With Kemba Walker gone, Jeremy Lamb will be handed the reins at UConn. (Icon SMI)
By Kevin Mallory
Sunday, November 06, 2011
Last Season: 26-9 (9-9)
Key Losses: Kemba Walker
Head Coach: Jim Calhoun
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Shabazz Napier 6-1 So.
SG: Jeremy Lamb 6-5 So.
SF: Roscoe Smith 6-8 So.
PF: Alex Oriakhi 6-9 Jr.
C: Andre Drummond 6-11 Fr.
Key Reserves: Tyler Olander 6-9 So. PF, Niels Giffey 6-7 So. SF, DeAndre Daniels 6-8 Fr. SF, Michael Bradley 6-10 Fr, C, Ryan Boatright 6-0 Fr. PF, Enosch Wolf 7-0 So. C
Jim Calhoun and the defending national champions have reloaded to make another run at the NCAA crown. Although the Huskies lost All-American Kemba Walker to the NBA, Connecticut brings back experienced players from its title run to go along with a few of the most talented incoming freshmen in the country.
Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond headline this year's Huskies roster. Lamb, a preseason All-American selection this season, came on very strong late and blossomed into a budding superstar after averaging 16.8 points a game on 58 percent shooting during the NCAA tournament. Calhoun said that Lamb has a smooth stroke and that Lamb reminds him of Richard Hamilton, another Huskies great. With a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Lamb possesses tremendous length to make him a defensive nightmare on the perimeter.
"How good he is, he can be really, really good," Calhoun told the NY Times. "He could be great."
Andre Drummond may be the most ballyhooed recruit Calhoun has brought to Storrs, Conn. since Rudy Gay. After questions of whether the No. 1 recruit in the nation would play this season, Drummond ended the speculation in August by tweeting that he would be coming to UConn. Only 18 years olf, Drummond, who has been named the Big East preseason Rookie of the Year, already has grown-man size at 6-foot-11, 270 pounds. In fact, Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels believes that Drummond carries enormous upside. "As far as prospects go, I'm not sure if I've seen a better big man since Greg Oden, in terms of size, skill and athleticism," Daniels told Sports Illustrated on August 30. "His mobility at 6-11 is ridiculous."
Drummond will anchor one of the deepest and most athletic frontcourts in the country. Junior power forward Alex Oriakhi is the Huskies' most experienced player inside. Oriakhi, a preseason All-Big East Second Team selection, averaged 9.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game last season. He was the man in the paint during the tournament, upping his rebounding total to 9.3 per contest while still averaging 7.3 points. Tyler Olander could prove to be a pivotal wildcard. The 6-9 sophomore added seven pounds during the offseason in a quest to improve his strength and positioning down low. He could be Connecticut's most improved player if you ask Oriakhi. "People don't really know about Tyler Olander," Oriakhi said at Big East media day. "I think he's going to have a big year for us."
And just to add to the Huskies coffers, DeAndre Daniels will be another skilled, long, athletic, top-20 recruit who may make an impact in the Connecticut frontcourt. At 6-foot-8, Daniels gives the team the skills and versatility to play in the paint and on the perimeter.
In the backcourt, Lamb is expected to be the go-to guy, and Shabazz Napier will continue to be the steady floor general who will play solid defense. Ryan Boatright may not be the biggest man out there, but he provides incredible quickness and is intelligent with the ball. In fact, don't overlook Boatright's athleticism; he won the slam dunk contest at the Huskies' Midnight Madness. He will be a valuable backcourt asset at Calhoun's disposal.
Due to some past transgressions involving the recruiting of Nate Miles, Calhoun will be forced to sit out the first three Big East games of the 2011-12 season (at South Florida, vs. St. John's, at Seton Hall). But Connecticut has already been slated to win the Big East (along with co-favorite Syracuse), and with the talent-laden roster in Storrs it's not hard to see why.
It may take a little time for this roster to come together, but similar to last season, Connecticut should find its stride and put itself in prime position to not only win the Big East but to repeat as national champions, albeit with some pretty stiff competition.