During the offseason, I had a difficult time remembering exactly who would be on this UConn team. Four of the top six players by minutes are gone, either to the NBA (Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond) or NCAA Tournament-eligible schools (Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith).
It was a disastrous exodus for UConn, forcing the program to basically start from scratch with two excellent guards, a promising freshman, and a heap of role players. No wonder Kevin Ollie is all about taking the stairs.
So who are the heroes bearing National Flag Blue and White this year? Let's take a look.
The numbers below include both traditional and tempo-free stats, the latter of which are courtesy of the outstanding KenPom (subscription-only for the team/individual pages), which is 100 billion percent worth your $19.95 if you're a college hoops junkie. For a primer on the Four Factors, click here.
Overview: I've never felt more encouraged about this team than I was at the moment when I clicked on Bazz's Pomeroy page and saw his list of comparables. For last year, his sophomore season, the most comparable player is Kemba Walker circa 2009-10 (his sophomore year).
That doesn't necessarily mean Napier is going to make THE LEAP like Kemba did - and there's certainly less depth, and probably less talent than on that championship team - but I am perfectly OK with letting Shabazz take the leadership role this year.
Personality-wise, the brassy Napier and Jim Calhoun were a perfect odd couple, and you could really feel the mutual love and respect. (Bazz on why he came to UConn two years ago: "Jim Calhoun, baby! The guy coaches lottery picks!", a pair of sentences which I've submitted to be added to the Star-Spangled Banner.) That he stayed after Calhoun left is to his credit, and will only make it sweeter every time we yell SHABAZZ~! after a made one-footed 27-footer, or commtiting a silly turnover, as the situation might warrant.
Napier was the alpha-dog point guard last year, and improved his numbers across the board as expected. This year, he is set to move to 2-guard whenever Boatright is in the game. Napier was quiet in the preseason games (4-for-13 from the field in two games), and there are positives and negatives involved with his new role.
Playing off the ball (and not having to create all the offense for 40 minutes) should allow him to spend more energy being his wonderfully annoying Bazzy self on the defensive end. Although the size mismatches, my god the size mismatches.
Offensively, his own shooting numbers should improve just on the basis of not being asked to save every other possession with a wild shot before the shot clock buzzer. Napier will have to be highly efficient as one of the three or four guys who will be asked to score. Improving his 3-point percentage by three points last year is a start, and this year, I expect him to be one of the better guards in the Big East.
Overview: After a weird season interrupted on two occasions by NCAA eligibility concerns, Boatright returns to take over the point guard role as a sophomore. He was mostly very good when he was on the court last year, showing off a nice shot and some obvious creative ability. Athletic as hell - he's probably the most likely Husky to lead in alley-oop dunks, when you think about it - Boatright plays the game at a furious pace. And he's a smaller, peskier version of Napier on defense, which has its strengths and drawbacks.
Boatright spent this summer at the CP3 Elite Guard camp, and was fabulous in the exhibition games, averaging 18 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds. His speed will absolutely give teams problems, and he should be one of the better transition point guards around, but it is still in question how well he can operate a halfcourt offense. UConn was pretty poor in that area last year, and a big ol' chunk of their points in the exhibition games came off of turnovers and quick outlet passes, so any improvement isn't immediately noticeable.
All that being said, Boat Show has an extremely high ceiling, which is exciting, but he will have to step up and play brilliantly for this team to succeed.
The Wild Card
|Hometown||Los Angeles, Calif.
Overview: Coming in as a highly rated recruit (UConn's top recruit until Andre Drummond decided to dunk on the college basketball world), Daniels had a disappointing freshman year. He never really cracked the regular rotation, and he had his only two double-digit scoring games in early November cupcake games. He contented himself to taking more 3-pointers than 2s, but had a very poor shooting year from distance. It was a write-off year, but hopefully a learning experience.
With so much frontcourt talent exiting the program, Daniels will be called on to play both the 3 and the 4. Thus far against Division I teams, he hasn't shown himself to be able to play either - his shot and handle weren't good enough to be a true 3, and he was too lanky and thin to be a full-time power forward.
That being said, it's amazing what an offseason of strength-building can do. Daniels is a competitive dude - he made himself dizzy chasing the eventual winner of the Husky Run - and one preseason double-double (15 points, 14 rebounds vs. UMass-Lowell) and one close (9, 8 vs. AIC) is cause for at least a dash of optimism that Daniels can make an impact this year. And he did show some smoothness and decisiveness in the post against the Division II opponents. If that can translate to real games, and Daniels can focus his offensive attention closer to the hoop, it will be a huge boon for him and the Huskies.
