The biggest key will be keeping focused for the Huskies. We have seen a few times during the regular season that when the team was down early, they really started to play poor defensive basketball. The key to their offense is their defense, as long as they remember that, they’ll contend for the 2012 NCAA national title.

Biggest NCAA Tournament Hurdle

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    The UConn Huskies were shafted a bit when it comes to their draw in the pool, being relegated all the way down to the No. 9 seed overall in the South division of the bracket.

    To make matters worse, if they get past the Iowa State Cyclones in the Round of 64, they will be forced to face the No. 1 overall seed Kentucky Wildcats. As much as it hurts to say, I do not see the Huskies beating a team as talented as Calipari’s Wildcats.

Last-Second NCAA Tournament Prediction

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    The Huskies couldn’t have received a worse draw in the 2012 NCAA tournament. As I said before, I don’t see them advancing past the third round unless Kentucky gets miraculously knocked off by the winner of the Western Kentucky vs. Mississippi Valley game.

    If UConn somehow sneaks past Kentucky, they will have the likes of VCU, Indiana, Baylor and Notre Dame to worry about, as well as the big worry, Duke.

    The conclusion: UConn will not be repeating this year. Sorry Huskies.

    Check back for more on the NCAA Basketball as it comes, and check out Bleacher Report’s College Basketball Page to get your fill of college basketball.