NCAA Men's Final Four - Championship

For UConn, life after Shabazz is going to depend on some draft decisions

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Shabazz Napier solidified himself as one of, if not the most popular UConn Husky in the history of the program that Jim Calhoun built.

Not that he wasn’t before this weekend began, but when you cap a four-year career by earning tournament Most Outstanding Player honors while leading a No. 7 seed to a national title, becoming the first player — along with Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey — to win two rings for the program, you’re bound to be fairly well-liked.

In other words, somewhere around the year 2032, there are going to be a lot of kids named Shabazz graduating from Connecticut high schools.

“Hell of a player,” is how junior guard Ryan Boatright described Napier. “Great Player. Pro.  Great teammate. Great leader.”

All accurate, and all completely irrelevant for the Huskies moving forward as Napier is graduating and on his way to the first round of the NBA Draft. What will matter, however, is which Huskies end up joining him in the draft this season.

DeAndre Daniels has always had the kind of talent, physical tools and potential to be a lottery pick, but until this tournament, he had been utterly incapable of playing with the kind of consistency that made him more than a tease. But over the course of the last month of the season, particularly during UConn’s run to the title, Daniels was fantastic. He didn’t have his best game in the title game — Julius Randle will do that to you — but he was the best player on the floor for the Huskies in their wins over Iowa State in the Sweet 16 and Florida in the Final Four.

RELATED: Kentucky’s outlook for next season is strong

He’s a long and athletic small forward with three-point range and the ability to put the ball on the floor and beat defenders off dribble. He’s got the tools to be a good defender at the NBA level, and he even showed off a bit of a back to the basket game down the stretch. His strong play in the tournament could vault him — or vault his perception of himself — into the first round this season. Draft Express currently has Daniels projected as the No. 29 pick in the 2015 draft.

He’s not the only player with a draft decision to make.

Boatright was asked about it after the game, shrugging off the question by saying that he will “worry about that later” and that he just wants to “enjoy the moment right now”. Whether or not that means that he is actually considering leaving is unclear, but going pro right now doesn’t seem like an ideal option. Right now he’s a scoring guard that stands around 5-foot-11 and doesn’t shoot it all that well. He spent three weeks playing tenacious defense, but it’s hard to shake the memories of all the questionable decisions Boatright made in his three years before that.

Striking while the iron is hot wouldn’t be the worst idea, but coming back to school and trying to tap into that Kemba Walker-Shabazz Napier pipeline certainly isn’t, either.

The bottom line is this: UConn will have a chance to make the tournament next season. N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis will be eligible after sitting out this season. Terrence Samuel and Amida Brimah look like they have very bright futures ahead of them in UConn jerseys. Omar Calhoun can’t possibly be as bad as he played down the stretch of the season. They’ll add Sam Cassell Jr. and currently hold a commitment from top 20 recruit Daniel Hamilton, although there is quite a bit of speculation he’ll end up joining his brother at UCLA.

If Hamilton doesn’t end up in Storrs and if Daniels and Boatright both leave, the Huskies are probably looking at having to scrape their way into the NCAA tournament. Get all three back, and they could end up back in the Final Four in Indianapolis.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of tonight’s bubbly action in one place

Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie calls to his team during an NCAA college basketball game against Central Florida, Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016 at the CFE Arena in Orlando, Fla. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
(Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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Tonight’s schedule. This post will be updated as the games are completed.

UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46) at Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69), 7:00 p.m.
Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38) at Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44), 7:00 p.m.
VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40) at UMass, 7:00 p.m.
Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Big Ten showdown and key bubble battles

Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff (20), Christian Williams, center, and Adam Woodbury, second from left, and Michigan State's Deyonta Davis (23) and Eron Harris (14) reach for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 4 Iowa at Indiana, 9:00 p.m.

As a result of their surprising loss at Penn State Saturday night, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers enter this pivotal contest a game back of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. And with their backloaded conference schedule, this is a game Indiana has to get if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning the Big Ten title. Two of the Big Ten’s best players will be on display in Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, but both have plenty of help behind them offensively.

Iowa’s Peter Jok has been one of the conference’s most improved players, and the Hoosiers can counter not only with forward Troy Williams but with freshman center Thomas Bryant as well. The key in this one: turnovers, as Indiana has lost the ball on more than 20 percent of their possessions in conference play. That can’t happen tonight if they’re to win.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m.

The Ducks have been the class of the Pac-12 to this point, but a win in Berkeley won’t come easy. The Golden Bears may not be enjoying the success many expected before the season began, but Cuonzo Martin’s team has won all 14 of its home games this season, most recently whipping rival Stanford last weekend.

The problem for Cal: Tyrone Wallace is still out due to injury, and given Oregon’s many versatile scoring options that’s a problem. Pac-12 POY candidate Dillon Brooks leads the way, but Chris Boucher has emerged as one of the conference’s best big men in recent weeks. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews will need to come up big, as this is a huge contest for Cal’s NCAA tournament hopes.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  • The top two teams in the Big West get together in Honolulu, as Hawai’i hosts UC Irvine (1:00 a.m.) in the first of their two meetings this season. This will be a matchup of strengths when the Bows have the ball, as they lead the Big West in two-point field goal percentage (54.7) while UC Irvine leads the conference in two-point percentage defense (38.9) thanks in large part to 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has been a much-improved player under first-year head coach Eran Ganot, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
  • Two ACC teams with matching 6-5 league records meet at the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse hosts Florida State (7:00 p.m.) in a game both teams need for their respective NCAA tournament résumés. Jim Boeheim’s team should be well-rested, as they haven’t played in nine days, and they’ll need that energy to slow down FSU guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. The Seminole backcourt is young but talented, and they’ll face two fifth-year seniors in Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
  • Picking up a home sweep of Utah and Colorado may have given Oregon State’s NCAA tournament hopes some life, but they really need to go on a run here. Tonight’s game at Stanford (11:00 p.m.) represents a good opportunity for Gary Payton II and company to win their third straight, but the Cardinal did win the first meeting in Corvallis back on January 6. In that game rebounding was the deciding factor (Rosco Allen finished with 21 and eight boards, too), as Stanford grabbed half of their available missed shots. OSU can’t let that happen again.
  • With SMU ineligible for postseason play, the other American Athletic Conference teams are jockeying for position in next month’s conference tournament. Tonight UConn looks to avenge its home loss to Temple January 5 with a win in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m.). Since Amida Brimah’s return the Huskies have played much better basketball, as they have their rim protector and a finisher for Daniel Hamilton’s alley-oop passes back on the court. The Owls have won their last three games, and tonight is their second-best remaining opportunity for a quality win (they play No. 1 Villanova next Wednesday).
  • At this point, no one’s catching Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular season title without the Shockers collapsing in epic fashion. But when it comes to who can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, both Illinois State and Evansville have a shot. The two teams meet in Evansville tonight (8:00 p.m.), with three of the Valley’s best players on display in ISU’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Edigijus Mockevicius. Evansville won the first meeting by 11 in mid-January, as the Redbirds shot 6-for-31 from three on the night.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Mercer at Wofford, 7:00 p.m.
  • Hofstra at William & Mary, 7:00 p.m.
  • High Point at Coastal Carolina, 7:00 p.m.
  • James Madison at College of Charleston, 7:00 p.m.
  • Milwaukee at Oakland, 7:00 p.m.
  • Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s, 11:00 p.m.