UConn Basketball: Final 2013-14 Grades After National Title Game Win
UConn basketball captured its fourth—and most unlikely—national championship on Monday night with a 60-54 win over Kentucky. As much as the Huskies’ 2013-14 title run was about Shabazz Napier’s individual brilliance, he was far from the only player who took UConn from AAC runner-up to national title winner.
Highlight-reel mainstay DeAndre Daniels had an especially big hand in the Huskies’ postseason success. The slam-dunk artist turned in some of his best individual games of the season when UConn needed an offensive boost in NCAA tournament action.
Herein, a look at the season-long performances turned in by Napier, Daniels and all the rest of the Huskies who made it onto the court in 2013-14. Although overall effectiveness is paramount in these evaluations, some extra weight is allotted to the players who improved over the course of the year and/or made an impact in the postseason.
Nnamdi Amilo, Pat Lenehan and Tor Watts
The trio of sophomore Nnamdi Amilo, junior Pat Lenehan and senior Tor Watts (pictured) is grouped together because all three are walk-ons.
To earn a roster spot without a scholarship at a program with UConn’s talent base—even in light of the personnel exodus prior to 2012-13—is an accomplishment unto itself.
As is typical for walk-ons, none played significant minutes or put up detectable numbers in their combined 19 appearances. Also as usual, all three were fan favorites and have been graded accordingly.
Grade: A (on a curve)
After appearing in 11 games as a freshman, Leon Tolksdorf (left) managed to raise that total to 13 as a sophomore. Unfortunately for the German import, that’s about the only thing that he improved in his second season as a Husky.
His minutes per game, scoring and shooting accuracy all dropped, and his rebounding (a key category for the 6’8” youngster) barely increased, from 0.7 to 0.8 boards per game.
Even in his best performance of the year, during Shabazz Napier’s near-triple-double show against Detroit, he had just four points, two rebounds and two assists.
Kentan Facey was expected to be the centerpiece of Kevin Ollie’s recruiting class. However, his 6’9”, 200-pound build turned out to be the full extent of his similarity to junior standout DeAndre Daniels.
Facey managed double-digit minutes in just four games, all in garbage time. His best performance—10 points, four boards and a steal against South Florida—offers some hope for the future, but he certainly wasn’t ready to contribute this season.
Even at his peak as a junior, Tyler Olander was always a borderline rotation contributor in spite of his tantalizing size (6’10”, 230 lbs). As a senior, he fell back out of the rotation entirely as Phillip Nolan and Amida Brimah emerged.
Unlike most of UConn’s back-of-the-bench reserves, Olander did appear as recently as the Final Four win over Florida. However, the senior finished the year averaging just 1.8 points and 1.2 rebounds in 8.3 minutes per game, firmly in non-factor territory.
Although Terrence Samuel spent the regular season on the end of the bench, he’d earned Kevin Ollie’s confidence by March.
Samuel’s biggest performances of the year both came during UConn’s NCAA tournament run, in hard-earned wins over Villanova and Iowa State.
In those two games, the 6’4” freshman—best known for his defensive acumen—scored a combined 21 points while adding four rebounds and three assists. He played a significant role in three of the Huskies’ six tourney victories.
A starter in 2012-13, Omar Calhoun opened his sophomore season in the same role, posting impressive scoring performances such as an 18-point effort against Yale in the second game of the year.
As the season wore on, though, his comparatively suspect defense and the emergence of new rotation options slashed his playing time to almost nothing.
Calhoun’s last double-digit scoring performance came on December 28 against Eastern Washington. He played just four minutes in the NCAA tournament.
Extrapolate most of Amida Brimah’s numbers out to starter’s minutes (roughly twice his actual playing time), and you get a passable but unremarkable center: 8.2 points per game, 6.0 rebounds a night.
However, as a shot-blocker, he would have been the best in the country with 4.6 rejections per contest.
Even his actual pace of 2.3 blocks a game is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a freshman reserve getting his first taste of American basketball.
The Ghanaian youngster showed more confidence on offense as the year went on, too, scoring 14 points in an AAC tourney loss to Louisville and another nine against St. Joseph’s in the Big Dance.
Even after closing the NCAA tournament with four straight games of four points or less, Lasan Kromah left no doubt of his value in the Huskies rotation.
The graduate transfer from George Washington gave Kevin Ollie a third elite backcourt defender to complement starters Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, and he did it with enough length (6’6”) to handle bigger guards who could otherwise wear down that undersized duo.
On paper, the former Colonials starter had the worst year of his career (and the only one spent primarily as a backup), but he filled a crucial niche for UConn.
He also gave the team another senior leader to help it weather the emotional highs and lows of a wild March Madness ride.
Offensively challenged centers are nothing new for UConn, which had Alex Oriakhi in the middle for its 2011 title run. Phillip Nolan, however, never provided the defensive toughness or the rebounding that made Oriakhi so effective.
Although he finished the season as the starter in the post, Nolan only managed to stay on the floor for longer than 20 minutes in one of the six tournament games, partly because he reached the four-foul mark in three of them.
Indeed, the five fouls he could commit in a game were often Nolan’s primary contribution to the Huskies.
Although DeAndre Daniels started reeling off 20-point games as early as November 17 against Boston U, the extent to which he’d improved since his first year as a starter didn’t really become clear until the postseason.
He recorded two double-doubles in the entire regular year, then added one in the AAC tournament and two more in the Big Dance.
Daniels became a bona fide three-point threat this season, raising his accuracy from .309 to .417 in the space of a year.
Added to his already-celebrated dunking ability and solid rebounding, that outside shot made the difference in him becoming a star in his own right by the time the Huskies cut down the nets in Arlington.
Thanks in large measure to his experience with the German national team over the offseason, Niels Giffey was UConn’s most improved player in 2013-14.
His scoring jumped to a career-best 8.4 points per game, he became an impeccable long-range shooter (.483, after sinking to a career-low .294 as a junior), and he battled his way into the starting lineup by year’s end.
The 6’7” senior didn’t provide as much rebounding as Kevin Ollie might’ve liked, but his 3.8 boards a night shot up to 6.0 in the Big Dance. He capped his dual-championship career with 10 points and five rebounds in the title-game win over Kentucky.
Less turned out to be more for Ryan Boatright, whose offensive numbers dipped this season as his teammates picked up more of the scoring slack.
A less demanding role in the offense let the quick-handed junior expend even more of his energy on the defensive end, where he recorded a career-best 1.6 steals per game.
The Huskies’ best pure defender, Boatright’s crowning achievement was to lock down SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin in UConn’s convincing Final Four win over Florida.
He was the only Husky other than Shabazz Napier to score in double figures in all six NCAA tournament games.
If somebody finds a grade better than A+, Shabazz Napier will deserve that, too. What Kemba Walker did as a junior, Napier did in the single greatest senior season in UConn history.
Without Napier—the top scorer, passer, ball hawk and regular-season rebounder on the roster—seventh-seeded UConn doesn’t even make the field of 68, let alone win it all.
His scoring and passing accounted for more than 40 percent of the points UConn put up in its NCAA tournament run.