Senior guard Shabazz Napier returns to lead the Huskies back to the NCAA tournament.
For the first time in over a year, meaningful basketball games will return to the University of Connecticut, and second year head coach Kevin Ollie seems to have his team primed to build on the success of what many felt was a lost 2012-13 campaign.
Last year's Huskies overachieved and finished the season with 20 wins and upset victories over Michigan State, Notre Dame and Syracuse. Unfortunately, they were barred from postseason play due to poor academic performance, but the team bought wholly into Ollie's system and performed well with little more than pride on the line.
If last season was about pride and figuring out what the team was made of, this year is about putting it all together and making a serious run at returning to tournament glory.
The Huskies face a new conference, with some new faces in the frontcourt and a coach committed to getting the best out of his young team.
This will help set you up right for the season ahead with your complete preview of the 2013-14 UConn Huskies.
The 7'0" Brimah, out of Archbishop Carroll HS in Miami, FL, was coach Kevin Ollie's first commit during his rookie year at the helm of his alma mater. He's the type of athletic big man the Huskies hope will provide them with the dominant interior presence they've lacked in recent years.
The early returns have been good, and Brimah shined in the Huskies Oct. 30 exhibition opener against Southern Connecticut State. He chipped in eight points, three boards and five blocks in 17 minutes of action during a 93-65 rout.
UConn has one of the deepest backcourts in the nation, but its frontcourt needs some work. With his height, length and athleticism, Brimah will have every opportunity to make an immediate impact.
After graduating from George Washington last year, senior guard Lasan Kromah decided over the summer to spend his final year of eligibility playing at UConn. He will be reunited in Storrs with assistant coach Karl Hobbs who was head coach of the Colonials from 2001-2011.
Kromah averaged 10.1 points per game last season at George Washington, and he'll join the returning Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun to form one of the deepest backcourts in the country.
Just over a week ago, it was still uncertain whether Kentan Facey—another of Ollie's premier incoming recruits—would even be eligible to play this season. Without getting into the details of a very confusing eligibility situation, he was recently granted a waiver by the NCAA allowing him to play this season and have four years of eligibility.
The Huskies hope that Facey, a 6'8" forward from Jamaica, NY, will add some quality depth to their frontcourt. He's very raw offensively, but he has a high ceiling.
Like Brimah, he's long, athletic and runs the floor well. Coach Ollie will likely be looking to give him solid minutes behind DeAndre Daniels and provide another scoring and shot-blocking option on the interior. It's been a while since UConn has had guys who are capable of defending the rim, and if everything pans out, Facey could be a big part of bringing that back.
Considered by many to have NBA potential, Shabazz Napier is the best player on the team and the key to their success in the season ahead. There was some speculation that after leading the Huskies to a somewhat surprising 20-10 mark last season, he could bolt for the NBA Draft, but he ultimately decided to return for his senior year.
That must've been news to UConn fans ears, as Napier turned in his most complete season in 2012-13, leading the Huskies in points-per-game (17.1), assists-per-game (4.6) and three point shooting percentage (.398).
As he's developed as a player over the past three seasons, Napier has seen his scoring go up and his shot selection improve. He's lethal from the perimeter and can be more than counted on to nail a clutch shot or free throw. It's not an understatement to say that he's the driving force behind this team.
The other part of UConn's dynamic backcourt duo, Ryan Boatright really came into his own last season and became the dependable secondary—and on some nights, primary—scoring option the Huskies desperately needed. His chemistry with Napier was crucial to the team's success, and both being back is a huge boon for the team in the season ahead.
Boatright averaged 15.4 ppg in his sophomore year and combined with Napier to account for nearly half of UConn's total scoring. More importantly, he often showed the ability to up his game when others were struggling.
If last season was his coming-out party, this could be the year he puts it all together.
Here we have one of those players with immense physical tools, who is capable of taking over a game but has struggled with consistency on a night-in and night-out basis. Simply put, there were some games last year when Daniels looked every bit the top-tier recruit who committed to UConn in 2011 without ever setting foot on campus but others when you didn't know he was in the arena.
The Huskies are hoping that as he's matured—both physically and as a player—that he'll come into his own and become a force down low. With greater frontcourt depth, Daniels could be allowed to spend more time at the 3 spot, where he is better suited, rather than the 4 where he is undersized.
DeAndre Daniels will benefit from increased frontcourt depth this season.
