The story here in Connecticut is whether the Huskies can remain as dominant as they were last year after losing All-American high scoring guard Kemba Walker. He was a lottery pick in the NBA Draft, speaking of the level of talent he brought to a Connecticut team that made an improbable run to an NCAA title last March.
Odds to win 2012 NCAA Tournament: 12/1
That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of solid and quality pieces in tact from last season’s team.
Jeremy Lamb looks to head the team with his 11.1 ppg scoring average and he played the second most minutes of returning players at 27.8 mpg. Alex Oriakhi also will now be a junior, and is the team’s only upper classman. Last season, Oriahki averaged 9.6 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game in 29.1 minutes per game. At 6’9″, he is the tallest returning player, but there are two freshman coming in at 6’10” who promise to play a big role in things:
Andre Drummond is the top recruit in the nation and at 6’10 and quick he is a physical specimen that doesn’t come around that often. He will be dominant from day one and will eventually be a top five NBA draft pick, if he pans out. A lot are comparing him to an even more gifted Lamar Odom, who had a pretty solid career in his own right.
Jim Calhoun said the main goal is to “make the NCAA tournament and go as deep as (they) can.” Calhoun also believes the team is as good on the perimeter as any other team in the NCAA. Jeremy Lamb made the All Big East rookie team last season and averaged 16.2 ppg in the tournament. He led the Team USA team in scoring with 16.2 ppg at the Under-19 World Championships this last summer. Calhoun simply remarked that he is “going to be one of the best players in the Big East, and one of the best scorers in the country.”
Along with Lamb in the backcourt, Shabazz Napier also made the All Big East rookie team and he will be starting at PG this season. The 6’0″ point guard is known to be a bit of a waterbug pesky defender, and should give the Huskies a defensive presence against other top guards.
6’8″ highly touted recruit DeAndre Daniels will make a difference, too. He’s super athletic and has enormous potential as a small forward. Red-shirt freshman center, 6’10” Michael Bradley, will pick up a lot of boards and provide a big body to clog the interior. It’s always questionable how the project big man types will work out, but most of them are at least good on the NCAA level and Bradley will be important in the rugged Big East conference.
Freshman point guard Ryan Boatright should be a good one too. He is a great scorer and ball distributor and will flourish in the transition game. His instincts render him a good decision maker, which is important when playing at a fast pace. Last season in high school, Boatright put up 31.2 points per game and made the All-State team in the toughly contested state of Illinois. There’s no doubt that Boatright will be on the All Big East rookie team when this season is said and done, and he promises to be one of the main ones compensating for hte loss of Walker…
Losing Walker hurts, to be sure, but this team has a ton of talent. Jim Calhoun knows how to get the most out of talent, and if he sticks around for a few more years, he could guide this young group of guys to the promised land, or at least a couple more final 4 apperances, throughout the next few years.
Anytime you talk about losing 23 ppg (Walker’s scoring average last year), you have to wonder where the slack is going to be picked up from, but with so many candidates on this team to do so, one could assume they are headed back to the Final Four once again. Calhoun remains optimistic:
“We’re pretty skilled…I like our development. We have questions of muscle and questions of leadership …(but) when a guy has the greatest season in the history of the university (referring to Walker), how do we adapt? Not necessarily replace him, because that’s not going to happen…”
No, Walker can’t be replaced by any one single player, but Jeremy Lamb and Boatright will likely do the most “replacement work” on the roster. They will comprise one of the most talented backcourts in all of the NCAA next season and should enable the Huskies to return to the Final 4 come this March.