The UConn Huskies men's basketball team, led by Hall of Fame Coach Jim Calhoun, capped off an improbable 2010-2011 season with a national championship when they defeated Butler University 53-41.
Propelled by the electric play of PG Kemba Walker, a first-round selection in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats, and the surprising play of freshmen Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier, the Huskies rattled off 11 victories to end the season.
The run started in the Big East Tournament when the No. 9-seeded Huskies defeated five opponents in five days, the first to ever accomplish this feat in the Big East Tournament, with notable victories against No. 1-seeded Pittsburgh, No. 4-seeded Syracuse and No. 3-seeded Louisville.
The Huskies followed up this incredible feat with one better. The Huskies entered March Madness as a No. 3 seed, 12 days after losing four of their last five to end the regular regular season, appearing all but dead in the water, and soared to six straight victories, knocking off powerhouse programs Arizona and Kentucky on the way to the championship.
With the loss of spark-plug Kemba Walker and veteran role players Charles Okwandu and Donnell Beverly, many question if the young Connecticut Huskies can repeat as national champions. The answer? Yes.
The UConn Huskies have been busy at work in preparation for the upcoming season. One of these things just happens to be competing in pickup games against UConn greats past and present on campus.
As per an interview by the Hartford Courant, UConn greats Ray Allen and Donyell Marshall have been participating in pickup games in anticipation of the NBA lockout ending. Without the ability to attend their respective teams' facilities, these former Huskies have returned to help out the new pack.
This practice against NBA greats can do nothing but give the 2011-2012 Huskies an edge when the time comes for the regular season to begin. If Jeremy Lamb and company can keep up with the likes of NBA legend Ray Allen, Husky faithful can be nothing but confident for the upcoming season.
One question mark that many have for the 2011-2012 Connecticut Huskies involves their lack of veteran leadership. Many times last season, Kemba Walker put the team on his back and carried them to victory.
With the loss of Kemba Walker, the Huskies return zero seniors to this years squad.
However, this doesn't appear to be as big an issue as some would think when looking at the early season schedule for the Huskies. Other than a matchup against Arkansas in the Big East/SEC Challenge on January 3, the Huskies do not project to face a particularly stiff test in the early going of the season.
And the rich only get richer when looking to the layout of the Big East schedule. Other than an early test against resurgent St. John's on January 31, the Huskies do not meet heavy hitters Louisville, Syracuse, or Pittsburgh until February.
With plenty of time for this young team to play together before facing their biggest challenges of the season, the Huskies will have more than enough time to find a new leader.
Alex Oriakhi Lead a Strong Returning Frontcourt
The Huskies return the majority of their front court, a group that absolutely shut down Butler defensively in the national championship game.
Tyler Olander, sophomore center, showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch last season and only figures to grow more this season. His relative inconsistency can be chalked up to freshman jitters, something he will surely shake this season.
Roscoe Smith, sophomore power forward, started a number of games last year for the Huskies. In the national championship, Smith did not score any points but blocked four shots while adding four rebounds. His ability to step outside the three-point arc and knock down the shot makes this young big man a very valuable asset.
The marquee post player, however, has to be junior C/PF Alex Oriakhi. Highly touted out of high school, Oriakhi has grown as a player each year and figures to explode onto the national scene this year. Oriakhi absolutely dominated the national championship game last year, scoring 11 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and adding four blocks.
This already strong group figures to only grow stronger with the addition of Andre Drummond. Speaking of Andre Drummond...
Andre Drummond, an incredibly touted incoming freshman for the Huskies, is sure to add strength to the front court.
Measuring at 6'10'', 275 lbs. according to ESPN.com's recruiting section, this behemoth will prove to be a force on the inside against any basketball player in the country.
With his great ball-handling skills, both dribbling and passing, Drummond should prove to be a mismatch against many of the lumbering big men in the country. The addition of Drummond also allows coach Jim Calhoun to bounce around Alex Oriakhi, perhaps playing him at his more natural position of power forward.
While I could sit here showering Drummond with praise all day long, the video posted should surely do all of the talking for me.
The diminutive sophomore point guard from Randolph, Massachusetts, Shabazz Napier was consistently a spark plug for the UConn Huskies last season.
Often times coming off the bench to spell Kemba Walker at point guard, in the process allowing Kemba to play off the ball, Shabazz regularly led an electric UConn Huskies attack.
On top of his ability to distribute the ball effectively, Shabazz was noted for his phenomenal defense. Napier averaged an incredible 1.6 steals per game last season, giving opposing teams fits all season long.
The last time a UConn Husky spent his freshman year spelling a veteran point guard while learning in the process, he didn't turn out to be too bad a player. His name is Kemba Walker. You may have heard of him. I have all the faith in the world that Shabazz Napier can explode onto the scene much like Kemba did this past year.
When Kemba Walker couldn't get the job done at times last season, the UConn Huskies more often than not turned to one man: Jeremy Lamb.
The lanky freshman small forward grew in leaps and bounds as the season went on. With his signature floater and ability to shoot from all over the court, Lamb created fits for opposing coaches.
Finishing the season averaging 11.8 points per game and shooting 36.8 percent from behind the three-point arc, Jeremy Lamb is an incredibly dangerous shooter.
While many question if the Huskies will be able to fill the scoring void left by Kemba Walker's departure, you need not look any farther than sophomore Jeremy Lamb to answer this question.
Hall of Fame member. Three national championships. 852 wins. Nine Big East regular season championships. Seven Big East Tournament championships.
Any one of the things on this list would be an incredible accomplishment for any coach. To have them all in one package is truly stunning.
Early after the completion of the Huskies improbable national championship run, many media members questioned the return of Jim Calhoun. Was he burned out from the investigation into the Connecticut program? Would he want to leave on top? Did he just stay because of his strong relationship with Walker?
Calhoun, one of the winningest coaches of all time, chose to stay and UConn is all the better for it. Calhoun imposes his will upon his players and gives the Connecticut Huskies the ability to accomplish anything.
With Jim Calhoun at the helm, the 2011-2012 Connecticut Huskies can accomplish anything. Expect the Huskies to be cutting down the nets again come next March.