By Jon Rothstein
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1. CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Monday was the first time I took in a practice at Gampel Pavilion when Jim Calhoun wasn’t the head men’s basketball coach at UConn. Calhoun was still in the gym and observed most of the two and a half hour session but he clearly isn’t casting a shadow over Kevin Ollie. For more than half the afternoon, Ollie was implementing his own defensive concepts and was clearly the voice that resonated throughout the four walls of the room. Still, being in Storrs, Connecticut and seeing anyone other than Calhoun leading things on the basketball court will take a while to adjust to.
2. PERIMETER POWER
After losing Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi, and Roscoe Smith from last year’s team, UConn is depleted in the front court — but that’s not the case on the perimeter. The Huskies still have quality star power in the back court with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and both could wind up being All-Big East caliber players this season. Holy Cross transfer R.J. Evans isn’t much of an offensive threat but he’s built like an ox and should add toughness. Freshman Omar Calhoun looks ready to make an immediate contribution and Niels Giffey and DeAndre Daniels are both capable of scoring in double figures.
3. TYLER’S TIME
No player will be affected by the decisions of Oriakhi and Smith to transfer to Missouri and UNLV respectively more than Tyler Olander. The 6-9 junior is now the Huskies sole hope to have a low post scoring threat and he doesn’t have much help inside. UConn’s only other true interior player in 7-1 center Enosch Wolf, who barely played last season (1.3 minutes per game) but will now be counted to play in the neighborhood of 20-25 minutes per contest.
4. PURE TALENT
Take one look at DeAndre Daniels and you’ll think he’s a surefire lottery pick. Daniels has the size at 6-9 and all the tools to be an impact player. The sophomore can be lethal both inside and out but his consistency and killer instinct are still in question. After a disappointing freshman season, the Huskies are counting on Daniels to produce in a major way. With no one set to start alongside Olander at power forward, a golden opportunity awaits Daniels if he can rebound at a high level and earn the trust of his teammates and coaching staff.
5. THE OTHER CALHOUN
Omar Calhoun may not be one of the more talked about freshmen entering the Big East this season — but he should be. The former Christ The King star has all the requisites to be a starter for the Huskies by the start of conference play and should develop into a terrific scorer down the line. A solid two-way player that oozes confidence, Calhoun is a capable shooter and has an uncanny ability to get to the foul line. Pencil him in for eight to nine PPG.
It’s hard to see this group cracking the top third of the Big East standings but UConn has the perimeter firepower to win their share of games in the conference. The biggest key will be Daniels, a terrific talent that needs to live up to his ability. If Daniels has a breakthrough season and the Huskies can hold their own on the boards, there’s no reason why this team can’t enjoy several good victories in a year in which they’re ineligible for the postseason due to low APR (academic progress rate) scores. There will be no Big East or NCAA Tournament for the Huskies, but a spirited effort for the duration of the season will make the difference surrounding the future of Ollie as this program’s head coach. The former NBA point guard deserves better than the six-month contract he received to succeed Calhoun but there’s only one way to prove that — winning games.
Your thoughts on the Huskies’ chances? Let Jon know in the comments below!