UConn is in serious trouble, but their issues range much farther than whether or not they are going to get a chance to defend their national title this season.
Its not a stretch to say that this season has been an utter disaster for the Huskies. A legitimate title contender in the preseason, UConn is currently sitting at 6-8 in Big East play with a schedule that is tough enough that they may end up playing their way out of the NCAA Tournament. The toxicity of the locker room spilled over in the press conference after UConn’s loss to Marquette on Saturday and they are still unsure of when, if ever, they are going to get head coach Jim Calhoun back on the sidelines.
On Monday, Dan Wolken of The Daily penned the obituary of the Huskies, but not just for this season. With the health of their aging head coach once again a major question mark and an NCAA Tournament ban coming next season, the future of the program looks bleak:
While current players are careful not to speculate on the future, multiple industry sources expect Lamb to turn pro after this season, as well as 6-foot-11 freshman Andre Drummond, who will be a lottery pick despite producing for UConn at a rate far below his talent level. Though Boatright is far from ready for the NBA, he has pro talent and would have a good chance to get drafted somewhere if he chose to leave.
A number of sources also expect big man Alex Oriakhi, who has seemed disinterested playing behind Drummond, to transfer and play his senior year without having to sit out.
Those potential defections would leave UConn in a dire situation, with little talent on the roster and not much coming in to replace it. UConn’s only current recruit for next year, Omar Calhoun, does not necessarily project to be an instant impact player in the Big East.
And then there’s the greater unknown of what happens if Jim Calhoun steps away. His desire for assistant and former player Kevin Ollie to get the job is well-established. Whether the 39-year old Ollie is ready for a job like UConn is another matter altogether.
Why would lottery picks opt to stay at UConn for another year after a season as dreadful as this one? Why would Oriakhi want to remain in the program when he feels like he has been disrespected after the role he played in UConn’s national title run last season? Why would any recruit actively pursue a chance to play for a program that is crumbling?
Jim Calhoun is UConn basketball. Its as simple as that. When he left Northeastern for Storrs in 1986, the Huskeis were coming off of a 9-19 season and had made the NCAA Tournament just once in the seven years since joining the Big East. It only took four years for Calhoun to turn the Huskies into Big East champs, winning both the Big East regular season and tournament titles and taking the team to the Elite 8. In the 20 years since, UConn has become one of the country’s premiere basketball programs, winning three national titles, making a fourth Final Four, competing year-in and year-out atop the Big East, and routinely sending players to the NBA.
That was all Calhoun.
What happens when he is gone?
What happens when UConn loses all of their star power and as a 39 year old rookie head coach take over?
Storrs is not a basketball hot bed. Storrs is when Calhoun built a powerhouse. Without his presence on the sidelines, how does UConn remain relevant if they are forced to start over from scratch?
Two years ago, I asked whether the sanctions handed down by the NCAA for the Nate Miles fiasco would be the death penalty for the UConn program. I was wrong then, but maybe I was just asking the question too soon.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.