UCONN Basketball Preview: #19
Overall Rank: #19
Conference Rank: #4 Big East Conference
2008-09: 31-5, 15-3
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Jim Calhoun (557-205 at Connecticut, 805-342 overall)
Most programs would be devastated to lose Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, A.J. Price and Craig Austrie, but that is not the case with Connecticut. If anybody can reload after losing that much talent it is Coach Jim Calhoun and his Huskies. With yet another solid recruiting class and the return of a great backcourt, Uconn could make it back to the Elite Eight if everything comes together nicely.
Key Losses: F Jeff Adrien, G Craig Austrie, G A.J. Price, C Hasheem Thabeet
The biggest need is in the frontcourt where Adrien and Thabeet dominated last year. A couple returning players are in the mix, but Ater Majok and Alex Oriahkhi will be as well. Majok, who will be eligible in December, is an athletic 6-10, 233 pound forward and Alex Oriahkhi, a McDonald’s All-American, is a strong player around the basket and has all the necessary skills to battle for a starting job right away. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel is a very talented wing and Jamaal Trice will add a defensive presence to the wing. Combo guard Darius Smith is another highly touted freshman who will hope to find some minutes off the bench.
The Huskies certainly do not lack talent on the wing. Jerome Dyson has been a consistent scorer throughout his entire Huskies career. Dyson is not the greatest outside shooter, but he does do a fine job finishing around the basket. Stanley Robinson is not your typical wing player. The 6-9 small forward is one of the best athletes in the nation and should be in for a big senior season. Last year he tallied 8.5 points and 5.9 rebounds, but he missed the first semester due to personal reasons and it took him a while to get back into the swing of things. Robinson should see his numbers drastically increase and he is likely a first round selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. Donnell Beverly rarely saw the floor during his sophomore campaign and will have to battle it out with the newcomers for minutes off the bench.
It is in the frontcourt where there are bigger concerns. Nobody is going to replace Adrien and Thabeet. Those two averaged 13.6 points per game a piece and combined to average 20.7 rebounds and 5.4 blocks. Gavin Edwards, a 6-9 forward, is next in line. While Edwards has never started a game for the Huskies, he is an experienced player who is athletic and tough on the glass. The starting power forward spot will be his to lose, but he may lose it sooner or later to one of the newcomers. Charles Okwandu missed most of last season and only played in ten games, but the 7-1, 255 pound Nigerian has the toughness and skills to be a dominating center in the Big East.
Who to Watch:
While replacing Adrien and Thabeet might be an issue, replacing point guard A.J. Price is not. Kemba Walker averaged 8.9 points and 2.9 assists as a freshman and is more than ready to take over this team. Walker is amazingly quick and the point guard position is in good hands as long as Walker opts to stay in Storrs.
If you count Robinson, Connecticut has one of the best backcourts in the nation. The frontcourt has a little rebuilding to do, but if Edwards, Okwandu, Oriakhi and Ater Majok can even come remotely close to putting up numbers like Adrien and Thabeet, this is a team that will be competing for a Big East title yet again.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Kemba Walker, Sophomore, Guard, 8.9 points per game
Jerome Dyson, Senior, Guard, 13.2 points per game
Stanley Robinson, Senior, Forward, 8.5 points per game
Gavin Edwards, Senior, Forward, 3.8 points per game
Charles Okwandu, Junior, Center, 0.3 points per game
Next Top 144 Teams