As defending National Champions, the 2014-'15 UConn Huskies will be playing with a target on their back. This years champions drew motivation from the previous year's post-season ban and the determination of a few key leaders who refused to let UConn fall off the college basketball map.
They will have to defend their title without All-World point guard Shabazz Napier, who moves on to the NBA after a brilliant four-year career in Storrs. Additionally, junior forward DeAndre Daniels has declared for the NBA Draft after a phenomenal postseason run.
Despite losing two superstars (and likely first round picks) there are some talented newcomers who should help overcome the loss of Napier, Daniels, Niels Giffey, Lasan Kromah and Tyler Olander. Two of them have at least some collegiate experience-- Rodney Purvis played for NC State before sitting out this past year per NCAA transfer rules and Sam Cassel Jr. just completed a rather successful Junior College season. Danny Hamilton is just a freshman but his pro pedigree and pro-ready game are signs that he could be ready to contribute immediately as well.
The key to next year, however, will be Ryan Boatright. After apparently changing his mind and choosing to stay for his senior year, Boatright now has to prove that he can steer the ship down the same path as Shabazz and of Kemba Walker before him.
Who will Boatright have to support him in the title defense? And who starts? Your guess is as good as mine, here we go:
G- Ryan Boatright
SF- Danny Hamilton
PF- Kentan Facey
C- Amida Brimah/Phil Nolan
Off the bench: Samuel, Calhoun, Cassel, Lubin
I think Brimah will eventually separate himself from Nolan, but after watching Omar Calhoun's struggles this year it isn't out of line to think that Brimah might struggle out of the gate coming off major surgery. I don't think he'll endure a season-long slump the way Calhoun did, because at the end of the day the man is still an athletic seven footer who can defend. His offensive development will suffer though.
Facey cracking the starting lineup might surprise some given his lack of playing time last year, but besides freshman Rakim Lubin nobody else really fits the bill at power forward. There might be a graduate transfer on the way who can fill that void, but for now that's my best guess at a traditional starting five. Maybe Nolan can play PF? I don't know.
If Ollie wanted he could run a smaller lineup with Boat, Purvis and Terrance Samuel together with Hamilton and Brimah/Nolan. I like that line-up a lot. I think we're all really excited to see what Samuel can do in his sophomore season and having four playmakers on the floor would keep opposing coaches up at night.
Omar Calhoun will probably be starting the season on the bench until he can redeem himself from his horrid 2013-'14 performance and Sam Cassel Jr. will also be featured in the backcourt rotation. I really believe that Calhoun suffered greatly from the time off due to surgery and expect a return to form next year. He probably won't make the starting lineup, but should evolve into a strong contributor off the bench the way he was two years ago.
Freshman PF Rakim Lubin may get some play off the bench since we aren't very deep in the tall guy department. The transfer market is still ripe though. KO has taken a graduate transfer in each of his two years as head coach and with three scholarships open it would behoove him to use one for a one-year wonder.
Barring a solid graduate transfer joining the team, Kevin Ollie will be putting a lot of eggs in the Kentan Facey basket. Although, given the strength and experience of the rest of the roster, he won't be asked to do too much. Facey has demonstrated solid rebounding skills and I think an offseason strength and conditioning program will help him contend down low. My best guess for his lack of playing time last year was that the kid looked like a beanpole and (competely guessing) maybe conditioning was an issue as well.
A few weeks ago I looked into whether or not UConn can repeat. Since that post, we now know that Daniels is gone and Boatright is staying. Usually when a National Champion loses three starters and a fourth player from it's regular rotation, it would be insane to talk repeat. But Kevin Ollie has prepared for the future quite well, especially given the circumstances, and has quality players waiting in the wings for their chance to contribute. With Boatright coming back and potential game changers in Purvis and Hamilton, it isn't all that crazy to think repeat. After all, we do have the next great college basketball coach running the show.
What do you think Husky fans? Is Facey the starting PF next year? Can Ryan Boatright can be 'the man'? What do you think about our chances next year?