The Connecticut Huskies are coming off a year in which they put together one of the most memorable post-season runs in college basketball history. They won five games in five days to claim the Big East Tournament Title and didn't cool off once the NCAA Tournament began, cutting down the nets in Houston. Even though Jim Calhoun loses the heart and soul of his team, Kemba Walker, the early arrival of Andre Drummond will once again make the Huskies national title contenders.
Drummond was expected to be part of the 2012 class but ended up reclassifying and enrolling at Connecticut a year earlier than expected. He is a polished big man with great size, strength, and ability. That is part of the reason Drummond is projected to be the top pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He adds to the recent tradition of Connecticut big men and should be able to dominate inside from day one.
Drummond and Alex Oriakhi will combine to give the Huskies the most physical frontcourt in the country. Oriakhi is a tank inside who knows how to clean up the glass and block shots. Drummond's presence will take some of the pressure off Oriakhi but it will also limit his touches. There aren't many teams in the country that will have the size or strength to match up with the Connecticut duo inside.
Tyler Olander will be the main option behind Drummond and Oriakhi. He has a solid face-up game and actually started both preseason games instead of Drummond. I would be shocked if that continued when the real season got underway. Redshirt freshman Michael Bradley received a lot of publicity this offseason for giving up his scholarship so that Drummond could come to Connecticut. Unfortunately, he fractured his ankle in mid-October is expected to be out until at least early-December. Enosch Wolf (7-foot-1) gives Calhoun another big body if the Huskies need to go deep to their bench.
With a ton of talent in the starting five, Roscoe Smith will be the fifth option. He is long, athletic, and pretty physical for a small forward. Smith thinks he is a better three-point shooter than he actually is, and unless he shows more consistency from the outside, probably needs to cut down on his triple tries. Freshman DeAndre Daniels will be a major contributor who will bring scoring and versatility off the bench.
After terrific freshmen campaigns, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier are expected to make the leap this season. Lamb became the second banana to Kemba as last season progressed and hit some huge shots down the stretch. He has a terrific stroke from the outside and is also capable of getting to the basket.
Napier played well beyond his years as a freshman, bringing a maturity and sense of calm when running the show. Like Lamb, he is a dual threat offensively and is also a solid on-the-ball defender. He played a big role off the bench last year but now takes the responsibility of becoming the primary ball-handler. (I really, really like Napier by the way.)
Ryan Boatright's eligibility remains in question stemming from a plane ticket that was bought for him prior to arriving in Storrs. If he is not able to play this season, it will leave a hole at point guard behind Napier. Backup shooting guard Neils Giffey is battling a hyperextended knee which might limit him early in the season, further affecting the depth in the backcourt. Giffey will add a shooter on the wing when he gets healthy. With the Huskies stretched thin at guard, freshman walk-on Brendan Allen could end up being a valuable reserve.
Connecticut has four players in their starting five who could end up being first-round picks next summer. There are concerns about the depth of their team since the Huskies have fewer available scholarships due to poor academic performance. If Drummond is as dominant as many expect and Lamb and Napier take their games to the next level, the Huskies have the talent to cut down the nets for a second straight year.
Player to Watch: Jeremy Lamb, SG
I was fairly surprised to see Lamb earn preseason First-Team All-American honors, but that shows you just what kind of leap he is expected to make this season. Lamb was the top offensive threat for the U.S. U-19 team this summer and it will interesting to see how he handles the pressure of being the team's number one option with Kemba gone. Lamb won't have to do it by himself, but will still shoulder a much larger load this year.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/25 vs. UCF/Charleston (Battle 4 Atlantis)
11/26 vs. Florida State/UMass/Harvard/Utah (Battle 4 Atlantis)