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.
Guard play was a critical factor during UConn’s run to the program’s fourth national title last spring, with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright leading the way and supplementary options such as Lasan Kromah and Terrence Samuel earning roles as well. One guard who didn’t see much playing time during the second half of the season was Omar Calhoun, who never seemed to be at full strength and his game suffered as a result.
In the spring of 2013 the junior guard from Brooklyn underwent surgery to correct impingements in both hips, with the rehab process taking away the valuable time during the summer that healthy players use to improve their game. As the season progresses Calhoun (3.8 ppg, 30.5% FG) went from starting to being out of the rotation, and for some players that would lead to the decision that they’re better off at another school.
However that wasn’t the case for Calhoun, who told Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant a couple weeks ago that transferring was never seriously considered. What Calhoun did consider, and ultimately do, was the need to work even harder to regain a spot in Kevin Ollie’s perimeter rotation.
“A lot of different thoughts come into your mind,” Calhoun said. “You could put the blame on a lot of different people. But as a growing young man, you have to see what you can do to make the most out of the situation that you’re in. I felt like I still have an opportunity here to do a lot of great things.”
Calhoun spent the summer on campus working on fundamentals, strength and flexibility. As September and the new academic year began, coaches have seen the results, a quicker, more explosive player, more sure of himself with the ball, with stronger legs to support his shot.
Even with the loss of Napier and Kromah the Huskies won’t lack for options on the perimeter with Boatright leading the way. UConn will add three talented pieces in freshman Daniel Hamilton, NC State transfer Rodney Purvis and junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr. Those players have received s decent amount of attention this offseason, but that doesn’t mean Samuel and Calhoun won’t factor into the equation themselves.
Samuel proved to be of great value to UConn down the stretch last season, especially on the defensive end of the floor, as his presence allowed Ollie to play three point guards at the same time in order to take advantage of their speed on both ends of the floor. And while Calhoun wasn’t a part of that rotation he’s skilled enough to change that in 2014-15.
And with a full summer to focus on his game as opposed to being concerned with rehab, the 6-foot-5 junior will begin practice in a much better situation than the one he was in last fall.
Over the course of the holiday week, we at College Basketball Talk will be detailing what we believe will be the New Year’s Resolutions of some of the nation’s most talented, most disappointing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood.
WHAT DOES CONNECTICUT PROMISE TO DO MORE OF?: Shabazz Napier’s surrounding cast — mainly Omar Calhoun — will take some of the load off of his shoulders.
Why it will happen: Ryan Boatright, Napier’s running mate in the back court, is the second piece of UConn’s potent guard-play. He’s averaging nearly 12 ppg to go along with 3.8 rbg and 3.6 apg, and one of the most dynamite guards in the country when he heats up. Boatright isn’t the issue here, rather it’s sophomore guard Omar Calhoun. Calhoun had high expectations entering the season coming off of a strong freshman campaign where he averaged better than 11 ppg, but has regressed to 8.2 ppg on a poor 34.1% FG. Calhoun has been hot and cold. He began the season with three straight double-digit games, but has gone over ten points just once in the past eight games. The 6-foot-6 Calhoun is a better player than he has shown, and when he finds his groove in this year’s Husky offense, Napier will be the primary beneficiary.
Why it won’t happen: Napier has drawn comparisons to Kemba Walker. As the nation saw during the 2010-11 season when UConn won the National Championship, Walker carried them. He bailed the Huskies out countless times. Napier has a similar ability as we saw when he basically single-handily beat Indiana in the final minutes, and then when he connected on a buzzer-beater to defeat Florida. Make no mistake, Napier is the guy at UConn. That’s not a bad thing. However, is Napier feeling too much of the onus to consistently be the guy that this stunts the growth and involvement of those around him? Napier pressed in the second half against Stanford, and was unable to bail UConn out.
WHAT DOES CONNECTICUT SWEAR THEY WILL DO LESS OF?: End the experiment of inserting a “true” center in the starting line-up and play smaller up-front.
Why it will happen: Sophomore center Phillip Nolan has started ten of 11 games for UConn, while freshman Amida Brimah received the other start. Through the non-conference schedule, Nolan simply hasn’t been productive enough to warrant these starts; he is averaging 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds. Meanwhile, Brimah is at 3 ppg and 1.9 rbg. Of course, there is a need for a big bodied center in the line-up at times, but Kevin Ollie should consider going small up-front with DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey. Perhaps Ollie likes Giffey’s instant offense coming off the bench, but maximizing his minutes on the floor will benefit Napier and the rest of the offense. He is currently seeing 19.6 mpg and averaging 11.9 points — both could be more.
Why it won’t happen: Nolan and Brimah are bother underclassmen and continuing to develop. Pulling Nolan from the starting five and cutting both of their minutes may stunt their development and kill their confidence. Against Washington, Brimah started instead of Nolan, and Nolan played well off the bench — look for Ollie to toy with this strategy in future games. Also, let’s remember that UConn is 10-1 and the No. 15 team in the country. Is making a change to the starting five and potentially ruining the continuity of the team worth the potential reward of inserting Giffey or a Tyler Olander, for instance, instead of Nolan or Brimah?
