UConn Basketball: 5 Biggest Questions Huskies Face in Big East Stretch Run
The NCAA tournament will have a bit of a different feel this time around as the UConn Huskies, perennial entrants and multi-time champions, are ineligible for postseason play.
It was announced in June of last year that the program would be banned from tournament play for a season due to academic problems.
Cue the exodus as top players from last year's squad joined new recruits in running far away from the program and its new coach, Kevin Ollie, after their dreams of March glory were dashed.
But for all the turmoil of this season, it has been a highly successful one thus far.
The Huskies (16-6) have overachieved behind strong play form their backcourt, which started the season as Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and now includes freshman Omar Calhoun.
With less than 10 games remaining in the season, the club has several questions that are left unanswered and will follow them into the offseason.
These five will help shape the future of the program beyond this season.
Can the Huskies Eclipse 20 Wins?
You could say that UConn is already playing with house money, but don't do it around Kevin Ollie.
Most major publications picked the Huskies to finish in the bottom half of the Big East. The Sporting News had them a miserable 14th out of 15 teams, and that has not panned out.
With 16 wins already in the bag, the question now becomes how much further can the young squad push it?
A 20-win season is certainly not out of the question, given winnable remaining games against DePaul, Villanova, South Florida and Providence, and would be a huge achievement for Ollie's squad.
It would provide a big confidence boost for a young team and a young coach that is building not for this season but the future.
Can Omar Calhoun Step Up into Shabazz Napier's Shoes?
As much as Shabazz Napier says he is committed to the program for next season, it's natural to remain skeptical.
After all, he is considered one of the better guards in the nation, averages 17 points per game and has already won a national championship.
Simply put, he might not feel a need to stay if his NBA draft stock keeps rising.
Enter Omar Calhoun. The Huskies freshman guard has had an impressive season, but it remains to be seen if he can step into the spotlight next to Ryan Boatright if Napier does indeed make the jump.
Calhoun is averaging over 11 points per game thus far and has earned the trust of the coaching staff, as shown by his consistent minutes.
What's the State of the Huskies' Inside Game?
UConn has traditionally been a team that put its big men to good use, but not so much this season.
This season's team broke a lot of the traditional molds, but none more so than its dominance by guards and not hulking big guys down low.
Rebounding has been one of the team's biggest Achilles' heels this season. They were a dismal 261st in the nation entering this week, and will need to improve in order to compete at a higher level.
DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander both have the height to compete on the inside. Daniels lacks the physical body size, though, but have been disappointing at times.
Daniels is still coming into his own, and as a sophomore has a chance to make big contributions going forward. He will need to bulk up his frame in the offseason in order to stop being pushed around in the paint.
The final stretch run will be key in determining how much these two players can contribute to improving next year's team, particularly near the basket.
Where Will the Depth Come From?
The biggest flaw of this year's team, other than rebounding, has been a lack of consistent contribution from the bench.
It just isn't a very deep team. That has a lot of causes, foremost being sanctions driving away prized recruits and players from last year's squad and leaving a lack of depth off the bench.
It remains to be seen how well coach Kevin Ollie will recruit, though early returns are good with the commitment of near seven-footer Amida Brimah, and he will need to add some depth to the roster.
Napier, Boatright and Calhoun will win a good amount of games. But they tire like all other men and occasionally need to sit the bench and recharge.
It will remain a big question for the remainder of the Big East schedule whether any of the existing Huskies can emerge as a legitimate option off the bench.
Can the Huskies Steal One from a Tournament Team?
While 20 wins is a possibility, it will not be easy and there's little room for error. Of the Huskies remaining eight games half of them are against teams that are locks for the tournament and one more against a team on the bubble.
Syracuse, Georgetown and Cincinnati are definitely bound for March Madness and Villanova is one of those teams with work still to do if they want to be considered.
It'll take a near miracle to snag a victory over the Orange but the Hoyas and Bearcats are certainly beatable.
And what better way to close out a season without postseason hopes than by playing the spoiler?