The Impact Freshman
Overview: LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this kid, the latest elite New York City guard to take Storrs by storm. He has a quick release and a pretty shot (8-for-12 from 3 in the exhibitions), he can drive, he's excellent on the fast break, and he showed some excellent basketball sense in UConn's only live action this year. And obviously, with a name like Calhoun, he was born to come here.
If Calhoun can be a player immediately, he gives the offense three extremely talented guards to throw at opponents, similar to last year. In the exhibitions, it sure looked like the best lineup on the floor involved Boatright, Napier and Calhoun. Asking Omar to be a more active Jeremy Lamb might be a bit much, but if Kevin Ollie's expectations are sky-high, I'm right there with him.
Overview: After scoring the opening bucket in the 2011 national title game, Olander seemed to be carving out a nice nitsch, playing double-digit minutes and performing adequately beside Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi. But as the season went on, he appeared less and less, his only notable late-season output a nice effort as a zone-buster in the tight Big East Tournament game with Syracuse (4 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists).
Heading into 2012-13, it's hard to believe that the guy who started 20 games two years ago and got lifted before the first TV timeout, like, 18 times is now UConn's most effective post player. But here we are.
Hansbrolander showed a bit of improvement last year, but he's still far from a reliable offensive player, shooting worse than the maligned Oriakhi last year, though obviously in fewer touches. He's a solid rebounder, an OK shotblocker, and he commits way too many fouls (4.0 per 40). While he should be improved, UConn's optimal lineup calls for him to defend Big East centers, which fills me with a certain amount of dread. That adds up to a decent role player who will probably have to play starter's minutes.
Overview: Giffey solidified his role as a hustle/glue guy who can hit 3s last year, though he became something of a non-factor later in the season. He had issues with consistency, and got trigger-shy at times, but he was a serviceable rotation player.
Giffey's court time should increase and he should be the first wing option off the bench, assuming Napier, Boatright, Calhoun, Daniels and Olander start. You'd love to see him benefit from the penetration of the two point guards by planting himself on the corners or on the wings for 3-pointers, or at least I would, so that I could add "Deutschmarksman" to the inexplicably long list of nicknames we have for him (Niels Templar, Der Ubersportler, etc.). Giff did a little bit of everything in the exhibitions, and hopefully that activity will continue in a 20-MPG, sixth-man type role.
Overview: First off, it's great to see a UConn guard whose first name is two initials, and who wears #12, sporting a chinstrap. #ThePriceIsStillRight
Evans, who played for Norwich Free Academy, comes in as one of those funky grad-school immediate transfers after a successful four-year career at Holy Cross. He was the Patriot League Rookie of the Year in 08-09 (the last UConn player to have been in college at the same time as me, he said, contemplating his own mortality) and has been a key member of that team each season - save 2010-11, when he missed 20 games due to injury.
Evans' shooting numbers are dreadful, but he does give UConn's backcourt much-needed size and an always-helpful bit of fifth-year-senior wisdom. I don't imagine his scoring numbers will translate well to the Big East, but Evans' physicality, intangibles and strength around the basket figure to be useful in a backup guard role.
Overview: Thus far, Wolf's greatest contribution to the UConn program has been his outstanding Twitter feed, where we are basically besties. Enosch is a funny dude, and he has encouraged the #SchnitzelTime movement, which will absolutely be a thing whenever he enters the game.
Human Wolf's sheer size will mean he gets some burn this year, but it's unclear how much. He only played 10 minutes in the exhibition games, but that likely had more to do with a recent concussion. At worst, he's five fouls and a big interior presence in short bursts.
I don't forsee many minutes for Allen barring catastrophe (or Burrtastrophe.) For as thin as UConn's frontcourt is, its backcourt is loaded for bear.
Overview:A former teammate of Giffey's in Germany, Tolksdorf became the third player from that nation to join the Huskies this summer. Despite his size, he says he's more comfortable on the perimeter. He, like Daniels, Wolf and Nolan, have been working on building up strength to battle the rest of the big men of the Big East.
I'd be surprised if Tolksdorf made much of an impression as a freshman, but he has the measurables and apparent skills to be a nice player over the next few years.
Overview: See Wolf, Enosch.
Nolan had a spectacular preseason, in a literal sense: he went 0-for-3 from the field (all bunnies) and 1-for-6 from the free throw line in two games. A three-star recruit who came to UConn exactly because of the current lack of big men, Nolan is a nice athlete and can play (scoring 34 points in two games at the Greater Hartford Pro-Am). It remains to be see how long it takes him to adjust to the college game.