Five reasons UConn will be better in 2011/12

Coming off of a national championship, it's not hard to be optimistic about the upcoming college basketball season. Nevertheless, here's five reasons why next season's Huskies might be even better than the last.

Freshmen become sophomores

- And Sophomores become juniors. And juniors become seniors. In this case, there are no juniors left to become seniors which serves to underscore just how young last year's Huskies were.

With seven of their top eight scorers from last season being either freshmen or sophomores, several of those players will take significant steps forward.

Alex Oriahki won't average the 15 points and 17 rebounds that he registered against Michigan State, but he'll be more consistent than the player who went scoreless against Notre Dame one game prior to grabbing 21 rebounds at Texas.

If you're looking for a breakout player outside of the obvious, (Jeremy Lamb), Oriakhi would be a solid pick.

Shabazz Napier will be picking up a lot of responsibility with the departure of Kemba Walker, but given his nearly one-thousand minutes of playing time and the fourteen win-or-go-home games already under his belt, he's positioned to move up.

Roscoe Smith, Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey were all steady as freshmen go and all played well inside the roles they were given. These players won't be asked to take over games, but the trio makes for a very solid supporting cast.

Speed kills

How do you take Kemba Walker off of a team and still make that team faster? Add Ryan Boatright and swap out Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel for DeAndre Daniels.

The Boat Show threatens to be the fastest Husky since Cup Cormier. If he remembers to a) take the basketball with him, and b) stop before running over a cheerleader, he'll avoid some of issues that Cup's jets caused him.

UConn has speed at every position not occupied by a seven-foot tall German.

Beyond their ability to get up and down, those players are also very long. One the advantages that the 2010/2011 team had is when a reserve came in, they were replacing speed and length with speed and length.

It affects the way an opponent uses their bench and might have caused some teams to wear down. You don't win fourteen tournament games, most by relatively small margins, by accident.

2011/2012 looks like more of the same....and then some.

Jim Calhoun is returning

Maybe. Probably. Hopefully.

Ah, what the hell...write it down. He's coming back.

DeAndre Daniels was the surprise of the late 2011 recruiting. Omar Calhoun was the prize of the early 2012 recruiting. Methinks these kids know something that hasn't been announced.

He seems healthier than he has been in several seasons. He's coming off a national championship with a team that loves him as much as he loves them. There isn't a headache on the roster.

A former player he would not mind handing the job off to sits beside him on the bench needing just a couple of more seasons to become a viable candidate. And he's about a season and a bit away from winning his 900th game.

Think that means something to him? I suspect it does.

The arrows are all pointing in the direction of a return. (If he retires, I'm deleting any trace of this entry.)

UConn has Jeremy Lamb

And no one else does.

Right now, Lamb is overseas plucking the hearts out of Lithuanians.

But when he's done conquering the rest of the world, he'll return for his star turn at UConn.

He showed flashes of ability during the regular season, most notably a six-game stretch in January, but he was inconsistent throughout the rest of the conference season. With the exception of a good outing at Cincinnati, Lamb scored in single digits in six of UConn's last seven regular season games.

The light bulb turn on for him as soon as the postseason started.

He averaged 15 points in UConn's nine post-season wins. More impressive was his efficiency during those games. He shot nearly 60% from the field over those nine games and over 50% from the arc.

He almost certainly would have been drafted in the first round of this year's NBA draft and if he can build on the progress he made towards the end of the last year and is currently showing in Latvia, the sky is the limit.

Chemistry

It's hard to beat a team that doesn't beat itself.

UConn did have some games where their sheer youth helped them throw away what should have been a win. The home games against Marquette, Louisville and Notre Dame stand out.

If they simply avoid shooting themselves in both feet, they head into the postseason as one of the favorites instead of as an afterthought.

To their credit, however, they were tough as nails when elimination was involved. They took care of the ball, they hit free throws, they defended and when heroics were needed, they got heroics.

The team that went undefeated in tournament play will grow out of the mistakes they made against Louisville, Marquette and Notre Dame. They'll have to replace Kemba's flare for the dramatic, but I suspect they won't need the heroics nearly as often.

They'll still score when they absolutely have to, they're returning the best free-throw shooting team that I can remember and they'll still defend the basket late in games like it's a bank vault - they know how to win.

Part of that is just natural ability and part is simply that they play very well together.

Jim Calhoun once said that it's important for the outgoing players to teach the incoming players what's expected of them and how to handle their business. The UConn teams that didn't have that advantage tend to struggle.

Kemba Walker and Donnell Beverly wrote the book and Napier, Lamb, Oriakhi, etc., will be the beneficiaries.


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