No. 17 UConn will be shorthanded when they take on West Virginia in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tipoff Sunday night, as four players have been suspended for a violation of team rules according to multiple media outlets. Omar Calhoun, Dan Guest, Marcel Lewis and Rakim Lubin are the players in question, with their status to be reevaluated upon the team’s return to Storrs.
Of the four players Lubin is one whose absence most impacts the Huskies against West Virginia, as he’s been used as a reserve in the front court. However Lubin played an average of just five minutes per contest in UConn’s first three games, so those minutes could very well go to junior Phillip Nolan.
UConn’s started Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey in each of their first three games, and in instances where head coach Kevin Ollie decides to go with a smaller lineup freshman Daniel Hamilton has seen some time at the four in order to force a mismatch.
As for Omar Calhoun, he’s yet to play this season due to a knee injury suffered in practice. Calhoun struggled last season after undergoing surgery on both hips prior to the 2013-14 season, falling out of the rotation in the latter portion of the regular season.
Omar Calhoun is looking to bounce back from a disappointing end to his sophomore season. At least from an individual standpoint.
The 6-foot-5 guard started 11 games for the Huskies, but by March not only had Calhoun lost his starting spot, he was squeezed out of the rotation, only logging a combined total of four minutes during UConn’s unlikely run to its second national championship in four years.
Calhoun’s road back from his sophomore slump took a slight detour this week, as the school announced he strained his the MCL in his right knee, although, he is anticipated to return by the season opener against Bryant on Nov. 14.
The UConn perimeter has several new faces along with returnees Ryan Boatright and Terrance Samuel, providing head coach Kevin Ollie plenty of options. N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis, JuCo transfer Sam Cassell Jr. and five-star wing Daniel Hamilton all join the program this season.
Calhoun averaged 3.4 points and 1.4 boards per game as a sophomore. In his first year, he was one of four Huskies to averaged double figures at 11.1 points per game during the 2012-2013 season.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 20 UConn.
Newcomers: Rodney Purvis (transfer), Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassell Jr.
– G: Ryan Boatright, Sr.
– G: Rodney Purvis, So.
– F: Daniel Hamilton, Fr.
– F: Phil Nolan, Jr.
– C: Amida Brimah, So.
– Bench: Omar Calhoun, Jr.; Sam Cassell Jr., Jr.; Kentan Facey, So.
They’ll be good because … : UConn will enter the season with one of the nation’s most talented back courts. The face of this year’s group is going to be Ryan Boatright. One of the most athletic point guards that you’ll ever come across, Boatright was one of the most important pieces to UConn’s national title run thanks to the nightmarish on-ball defense that he provided for Kevin Ollie’s club. And while Shabazz Napier — and, late in the season, Deandre Daniels, commanded all of the attention, it’s important to note that Boatright averaged 12.4 points, 3.5 boards and 3.4 assists as the No. 3 option.
He’ll be joined by N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis, a top 20 recruit coming out of high school that spent last season sitting out as a redshirt, and top 30 recruit Daniel Hamilton. Purvis has a chance to be one of the nation’s most improved players this season while Hamilton, the youngest brother of Gary (Miami), Jordan (Texas and now the NBA) and Isaac (UCLA), is a wing forward with a reputation for being a big-time scorer. That trio could match up with any back court in the country. Throw in sophomore Terrance Samuel, who had some big moments during UConn’s national title run, as well as Omar Calhoun and JuCo transfer Sam Cassell Jr., and the Huskies legitimately go six-deep on their perimeter.
But they might disappoint because … : As good as their back court is, it will be downright impossible to replace Shabazz Napier. And I’m not just talking about his ability to score or his knack for making a big shot in a bigger moment, I’m talking about the leadership that he provided and his presence in the locker room. Napier was a coach on the floor, a guy that ran this team and commanded the respect of his teammates. Doug McDermott was the rightful National Player of the Year last season, but Napier was every bit as valuable as him.
There are also question marks along UConn’s front line. There is no four-man that will be able to stretch the floor the way that Daniels did last season. Part of the reason that UConn was so difficult to guard was because Daniels could play the four defensively, but he was more-or-less a guard on the offensive end of the floor. Phil Nolan has beefed up this offseason and Amida Brimah has a chance to be the nation’s best shot-blocker at some point during his career, but neither of them are the kind of player that will scare an opposing coach offensively. And if that wasn’t enough, their only back ups are Kentan Facey, who struggled to see the floor as a freshman, and Rakim “Rock” Lubin, an incoming recruit that is built like a bulldozer but that wasn’t ranked in the Class of 2014.
Outlook: Just how good will Ryan Boatright be taking over the reins of this team? He’s a tremendous talent, one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders and a kid that can score 30 on any given night when he gets on a roll offensively, but he’s also a kid that has had maturity issues during his career and a habit of forcing some tough shots.
UConn has won two of the last four national titles thanks to the play of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier, two of the best point guards that we’ve seen in recent years. But both Walker and Napier had their growing pains early on in their Husky careers. Throw in the fact that Kevin Ollie — and, for that matter, Napier — is more or less the prototype of what it means to be a leader at the point guard spot, and Boatright has spent the past two years learning from the best possible people on how to be the player that the Huskies need him to be this season.
He’ll have talent around him, but if the Huskies are going to win the American this season, it will be on the back of Boatright. It will be interesting, over the next five months, to see if Boatright can live up to those lofty standards.