Head Coach: Kevin Ollie
2013-14 Record: 32-8, 12-6 AAC, National Champions
Key Losses: Shabazz Napier (18.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.9 APG), DeAndre Daniels (13.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG), Neils Giffey (8.4 PPG, 48% from three), Lasan Kromah (6.1 PPG)
Despite losing All-American and AAC Player of the Year Shabazz Napier, UConn still comes into the preseason AAC power rankings as number one. Replacing the best guard in America is going to be a difficult task, but the UConn offense is still going to be in good hands with Senior Ryan Boatright. Replacing DeAndre Daniels, Neils Giffey and Lasan Kromah may be more difficult.
Daniels, who left early and was drafted by the Toronto Raptors, was almost unguardable in the postseason due to his length and soft touch. Giffey was one of the best three-pointers in the nation last year while also being a key defender in guarding teams' big men. Kromah, the fifth-year transfer from George Washington, did all of the little things for coach Kevin Ollie; he dove on the floor for loose balls, pulled in rebounds, and was a lock-down defender.
While it will be tough to move on without these four , there are players who are more than ready to help UConn try and get back to the Final Four. It starts with point guard Ryan Boatright, who was recently named AAC Preseason Player of the Year. He averaged 12.1 PPG and 3.4 APG last year while arguably being the best defender in the country during the NCAA Tournament.
The key for the 6-foot guard is to not try to be Shabazz Napier, which he won't be. UConn fans should know that "Boat" is not going to be like Kemba or Shabazz and score almost 30 on any night. For UConn to be successful this year, he needs to be able to create opportunities for his talented, albeit inexperienced, teammates.
Last year we all learned that Boatright is at his best on defense. He has the ability to lock-down any guard in America, and if he focuses on defense throughout the year, then that will set the tone for his teammates, which means UConn can compete with anyone.
Joining Boat in the backcourt is highly-touted transfer Rodney Purvis, who played at North Carolina State as a freshman. Purvis is going to be one of the most explosive players in the country and has the ability to get to the hoop at any moment. The former McDonald's All-American is at his best while in transition but needs to maintain focus and fix his turnover problem that he had at NC State, where he averaged 1.5 TPG and 18.2% of possesions. It is hard to say exactly how Purvis will fit in, but we do know that he may be the "Hungriest Husky" as he had to watch the magical National Championship run from the sideline a year ago. We all know Kevin Ollie has referred to him as his Ferrari in the garage, but as for basketball comparisons multiple teammates have mentioned Dwyane Wade as a similar type of player to Purvis.
Another transfer coming into the program, after averaging 18.4 PPG in junior college, is Sam Cassell Jr., the son of 15 year NBA veteran of the same name. Junior is said to have an "old man's game", the 6-foot-4 guard was originally committed to play for Maryland as a freshman back in 2012 but was ruled ineligible and had to transfer to Chipola College. Cassell Jr. will immediately see time on the court as he has a very high basketball IQ and can shoot the three-point shot extremely well.
Anchoring the frontcourt will be Amida Brimah, who, barring injury, going to be a future NBA player. The 7-footer only averaged 4.1 PPG and 3.0 RPG last year but he will be able to protect the rim like few other players in the country, allowing for Boatright and Purvis to gamble a little more on defense. While we know Brimah is going to dominate on defense, his offense is developing very quickly. He can run the floor very well for his size and has been working on his jumper in the off-season.
The center from Ghana has been named captain as a sophomore, which really shows what his teammates and coaches think of him. This can certainly be a coming out year for Brimah and as long as he can stay out of foul trouble, he is going to impact the game like few other players can in America. Helping out Brimah down low is junior Philip Nolan who has put on 20 pounds of muscle this off-season. He may see time on the floor with Brimah as a power forward.
The 6-foot-10 big man from Milwaukee will be a physical presence down low, doing most of the dirty work. Kentan Facey will also look to provide minutes at the stretch power forward position. The 6-foot-9 sophomore was New York's State Gatorade Player of the Year, but did not see much time last year, only appearing in 23 games. If Facey can rebound and consistently hit mid-range jumpers, he will earn minutes.
Also returning for the Huskies are guards Terrance Samuel and Omar Calhoun. Samuel, a sophomore from Brooklyn, made his impact felt during the NCAA Tournament, especially against Villanova, Iowa State and Florida. The 6-foot-4 guard's role was to be a "game-changer" according to Ollie and he certainly accomplished that when he played. While UConn is heavy at the guard position, Samuel will still get many minutes on the court.
Calhoun, on the other hand, saw limited minutes last year after having surgery on each hip in the summer following his freshman year. The junior averaged 11.1 PPG as a freshman and was a threat from three, but only averaged 3.8 PPG last season. Every UConn fan out there hopes that Omar can turn it around.
And then there are the freshmen. Daniel Hamilton is Ollie's first elite recruit of many to come. The 6-foot-7 wing from Los Angeles was the number 30 rated recruit in his class according to ESPN. With his athleticism, he can shoot the ball from all over the court and can drive to the rim. Hamilton will be able to do damage in the fastbreak which is something that Ollie wants to focus on this season. While the talent is there for Hamilton, he will have to earn every second of playing time as a freshman. We know Ollie won't give anything out for free.
Joining Hamilton will be power forward Rakim Lubin who is the strongest player on UConn by far. The 6-8, 260 pound freshman may be somewhat raw offensively, but he will get minutes for his rebounding. UConn has struggled to rebound in the past, and a big body like Lubin will certainly help down low. Not only will he help during gametime, but he will also be able push big men Brimah, Nolan and Facey to work that much harder in practice.
Ollie has loaded the non-conference portion of UConn's schedule to test a team that lost so much from a year ago. The Huskies take on Texas at home, Duke in the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, NJ, and Florida in Gainesville in a rematch of the 2013-14 Final Four game. UConn will also travel to Puerto Rico for the Puerto Rico Tip-off to play College of Charleston and potentially New Mexico, Boston College or West Virginia.
While Ollie and UConn have a lot to replace, they also have the personnel to do so. This is not a team that is going to rely on one player it did a year ago, it will be more of a team effort. UConn can employ multiple line-ups whether it is three-guard or four-guard sets, or even go big. The Huskies will once again compete for the top of the American, and while they may not win it, they are still built to make a deep run in March. They have the ability to get to their second straight Final Four in Indianapolis, and if they make it there, which they are more than capable of, then they may as well just win it again.
Prediction: UConn will win the American and make it to at least the Final Four. From there, we know anything can happen.
LETS GO HUSKIES