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
The inaugural year of the American Athletic Conference — or American as they prefer — features the defending national champions in Louisville for only one year before they leave for the ACC, but it should make for some great competition at the top as the Cardinals, Memphis and UConn will slug it out for the AAC title.
Cincinnati, Temple, South Florida, Houston and SMU all have talented pieces in place for potential NCAA Tournament runs while Central Florida and one-year AAC member Rutgers (Big Ten next season) are at the bottom.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. The champs are still loaded: Louisville loses senior leader Peyton Siva, defensive stopper Gorgui Dieng and forward Chane Behanan is suspended, but the Cardinals still return Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell and Kevin Ware should be up to speed soon. Wayne Blackshear is also finally healthy and Chris Jones is the top junior college transfer in the country.
2. Best backcourt won’t be crowned overnight: Between Louisville (Smith, Jones, Ware and Terry Rozier), Memphis (Joe Jackson, Mike Dixon, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson) and UConn (Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun) can all vie for the honor of the best backcourt in the American — and maybe the country — but that claim will have to be decided on the floor.
3. The return of UConn: Tournament-ineligible last season due to a poor APR, the Huskies have the talent to make a postseason run behind their aforementioned experienced backcourt and the late-season play of junior DeAndre Daniels. The key for the Huskies will be finding an interior presence somewhere, be it Tyler Olander, Phil Nolan or Kentan Facey.
4. SMU has a lot of new (and talented) pieces: Led by McDonald’s All-American shooting guard Keith Frazier, Larry Brown will have quite an infusion of talent in year two at SMU. But how will they all integrate together? JuCo center Yanick Moreira, Illinois State point guard transfer Nic Moore and freshman two-guard Sterling Brown are also potential key pieces.
5. The American has talent from top-to-bottom: The heavy-hitters Louisville, Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati should compete for NCAA Tournament bids right away but other teams in the league could surprise thanks to a lot of returning talent. Temple, South Florida, Houston, and SMU all have a lot of pieces and with it being a new league one — or more — could thrive right off the bat.
PRESEASON AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Russ Smith, Louisville
An explosive off-guard with the ball, Smith averaged 18.7 points per game last season but must be more of a leader if Louisville is to remain in national title talks. A key question with Smith will be whether or not he embraces his role on this team — ‘Russdiculous’ actually works in Louisville’s system — or if he spends his senior season trying to prove he can be a point guard to NBA teams.
THE REST OF THE AMERICAN’S FIRST TEAM:
Shabazz Napier, UConn: Experienced senior guard can score or run an offense and remains one of the nation’s most underrated guards.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: Averaged 17 points in the Big East and remains Cincinnati’s No. 1 scoring option.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Breakout postseason and summer for the sophomore big man could lead to big season.
Ryan Boatright, UConn: Explosive junior guard can score and push tempo with best of them.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Joe Jackson, Memphis
Luke Hancock, Louisville
TaShawn Thomas, Houston
Michael Dixon, Memphis
Isaiah Sykes, Central Florida
BREAKOUT STAR: Omar Calhoun (UConn)
Calhoun is poised for a big year after a strong freshman season where he averaged 11.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5 wing will have the benefit of playing with two of the conference’s top five returning scorers and assists leaders in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright and the trio will be tough to guard.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Larry Brown (SMU)
It’s not the kind of pressure from fans or administration, but time is not on SMU’s side. Their last NCAA Tournament? 1993. Some of the Mustang players weren’t born yet. Head coach Larry Brown is 73, which means that his time in Dallas is limited. Brown will have a few years to win at SMU and he gets a major talent influx this year with transfers and a strong recruiting class.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : This new league was better than we thought.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The battle of the backcourts between Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
December 28th, Louisville at Kentucky
November 19th, Memphis at Oklahoma State
December 14th, Cincinnati at Xavier
December 2nd, Florida at UConn
February 8th, Gonzaga at Memphis
1. Louisville: The champs return a number of talented pieces and add best junior college guard Chris Jones and get a healthy Wayne Blackshear. How soon does Behanan return from suspension?
2. Memphis: Incredibly experienced senior-laden backcourt leads a talented group that needs Shaq Goodwin and its talented freshman class to mature quickly.
3. Connecticut: Napier and Boatright are as good any backcourt in the country but how much have Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels improved?
4. Cincinnati: After Sean Kilpatrick who scores for the Bearcats? Mick Cronin’s bunch will still defend like crazy but questions on offense linger.
5. Temple: Fran Dunphy’s teams always compete and even without Khalif Wyatt, Will Cummings and Anthony Lee still gives them plenty.
6. South Florida: One-two punch of playmaking guard Anthony Collins and forward Victor Rudd gives the Bulls a nice foundation going forward.
7. Houston: TaShawn Thomas returns from a 16.9 and 9.8 junior campaign and Danuel House should make the leap on the wing as a sophomore.
8. SMU: A lot of new talent and transfers for the Mustangs, but how does it all mesh together in a new league?
9. Central Florida: Six of top seven return, including first-team All-Conference USA guard Isaiah Sykes.
10. Rutgers: The Eddie Jordan era begins in New Jersey as the Scarlet Knights look to turn around their program.