Across the next few weeks, we're going to look at each player individually to assess how they performed across the season and what we can expect in the next. We start with Phil Nolan.
2014-'15 Pre-Season Expectations
Phil Nolan was not much of a factor in the 2013-14 season, though he did turn in some okay performances down the stretch -- starting every game in the 2014 NCAA tournament (which we won).
A lot was made about how much muscle Nolan put on during the off-season and how it would lead to an improved presence down low. Still, expectations were modest heading into the season. If he could have improved on his meager scoring and rebounding numbers while taking on more of a leadership role, I think most Husky fans would have been happy. With the added bulk and purported refinement of his offensive game, it shouldn't have been too hard to improve on 2.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per game.
Unfortunately, "Phil the Thrill" took a step back statistically in his junior year. He played sparingly across the beginning of the season, only seeing significant time when UConn's other big men were in foul trouble. Nolan didn't grab his first rebound of the season until the fourth game against West Virginia, and in the game against Duke, he was unable to manage a single rebound or point in 22 minutes.
He was inserted into the starting line-up late in the season, but his production didn't improve by much.
It's a big problem when a 6-foot-10-inch forward averages less than 2 rebounds per game. To make matters worse, he wasn't scoring very much and still got into a lot of foul trouble.
I understand Nolan isn't supposed to be much of a scorer, but if you look past an eight-point performance in the NIT game, his season high was four points. There are enough crap teams on the American schedule for him to have found a way to make more than two baskets in a game.
Another area where Nolan regressed was at the free-throw line, where he finished a brutal 28.6 percent after a really good 77.5 percent effort the year before. He only attempted 14 free throws on the season, or 0.4 per game, down from 1.0 per game the previous season. Woof.
According to Kevin Ollie, and probably a bunch of people who know way more than I do about basketball, Nolan's impact on the game goes beyond the stat sheet. So perhaps these words are a bit harsh for someone who is considered a role player, but this game is about maintaining possession and putting the ball through the hoopy thing. We need more from him if this is going to be a better team next year.
Despite his lack of production last year, I think Nolan can step up and be more of a factor next season in the mold of a 2005-06 Hilton Armstrong.
Armstrong's production was similarly modest over his first three years at UConn, but in his senior season he found his way, averaging 9.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Can Phil Nolan do the same?
Across those final games of the season, Nolan really did look like a different player. Perhaps his confidence was boosted by the added playing time and presence in the starting line-up, maybe the coaching and training just needed some time to take hold but either way I'm encouraged by the way he ended the season.
If we can get something in the range of seven points and five rebounds per game from Nolan next year, that would be splendid. With Ryan Boatright gone, Phil represents half of next year's senior leadership along with guard Omar Calhoun. Nolan is known for being somewhat of a joker around the team and in the locker room, which is great, but hopefully he feels some urgency around his senior season and dwindling time in Storrs.