Phil Nolan has had a relatively unsurprising career up to this point. The 3-star recruit opted to come to Storrs over Marquette and Oregon, eyeing playing time in a nearly empty front court following the departures of Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi, and Roscoe Smith after the nightmare that was the 2012 season. His freshman year, he saw an increase in playing time towards the end of the season due to an array of injuries to the Huskies front court, including Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander. Nolan averaged 28 minutes during the last 3 games of the season, ending 2013 with averages of 1.4 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.
There was only modest improvement in 2014. He averaged 3.3 points and just 2.4 rebounds, despite starting 16 games, including all six NCAA tournament games. Nolan's best moment in 2014 was an emphatic dunk to seal the game against Michigan State in the Elite Eight. For chunks of many games, Nolan was either ineffective or on the bench due to foul trouble.
With Nolan and Brimah as UConn's primary bigs last season, the two combined to end 29 games with 4 or more fouls, keeping a true rim protector off the floor for much of UConn's season. With DeAndre Daniels gone, these two must find a way to stay on the floor and limit the fouling.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in Nolan's game from freshman to sophomore year was his free throw shooting, as he went from 53% to 77% after just one season. This off-season he has also reportedly added close to 20 pounds of muscle to his frame- this should help him contend down low.
It is unlikely that we will see Amida Brimah and Phil Nolan playing together in games this season, though it does depend on the development of Rakim 'Destroyer of Worlds' Lubin and Sophomore Kentan Facey. If either can prove to be satisfactory on offense, hard working on defense, and good on the glass, it should keep Nolan as energy off the bench, spelling Amida Brimah at the center position.
However, with most of the elite teams boasting dominant front courts this season (see #1-4 Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, Wisconsin), a productive Phil Nolan on both ends of the floor could be the difference if UConn wants to be considered a top-5 team at some point this season. A productive Phil Nolan gives Kevin Ollie an unlimited combination of line-ups with the ability to go big (Hamilton/Lubin, Nolan/Facy, Brimah), small (Hamilton, Nolan/Brimah), or anywhere in between.
The key to an improved Nolan this season, along with finishing with the basketball and avoiding foul trouble, is using that new bulk. This extra muscle ideally will do two things- add some confidence to the fun-loving dude, and put this efficient free throw shooter on the line more than ever before in his career. Nolan will see an increase in usage this year, but it will be up to him to stay on the floor.
With Amida Brimah receiving love from NBA scouts, Nolan is destined to be a four-year player at UConn and could be starting next season with a jump in productivity. With a ceiling of Hilton Armstrong and a floor of Tyler Olander, at least the worst thing Husky fans will be getting out of Phil Nolan is one more national championship.