A little over two weeks after he decided to spend an extra year in prep school rather than go to college Andre Drummond announced that he had changed his mind and would head to Connecticut this fall. It was a shocking change of heart even by the standards of a typical teenager that dramatically changes the landscape of college basketball next season. Instead of the expected North Carolina–Kentucky showdown that college basketball writers have been hyping since the NBA Draft deadline passed we should get a national title picture that is a little less clear. While the Huskies won’t go straight to the top of the pack they may possess the most talented starting line-up in the country with Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi, and Drummond. Even though that group will need a little time to mesh and we expect the other four to take a while to adjust to life without Kemba Walker that is one of most talented, versatile line-ups we have seen in several years.
On top of adding the talent of a potential #1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to the defending national champions, Drummond’s decision gives Jim Calhoun (we are assuming that he is definitely coming back at this point) the flexibility to use two other less-hyped, but still very talented freshmen–DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright–in more targeted action early in their college careers. Perhaps more importantly it allows Smith to move to small forward and Oriakhi, who went through maddening stretches last season where he couldn’t grab a rebound, to power forward where he should be able to overpower most of the other power forwards he faces. And when the leaner, more athletic blow by Oriakhi? They wind up facing Drummond, a player whom many NBA scouts have compared to Amar’e Stoudamire (a little premature, but if you watch the video below you will see why).
Contrary to some of the reaction online this doesn’t automatically vault the Huskies into the #1 spot and a sure-fire repeat champion like Duke appeared to be last season before Kyrie Irving‘s injury. Like the other top contenders the Huskies have their own issues to deal with. The Huskies will have to deal with the obvious issue of how their offense functions without Walker dominating the ball, adjusting to having to run more of the offense through the post, and sorting out a rotation that will rely on freshman who are unproven at the college level no matter how talented they are. What Drummond’s decision does mean is that this year’s national championship picture is suddenly a three-horse race and a year in which college basketball was expected to have its most talent in nearly a decade will get even deeper.