When UConn takes on Cincinnati Thursday night, they Huskies will do so without one piece of their perimeter rotation.
According to Neill Ostrout of the Journal Inquirer, sophomore guard Sam Cassell Jr. will miss the game due to a stress fracture in his right tibia and is expected to be sidelined “for a few weeks.” Cassell’s averaging 3.9 points and 1.3 rebounds per game on the season, but like many of his teammates he’s struggled from a percentage standpoint as he’s shooting 27.6% from the field and 26.5% from beyond the arc on the season.
With junior Omar Calhoun returning to the rotation (and ultimately the starting lineup), Cassell’s minutes have been inconsistent in recent weeks. While Cassell played 22 minutes in the Huskies’ loss at Stanford January 17 and 13 minutes in a win over USF on Sunday, he played a total of 16 minutes in the other three games in the five games prior to this injury.
With Ryan Boatright, Daniel Hamilton and Calhoun making up the starting perimeter trio and Rodney Purvis and Terrence Samuel coming off the bench, UConn head coach Kevin Ollie has the pieces to account for the loss of Cassell.
Two newcomers step forward in UConn’s exhibition win
While the biggest talking point this offseason regarding UConn’s hopes of defending its national title has been how they’ll account for the loss of a group of seniors led by point guard Shabazz Napier, head coach Kevin Ollie also has a perimeter rotation that’s expected to be among the best in the country. Sunday afternoon in the team’s 68-59 exhibition victory over Assumption College, two perimeter newcomers stood out for a team that hasn’t been as consistent as Ollie would like them to be in their two dress rehearsals.
Junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr. scored 18 points off the bench and freshman Daniel Hamilton contributed in multiple areas (12 points, 12 rebounds and six assists), with senior point guard Ryan Boatright scoring 17 (and dishing out four assists) to join them in double figures. Both players were expected to be impact newcomers for the Huskies, so their play in the exhibitions isn’t a surprise.
The next step is to get NC State transfer Rodney Purvis going, as he committed five turnovers Sunday. UConn was able to create more opportunities in the open floor, thus establishing the distance needed to handle Assumption. And following the game, Ollie made note of his desire to see the Huskies play with more energy than they have.
“We had a couple of guys who played UConn basketball,” he said, “and a couple of guys who didn’t. … I want our energy to get better. Players have got to step up. We’ve got to step up together as a team. Hopefully, we’ll do that on Friday.”
UConn opens its season Friday night against Bryant, and the team has work to do ahead of that matchup with Tim O’Shea’s Bulldogs. Yet even with that being the case, the play of Cassell and Hamilton is a positive the Huskies can take out of their exhibition performances.
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.