Despite all our various proclamations of "UConn's national title defense starts now" or "college basketball is finally back" over the past month, UConn still has yet to play a game that counts. That changes tomorrow night when the Huskies host Columbia, but before we get to that (or Meacham's annual 8,000-word season preview, which is coming soon). But before we get to all that, we have seen the Huskies play 80 minutes of preseason basketball and it's worth taking a look at where they are now.
The first thing that jumps out when you watch the team is their incredible length. It's tough to measure exactly how good the front court is because of the size of their opponents, but it is still clear that UConn has all the tools to be a defensive nightmare for teams that like to attack the inside. Opponents are going to have to find a way to snake through the long arms of Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Daniels, Tyler Olander and (especially) Roscoe Smith just to get to the hoop. If they get past that they'll be running into Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond in the post. Neither of the big men were consistently amazing (though both showed flashes), but they were always at least good, and the combination of the two means that even if one is having an off night, the other will be there to shut down any easy looks.
That length comes through on the offense too. The only person on the team under 6'7" that is not a point guard is Jeremy Lamb, and he's 6'5". Both Lamb and Daniels have shown nice 3-point touches, making them doubly hard to defend, and if Shabazz Napier is able to work the ball inside to the rest of the crew you can forget about stopping the Huskies up close. Andre Drummond is raw (just watch him shoot a free throw), but after a terrible first half against AIC, he put together 60 minutes of offensive dominance around the rim. One cause for concern? All of the Huskies, at one point or another, had issues finishing around the rim, and there were a handful of instances where it took the Huskies several putback attempts to get the ball into the hoop, if they got it in at all.
Of course, there is a downside to all that size.
And it's that UConn is going to get torched by teams who have a hot shooter. UConn's perimeter defense has never been a strong suit, and it looks like that won't change this year (I've already penciled in Tim Abromaitis for 30 points in each of Notre Dame's games against UConn). The exception, of course, is Shabazz Napier, who continues to be a tenacious and pesky defender. The problem is that there is only one Shabazz, and he can't cover everyone, nor can he play all the time.
Speaking of Shabazz not playing all the time, UConn's biggest hole right now is at point guard, because Ryan Boatright's NCAA investigation is still pending. The only scholarship players on the roster smaller than 6'7" are Lamb, Napier and Boatright, so being down one won't work. Calhoun briefly experimented with playing Lamb at the point, but anyone watching knew 30 seconds into the trial that it was never going to work. Walk-on Brendan Allen has done a respectable job filling in, but he's a natural 2, whose ceiling is probably "Craig Austrie / Rob Garrison in 2006," which is fine, unless you want to win a national title.
It's pretty clear that Boatright is going to be back, so it's not a long-term position concern. The really worry for UConn has to be how the freshman will develop. The sooner he gets back the better because it'll give him a soft landing before the rigors of Big East play kick in. There are going to be points this year where Shabazz will get in foul trouble Boatright will be called on to play 20+ minutes, so the more time he gets on the court in the early going the better.
Finally, there is Shabazz. There is a massive amount of potential on this roster, but at the end of the day none of it is going to matter if Napier can't distribute the ball and control the game. So far? So good. I was thrilled with Shabazz's performances in the first two games. Yes, there have already been plenty of "Vintage Shabazz" moments (my favorite came vs. AIC: With about 10 seconds left on the shot clock Shabazz over-dribbled around the perimeter, killed the clock and forced up a brick of a 3. Of course, as soon as AIC got the ball, Shabazz stole it and got an assist in transition.), but such is life with Shabazz. I have hope his decision making will get better, but it's good enough for now. The main concern remains his minutes, but that's out of UConn's hands until the NCAA has its say.