UConn center Tyler Olander has put Kevin Ollie in a difficult position entering his second year as head coach.
Olander was suspended indefinitely on Monday after his second arrest of the year. On Saturday, Olander was charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol/drugs, operating (or towing) an unregistered motor vehicle and operating a motor vehicle in violation of classification, according to a report from The Hartford Courant.
Legendary coach Jim Calhoun had already left Ollie with a underwhelming and thinning front line. Now, calling that front line "thinning" is like a bald man using the comb over. It's approaching nonexistent.
Olander was UConn's only big man left on the roster with any sort of real experience. The Huskies had already lost veteran Enosch Wolf, who had his scholarship taken away for his own legal issues and then decided to play overseas.
Making matters worse, UConn's best incoming freshman big man Kentan Facey has yet to be declared eligible. Facey, who is from Jamaica, has an odd situation and it's in the hands of the NCAA. (You never know what those guys are going to do or how quickly they'll make a decision.)
It all has to be a major headache for Ollie, who has a good enough core that the NCAA tournament is an expectation and finishing second to Louisville in the American Athletic Conference should be the goal.
Now Ollie is scrambling to put together a starting lineup and possibly making major changes to compensate for the loss of Olander, while teams like Memphis, Cincinnati and even Larry Brown's Southern Methodist have to like their chances of passing by UConn.
It's not as though Olander is the Huskies' star. He averaged 4.3 points and 3.7 rebounds last season, and he's far down the totem pull in order of importance behind Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and Omar Calhoun. But his possible absence creates a big gaping hole for the Huskies.
A year ago Ollie started to put his own identity on UConn's offense—allowing more threes to go up, most noticeably—but if there was one thing he would have liked to keep consistent from the Calhoun era, it was UConn's defensive footprint.
"The Calhoun Way" was building a defense from the inside out with a dominant shot-blocker (or multiple shot-blockers) inside. The Huskies didn't exactly have that last year, but Olander, 6'10", and Wolf, 7'1", provided good size.
Without Olander and Facey, Ollie's best option could be to go small and simply try to outscore everyone. Ollie could put together a lineup that would include DeAndre Daniels at center with a perimeter player at the 4—either Niels Giffey or George Washington transfer-wing Lasan Kromah.
Daniels led the team in rebounding and blocked shots a year ago, but that's not saying a lot. The Huskies were one of the worst rebounding teams in the country last year, and they don't figure to get better with Daniels at the 5. Daniels could be at a major disadvantage against some of the legit bigs in the AAC, like Louisville's Montrezl Harrell or Southern Methodist's Yanick Moreira, a junior college All-American last year.
A defense with Daniels at the 5 would hardly be a defense to fear.
And if that's the lineup Ollie decides to roll with, UConn's defense could look like nothing they're used to seeing in Storrs. The Huskies would have to gamble more and try to force a lot of turnovers—something Calhoun's teams never did, as their goal was to contest every shot.
The other option would be to go with unproven big guys and hope they work out. Without Olander and Facey, UConn is down to Phillip Nolan, who averaged only 10.8 minutes per game last year, or freshman 7-foot project Amida Brimah from Ghana.
The Huskies have enough scoring punch in the backcourt so that all Ollie really needs out of the center position is defense and rebounding. It would be nice, however, to have a guy like Olander who has experience.
And it's not given that Olander will return. He was arrested last March for refusing to leave private property during a spring break trip in Florida and had only recently been allowed to participate in team activities. His status going forward could be contingent on how he responds to this second offense. From The Courant:
... UConn coaches want Olander to put basketball aside until he modifies his off-the-court behavior and displays better judgment, a source said. This could include alcohol counseling, which could also be mandated by the court.
Ollie has also set the precedent with Wolf by taking away his scholarship. The circumstances are not the same, but Olander's second run-in with the law could be enough to warrant similar punishment. That's something the coach will have to consider.
After the year ban from the tournament because of UConn's poor Academic Progress Rates, Ollie has to make decision with the program's image in mind.
This is not what he had to have in mind when he laid out his plan for year two of how to replace a legend.
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