There has been a lot of activity around the men's basketball team in the last few months and almost everyone seems to have forgotten that the defending national champions lost in the first round of the tournament in the wake of the NCAA Committee's decision to uphold the postseason ban next season. So what does it mean, what is in store for this Huskies team moving beyond the transfers and NBA draft declarations, and what is Calhoun going to decide? Let's start from the top considering it is the most pressing consideration for this team and for fans.
By now you should've heard that the NCAA committee has upheld it's decision to ban UConn from competing in the postseason next year, which is the reason there are three transfers from the Husky front court and concern about Calhoun's ability to recruit top tier players to replace them. However there continues to be hope that the NCAA could institute a rules change which would count more recent scores in determining postseason eligibility. So what does all this mean? For now I'd take it on face value and bank on the fact that the Huskies are out for next year, based on the timeline for change in any decision process with the NCAA there is no guarantee that the change will come. Because of this the players transferring weren't willing to risk postseason eligibility in their final season, Alex Oriakhi, or were already upset about playing time and usage, Bradley and Smith, and would probably have left anyway and as for Calhoun's ability to recruit top talent it appears to be unchanged as he has already secured one of nation's top guards and just today it was reported that UConn has received a commitment from a 6' 10'' recruit from Milwaukee Phil Nolan. As it stands now UConn will be missing the Big East and NCAA tournament but with the potential rule change and the opportunity to play for one of the greatest coaches in men's collegiate basketball it doesn't seem to have deterred the best players from wanting to come out to Storrs.
What is in store for this Husky team moving beyond the transfers and NBA draft declarations? This is probably the most difficult of the three questions because it focuses on a team we as fans could never figure out last year. Let's start with the players leaving and go from there. Alex Oriakhi, the anchor and defensive powerhouse on the national championship team in 2011, came into this year the unquestioned veteran who had all the makings to be a force in the post alongside Andre Drummond and the emotional leader on a very young team. Oriakhi failed to fit the role of the power forward however and saw his minutes diminish immediately because of the athleticism and length of Drummond and fell into the shadows leaving a void in leadership despite the improved quality of the Husky front court. Michael Bradley, a lengthy sophomore who never really came into his own on a team full of talent, after offering up his scholarship to make room for Andre Drummond Bradley failed to see any real playing time this season and is moving to a program where he can make an immediate impact and where they will appreciate his size more than a stacked team like UConn every could. Roscoe Smith, a good sized small forward who was more impactful in the national championship run than he was most of this past year, could have been a big part of the Husky recovery as a change of pace forward alongside DeAndre Daniels but has decided to move on and has been granted the same exemption as the other two allowing him to play next season for another team without the standard one year penalty of a transfer. Individually these losses don't seem to impact the team very much but with the draft departures of Drummond and Jeremy Lamb there is potential for a great lapse in scoring prowess because of the pressure that will fall to Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Regardless of how the NCAA sanctions played out I believe Jeremy Lamb would have declared for the draft, his stock dropped this year compared to where it was following the national championship and with the same roster coming back next year it didn't feel like he would have the additional help he needed to become that elite scoring presence he looked like he could become with Kemba Walker on the court. Andre Drummond is a different story, given his development arc another year or two under Calhoun would have greatly increased his draft stock to the likes of Hasheem Thabeet as the best center prospect to come out of UConn since then for sure now imagine him with another two years experience playing against the toughest teams in the country in the Big East. Had these sanctions not been levied I believe Drummond would have stayed at least an additional year to work with Calhoun, especially given the talent he had in the guard position distributing the ball.
So where does that leave this team moving forward, with a lot of question marks in their roster. A situation not unknown to most Husky fans. Does anyone remember the 2011 season, I know I've referenced it a few times in this post alone and coming into that season there was only one star on the roster we knew of and a lot of potential. This is a very similar situation minus the standing star power, we know Shabazz and Boatright are good but neither has proved to be the go to or the leader that the team needs. With the rest of the team there is just uncertainty as to who will fill what spots and how the new additions will work in Calhoun's system. With the bigs left on the roster there is a lot of potential for role players but certainly no star power to be found amongst the returners, perhaps Nolan will provide something special right from the start. I see this team finding itself in the same spot next year as it has the past two, middle of the road amongst active Big East teams. Unfortunately for this team they will not have the Big East and NCAA tournaments to prove themselves like they have the last two years. I like the pieces Calhoun has managed to assemble but I'm not sure how they fit together just yet, but if there is someone who can put together a masterpiece from some unassuming players it is certainly one Jim Calhoun. For now I'll predict them finishing 5th in Big East next year, check back with me to see how that works out.
Last and not least, what is Calhoun's future with the team? As is true of all my posts (including all of this one) this is entirely opinion based and speculative, but I don't see Calhoun leaving this team in the state its in. I think he promised these kids more when he recruited them and especially because this penalty is based on academic performance before any of the current players were on campus. Whether or not his return is good for UConn or not is an entirely different question. I know this isn't a popular opinion amongst the UConn faithful, but I think Calhoun has overstayed as the Husky coach. His motion offense is beyond old school and is completely ineffective against great defense, or any zone defense for that matter. He has had Kevin Ollie on the staff now for two years, effectively training him for the position and he has a clear connection with the players that would make the transition easy. I think his methods and philosophy resemble Calhoun enough to not stun players and is contemporary enough to remove the holds of Calhoun's stubborn refusal to adapt to defense and to his players. If Ollie has any of the defensive genius that Calhoun has had with his bigs and can institute an offense I foresee, the transition would be easy and necessary. I'm a huge fan of Calhoun and he gave me one of the best night of my life in 2011 I just think his methods are too old school for my flavor in today's game, even in an old school conference like the Big East.
This offseason there will be a lot of questions asked of this team, especially their motivation moving into a season without the prospect of a Big East or national title.