Two years removed from a final four appearance and nobody really knows what to expect out of these UConn Huskies. After a lackluster 2009-2010 campaign, coach Jim Calhoun and his UConn team look to get back on track in hopes of making another NCAA Tournament appearance.
For Calhoun, even this year's squad is very young. It is unusual, but one player he will have back with much leadership is point guard Kemba Walker. Walker was a freshman on that team that played in the semifinal against Michigan State. He knows what it takes to make it that far in March.
Last season, Walker started off slowly, but towards the end of the season he was the one bright spot on a UConn team that faltered down the stretch. This year he has earned pre-season first team Big East. Many believe Walker is one of the top point-guards in the nation and his experience is going to be vital during this transition period for the young, but talented Huskies.
UConn is a program that always has been nationally ranked, At the beginning of the season there is a lot of uncertainty around this year's squad. They have been picked to finish 10th in the Big East. UConn is rarely predicted to finish towards the bottom of the conference, but heading into the season nobody really knows what to expect out of this team.
There are questions about UConn's size up-front. Charles Okwandu is experienced, but still remains an unproven seven footer. Alex Oriakhi a 6'9" power forward, will have to pick up his production in comparison to last season. UConn needs Oriakhi to shoulder the load and average close to double figure numbers.
He has spent a lot of time this summer in the weight room and doubled-up his workouts. He has talked about how he has taken time to watch film on another great forward from Boston in Jeff Adrien.
In the backcourt with Walker will be Donnell Beverly a senior guard from California. Although Beverly has not averaged a lot of minutes over the last three years, he is now a co-captain and should see an increased amount of playing time.
One area where UConn really struggled last year was shooting the ball from the three. Although most Calhoun teams are not known for lightning it up from beyond the arc, many of the UConn greats made a lot of threes on championship caliber teams.
Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Rashard Anderson, Ben Gordon, Denham Brown and A.J. Price all were capable of making a big three-pointer when it mattered most.
Walker has improved his shooting over the years. Having a perimeter shot adds another dimension to his talented skill-set. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel showed the potential to shoot the three last year, but never was consistent.
Talented freshmen Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb are two players who have displayed shooting-range in practice. Both freshmen are going to need to be able to bring that shooting to the next level in order for this UConn team to be better then most expect them.
The most highly-touted recruit out of this deep-class is 6'8" forward Roscoe Smith. He elected to come to Storrs over Georgetown and Duke. From the Baltimore area, Smith is a versatile forward who is also going to need to contribute on the boards.
This underrated UConn team has plenty of motivation to prove their critics wrong. NCAA sanctions have presented a dark cloud over this program, but there is nothing these players can do about it.
In December the NCAA Infractions Committee is going to release its report and decision on what sanctions will be levied against UConn.
UConn takes a trip out to Maui at the end of November where we will find out how they stack up against some of the better competition in the nation. They could potentially play Michigan State and Kentucky if they are able to advance in this tournament.
Since 1990, Calhoun has never had back-to-back year where his team has missed the NCAA Tournament. In the last twenty years his team has missed the big dance only five times.
Calhoun has built UConn basketball and although he is a bit older now, there is no stop in the fight and determination he has to continue toward winning.