UConn Huskies Have Lots of Room to Grow in Lost Season

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2013

Kevin Ollie faces a tall task as the Huskies jump into Big East play.
Kevin Ollie faces a tall task as the Huskies jump into Big East play.Winslow Townson/Getty Images

When Kevin Ollie took the reins of the Connecticut Huskies basketball team he knew he faced an extremely tough task.

The weight of expectations—nobody in Storrs will tolerate losing for long—following a legendary coach and facing NCAA sanctions that among other things ban the Huskies from 2013 postseason play would be enough.

Add to that mix a depleted roster, the loss of many recruits and a murderous meat of the Big East schedule that's about to begin and you have enough problems to make most coaches run for the hills.

If you know anything about Kevin Ollie and his approach to basketball, you'd know he wouldn't have it any other way.

The Huskies (11-3, 1-1) have been a pleasant surprise in the early going with a win over then-No. 14 Michigan State and tough, competitive losses against nationally ranked New Mexico and NC State.

But now the real challenges begin with a brutal three-game Big East stretch that includes two teams ranked in the top 20 and one that sits just outside of it.

It's a tall task but a great chance for growth and learning experiences for a young team that relies more on guard play than would traditionally make fans of the team comfortable.

Both sophomore Ryan Boatright and junior Shabazz Napier are off to fast starts, averaging over 15 points per game.

Rebounding and physical play down low are key flaws that will need to improve as the season goes on and the competition level goes up.

Entering this weekend the Huskies rank 275th in the nation in rebounding. If you can find a more telling stat then good luck.

While the sanctions definitely hurt for this season, with star players Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond opting for the NBA rather than a year with no tournament, it also gives Ollie a chance to make his mark with a little less pressure.

Expectations, at least for this year, are not high. And that might be good with pending trips this weekend to South Bend to face No. 17 Notre Dame and then back to Storrs to welcome No. 3 Louisville on ESPN Monday night.

If the Huskies can sneak out a win in one of those games then they'll have something to build on. It will be a huge confidence boost for a young team and their new coach.

Sometimes adversity is a good thing. It binds a team together, helps them develop an us-against-the-world mentality and buy into a system. 

And that's certainly a good thing for the UConn Huskies, because they're about to find out what they're made of with a brutal weekend schedule.