Kevin Ollie's first season at Connecticut was as pressure-less as it gets for a first-year coach taking over for a legend.
Ollie wasn't expected to take the Huskies to the NCAA tournament because they weren't allowed. UConn was not up to Academic Progress Rates under Jim Calhoun from 2007-08 to 2010-11, and the penalty was a 2013 postseason ban.
By still putting together a winning season—the Huskies went 20-11—when Ollie's team had "nothing to play for," Ollie's first year was considered a success. He passed the test that didn't count.
Next season counts, and Ollie will be watched with a much more critical eye because he no longer has excuses—not that he needed them last year. The Huskies return their top seven leading scorers. Ollie signed a solid recruiting class and added an impact transfer in George Washington's Lasan Kromah.
It's a team that should end up in the NCAA tournament. Ollie has a five-year contract to prove he's worthy of continuing the tradition that Calhoun created. Will he?
Comparing Ollie to Calhoun
In April, Ollie spoke to some kids at the Naismith Hall of Fame and relayed to them a message Calhoun gave him when he retired. Via The Hartford Courant:
"He said, 'I'm going to pass this baton to you. Don't follow in my footsteps, make your own.'"
Looking at Ollie's first year as a whole in comparison to Calhoun, there's reason to believe they have some differences in philosophy. Ollie is creating his footprint.
Offensively, the Huskies were allowed to shoot the three more often than any of Calhoun's teams. The 2012-13 Huskies shot 34.1 percent of their attempts from deep; in the last 10 seasons under Calhoun, the Huskies never shot more than 30 percent of their attempts from deep.
One explanation is the way that UConn's team was constructed. The Huskies' two leading scorers were Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, two guards willing to shoot off the dribble or penetrate and pitch.
The other main difference offensively was UConn's inability to offensive rebound. The Huskies ranked 278th in offensive rebounding percentage last season. Calhoun's final 10 teams all ranked in the top 18 in that statistic, according to KenPom.com (subscription needed).
This is another difference that could be the result of personnel rather than a philosophical preference. It's hard to believe the Huskies would have ranked so low had they not lost Andre Drummond (to the NBA) or Alex Oriakhi (to transfer).
The loss of those two big men forced Ollie to play with a different approach defensively. The Huskies gambled more, fouled more and blocked fewer shots. Ollie did sign a project big man—6'11" center Amida Brimah—which suggests that UConn is still a program always looking to find great shot-blockers who can protect the paint.
That has been the blueprint to UConn's success and something that Ollie would be wise to duplicate while creating an offensive identity that is more in his image.
Looking Forward to 2013-14
Had the Huskies been postseason eligible in 2013, they would have been a bubble team.
A bubble team that returns everyone, including one of the nation's most promising backcourts, is usually something to be excited about the following season.
There isn't any reason to believe that Napier and Boatright will not dominate the ball once again. Both guards were fairly efficient shooters last season, and both did a good job at getting to the line. With slight improvements, their production alone should make UConn a Top 25 team.
For Ollie's team to win like some of Calhoun's better teams, he will need to get better production from his big men, particularly on the boards.
DeAndre Daniels was the leading rebounder last season with 5.5 boards per game, but his advanced rebounding numbers indicate he wasn't that great of a rebounder. Daniels was also the only inside player to average better than five points per game.
Incoming freshman Kentan Facey, a 6'8" power forward, could make an immediate impact if he's ready to rebound and score on the college level.
UConn is ranked 21st in our latest preseason rankings. But if Ollie can get more from his big men, the Huskies have enough talent to be a Sweet 16 team.
What next season should tell us more than last year could is Ollie's abilities in player development. He's already showed his strength as a recruiter, and he already proved he can manage a program by getting last year's team to play as if something was on the line.
Win consistently in 2013-14, and Ollie will be off and running with the UConn baton.
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