Season In Review: Connecticut HuskiesPosted by mlemaire on May 1st, 2013
Despite the fact that there was no postseason at the end of the tunnel thanks to the academic sins of those who came before them, UConn put together quite a remarkable season that should have Huskies’ fans excited about the future of their program. The year started with question marks on everything from who would play in the frontcourt to whether interim coach Kevin Ollie would become Jim Calhoun’s permanent successor. It ended with Ollie as the team’s head coach for the future and the squad winning a mildly surprising 20 games, including a 10-8 mark in Big East play, en route to somewhat of a feel-good story for coach and program. Let’s go deeper inside UConn’s season:
The Huskies were one of the easier teams in the conference to predict but our scribes at the microsite proved at least slightly more accurate than the coaches as we pegged the Huskies to finish 8th, which is where they finished (the coaches pegged them 9th). The expectations were easy once it became clear that the team was going to play hard all season for Ollie. Many figured that their issues in the frontcourt and no prospect of the postseason would put the Huskies near the bottom of the conference. But they also understood that in Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and DeAndre Daniels, there was enough talent in place for UConn to compete with most every team if things went well — which is pretty much exactly what they did.
First things first, this season could have just as easily gone off the rails if the Huskies couldn’t stay motivated, so head coach Kevin Ollie deserves major kudos for the job he did with his new team and apparently the school agreed because midway through the season UConn removed the interim tag from his position. Not only did Ollie keep the team motivated (they only lost two games by more than 10 points and one was to that Louisville buzzsaw), but he helped the squad become an above-average team on both ends that was truly only hampered by its inability to rebound and defend the post. He has also already proven his recruiting chops and should continue to be a more-than-capable replacement for Calhoun. Napier (17.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.4 RPG, 44.1 FG%) became a more judicious shot-taker, an excellent free throw shooter and one of the best floor generals in the conference, setting the stage for what should be a tremendous senior season. Boatright (15.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 42.9 FG%) also saw an uptick in his numbers, although that had something to do with his more prominent role in the offense and an increase in shots attempted. If he can cut down on turnovers and improve his three-point shooting a bit, there will be little doubt which team has the best backcourt in the conference next season. But the man who showed the most improvement was sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels. A non-factor in limited minutes as a freshman (3.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 34.1 FG%), the Huskies were counting on the uber-talented sophomore to make a leap and he didn’t disappoint, averaging 12.1 PPG and 5.5 RPG while shooting better than 46 percent from the field and turning into one of the better shot-blockers in the conference. Without Daniels, the Huskies would have been lucky to win 15 games this season.
Simply put, when the Huskies played physically bigger teams, they had a really tough time rebounding the basketball. They finished dead last in the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage and were at the bottom of the conference in nearly every offensive rebounding category you can think of. Daniels led the team in rebounding and fellow frontcourt players Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey and even Enosch Wolf all averaged fewer rebounds per game than Napier did. Still, it is hard to say this was purely “bad” because the Huskies weren’t a victim of terrible execution; they were a victim of a lack of personnel. Their offense, especially if you count Daniels, was almost entirely perimeter-oriented and they were lucky they had such excellent perimeter players otherwise things could have been much worse. Basically, if this team had been blessed with one or two high level big men whose job it was to exclusively bang on the low block and go after rebounds with reckless abandon, they would have been a much better overall team.
Considering the Huskies will be eligible for the conference and NCAA Tournaments again next season, it is really difficult to poke holes in UConn’s future, which is fine because the Huskies have a bright future ahead of them. For starters, looking at the teams in next season’s American Athletic Conference, only Louisville and Memphis have legitimate claims as better teams and the defending champions will be gone to the ACC after next season. The opportunity is there for UConn to dominate this conference from a basketball standpoint for many years to come. As far as next season’s on-court product, the Huskies were one of the youngest teams in the country and because Napier decided not to test the NBA Draft waters, Ollie will bring back everybody of consequence in 2013-14.
The recruiting class is four-deep with the headliner being athletic and versatile four-star small forward Kentan Facey, who gives the Huskies an embarrassment of riches on the perimeter. The three-headed monster in the backcourt of Napier, Boatright, and rising sophomore Omar Calhoun should be the most difficult in the conference to defend, and if Daniels continue to emerge he could be the best NBA prospect of any of them. Olander and Wolf and rising sophomore Phillip Nolan will all have another year of experience, but the frontcourt will still have major issues so that Ollie will have to find creative ways to manufacture second-chance points and keep opposing teams off the glass. Even with those issues up front, the Huskies should still have enough talent to make their absence from the NCAA Tournament a short one.