Here is the complete roster for the 2013-14 UConn Huskies:
|0||Phillip Nolan||6'10" 212||Forward||SR|
|2||DeAndre Daniels||6'9" 195||Forward||JR|
|3||Terrence Samuel||6'4" 190||Guard||FR|
|5||Niels Griffey||6'7" 205||Guard/Forward||SR|
|10||Tyler Olander||6'10" 230||Forward||SR|
|11||Ryan Boatright||6'0" 168||Guard||JR|
|12||Kenton Facey||6'9" 200||Forward||FR|
|13||Shabazz Napier||6'1" 180||Guard||SR|
|14||Pat Lenehan||6'3" 181||Guard||JR|
|20||Lasan Kromah||6'6" 201||Guard||SR|
|21||Omar Calhoun||6'6" 200||Guard||SO|
|22||Leon Tolksdorf||6'8" 218||Forward||SO|
|25||Tor Watts||6'1" 202||Guard||SR|
|35||Amida Brimah||7'0" 218||Center||FR|
|44||Rodney Purvis||6'4" 203||Guard||SO|
Starting Five: Shabazz Napier; Ryan Boatright; Omar Calhoun; DeAndre Daniels; Tyler Olander
Key Contributors off the Bench: Amida Brimah; Lasan Kromah; Kenton Facey; Niels Griffey; Terrence Samuel
The ultimate X-factor for the 2013-14 Huskies is their ability to improve their rebounding, which was absolutely dismal last season. In fact, calling it dismal might be too much praise.
UConn ranked just—ready for it—243rd in the nation in total rebounding a season ago, and that number will need to drastically improve if they hope to contend for an American Athletic Association title and make some noise during March Madness.
The 6'9" Daniels was inconsistent on the glass last season, and he'll need to be a big part of the solution this year. He should get some help from the addition of a genuine 7-footer in Amida Brimah, but the onus is really on him to up his game.
UConn's biggest strength is their backcourt, where they are as deep and dangerous from the perimeter as any team in the nation. Omar Calhoun became a big part of that group last year when he earned quality minutes and averaged over 11 points per game in his freshman year with the Huskies.
He was pretty dependable if you needed a clutch shot and developed great chemistry with backcourt mates Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. With those two players returning, Calhoun should remain a secondary scoring option, but that's fine.
It gives him time to continue his development, and prepare him to take over the backcourt next year when Napier graduates and Boatright potentially jumps to the NBA.
The Huskies haven't been to the Final Four since 2011, and while a run isn't likely, it's not out of the question.
A less-talented UConn team, under a rookie head coach, was able to come away with 20 wins last season and a winning league record in a Big East Conference that sent eight teams to the Big Dance and crowned the eventual national champion.
The Big East has since moved on from the Huskies and left them in the newly minted American Athletic Conference, which among other things, isn't as loaded as they're used to facing. Unlike the old Big East, the AAC only possesses three teams that have the potential to be elite: the defending national champion Louisville, Memphis and UConn.
All three teams will start the season in the preseason Top 25.
Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun combine to make one of the best backcourts in the nation, and head coach Kevin Ollie has reason to be optimistic that the frontcourt will be improved by the continued development of DeAndre Daniels and the arrivals of center Amida Brimah and forward Kentan Facey.
If everything breaks right for the Huskies, they could be in the mix for the inaugural AAC title, and with the right draw, make a deep run into the NCAA tournament.
You know what you're going to get out of Napier, Boatright and Calhoun on a night-by-night basis. You can't say the same for DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander, two of the Huskies big men who have struggled to find consistency in their games.
Olander is a center in name only, and while he'll begin the season in the starting lineup, he only averaged a paltry 4.3 points per game and 3.7 rebounds per game. That isn't close to an imposing line.
The worst case for the Huskies is that the development of their frontcourt doesn't match up with that of their guards, DeAndre Daniels remains an enigma equally capable of brilliance and ineptitude on a nightly basis and the team constantly loses the battle on the glass, as they did all too often a season ago.
If that happens, their backcourt should still be able to propel them to a tournament bid, but all hopes of playing deep into March go out the window.
Kevin Ollie's boys will play with heart and be a factor come tournament time.
There comes a time when you just have to be realistic about things.
Kevin Ollie's group has the potential to make a serious run at the inaugural American Athletic Conference title, but they'll need to go through two other teams that are more dynamic and whom they'll struggle to matchup with.
UConn will be a serious factor, but the AAC will come down to either defending national champion Louisville—who will be led by returning senior Russ Smith and big man Montrezl Harrell—or Memphis whose four-guard lineup will create matchup nightmares for whoever they play.
What we do know about the Huskies is that their backcourt is solid, but the key to determining how they fare over the long haul will be how players like DeAndre Daniels, Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey develop as the season progresses.
UConn was pedestrian—at best—in the frontcourt last season, and if they hope to compete with the elite teams in the country once again, that's going to have to change in a hurry. Otherwise, they'll remain a guard-centric team that's beatable on any given night in which Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright or Omar Calhoun struggle.
The Huskies have the potential to be a 25-win team if all shakes out right. Realistically, they will probably come in just shy of that number, which should be good for a third-place finish in the AAC, an at-large bid to the tournament and a quality run if they get the right draw.
Prediction: 24-7, NCAA At-Large Bid (No. 4 seed), Sweet 16