Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 3 UConn Huskies

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 32-9, 9-9 (9th Big East), won the national title

Head Coach: Jim Calhoun

Key Losses: Kemba Walker

Newcomers: Andre Drummond, DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright

Projected Lineup:

- G: Shabazz Napier, So.
- G: Jeremy Lamb, So.
- F: DeAndre Daniels, Fr.
- F: Alex Oriakhi, Jr.
- C: Andre Drummond, Fr.
- Bench: Tyler Olander, So.; Roscoe Smith, So.; Ryan Boatright, Fr.; Niels Giffey, So.

Outlook: Everyone in the country knows what UConn was able to accomplish last season. Its not a secret. Riding the coattails of Kemba Walker, UConn shot out of the gates with a dominating performance in Maui, heading into Big East play undefeated. They struggled in conference, however, has teams started to figure out how to slow down the Huskies one-man show. But as Kemba's supporting cast of youngsters developed, so did the Huskies. They became a different team in March, winning five games in five days to take home the Big East Tournament title before riding the wave of momentum to a national title with a win over Butler.

The scary thing about UConn is that they are probably going to be better this season. Losing Kemba is going to hurt, but they bring in a loaded recruiting class and keep head coach Jim Calhoun for at least one more season.

The strength of this year's Husky team is going to be in the front court. It starts with the addition of Andre Drummond, who finally opted to enroll at UConn in late August is what was a bit of a controversial decision. Big man prospects don't get much more impressive that Drummond. He's 6'11", 275 lb and reportedly has a 41" vertical. He's got great hands and a soft touch around the basket. His post game is still developing, but he does have moves on the block. He's also capable of stepping out of the perimeter and knocking down a jump shot or putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. To top it all off, he's an excellent passer and plays with a high IQ. What more can you ask for?

Joining Drummond up front will be Alex Oriakhi, who is a beast on the block in his own right. Oriakhi is a big, physical post presence. He doesn't have an overwhelming post game, but he started to show some solid back-to-the-basket moves as his sophomore season progressed. Where Oriakhi is the most effective is as a space-eater inside. He's one of the best rebounders in the country, particularly when he's going to the offensive glass, and he blocks more than his fair share of shots. His ruggedness will really set the tone for the Huskies. Tyler Olander, and to a lesser extent Enosch Wolf and Michael Bradley (when he gets healthy), will provide front court depth.

The other forward spot will be headlined by sophomore Roscoe Smith and freshman DeAndre Daniels. The two players have similar athletic profiles, but the way they play is slightly different. Daniels is a more perimeter oriented player, less of a power forward and closer to a true small forward. Daniels knows how to score, getting his buckets as a slasher, although he is capable of knocking down an outside shot. He'll also be very effective in transition. Smith is more of a face-up power forward. His perimeter skills are still developing, and while he is capable of spreading the floor and hitting an open three, he's most effective when he's getting to the glass and blocking shots.

The star of this UConn team will be Jeremy Lamb. After a relatively slow start to the season, Lamb came on strong late in the season. The biggest reason that UConn had so much success in March is that Lamb developed into a second go-to scorer. He punished teams for game-planning around stopping Kemba. That success will have to continue into next season, as the Huskies will once again be in need of a go-to scorer to emerge. Lamb's strength lies in his ability to slash and score in the mid-range -- for a player with his size, length and athleticism, Lamb has a sensational floater. Expect him to showcase a more complete game this season.

Joining Lamb in the back court will be Shabazz Napier, who may actually be the most important player on this UConn team. He didn't start last season, but he played huge minutes late in the season, and his ability to facilitate this team from the point guard spot allowed Kemba to work off the ball and focus on being a scorer. Napier is going to have to become a better creator off the dribble, a guy that can get into the lane and the multitude of athletes on this team for dunks. He'll also need to be a better decision maker -- he forced the issue too often when he put the ball on the floor last year. Along those same lines, Napier shot 32.6% from three, which is not representative of how well he can stroke the three as much as it is a sign of his poor shot selection. Simply put, UConn needs Napier to be a poor man's AJ Price. Ryan Boatright is a terrific athlete that will back up Napier at the point, while Niels Giffey will spell Lamb along side him.

This year's UConn team is going to look like the UConn teams from the early-to-mid 2000's. They are big, they are long and they are athletic. They are going to be a terror on the defensive end of the floor. Napier is a terrific on-ball defender, while Daniels and Lamb will be terrors in the passing lanes. The Huskies will also be able to gamble thanks to the myriad of shot blockers they will have sitting in the paint. This group should also thrive running the floor in transition.

There are question marks on this roster. No one knows how good Drummond or Daniels will actually be. Its unclear if Napier and Lamb will be ready for their expanded roles or capable of fulfilling the expectations currently placed on them. What isn't unclear, however, is just how much talent there is on this roster. Repeating as national champs is a very real possibility.

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