Connecticut finally received some good news in what has been a tough off-season as Milwaukee big man Philip Nolan committed to the school.
At 6-10, 205 pounds, Nolan is a much-needed front court body for a team that’s lost Andre Drummond (NBA Draft), Michael Bradley, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith (transfers) since the end of the season.
But Nolan’s commitment, which apparently came without a visit to the campus, doesn’t change the fact that the Huskies will have to play small in 2012-13.
The pieces will be there, with the return of Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and Shabazz Napier, and the addition of Christ the King guard Omar Calhoun and Holy Cross transfer R.J. Evans.
But it’s quite the departure for a program that’s become synonymous with big men over the last decade or so.
What UConn ultimately has to do in order to best position themselves for success could be a lot like what Jay Wright has done at Villanova, looking to beat size with speed.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” Wright told Kevin Duffy of the Connecticut Post. “It works great when you’re making shots and you’re pressuring and turning (the opponent) over. But if you’re not doing those things, that’s when you run into trouble.”
Under Wright’s guidance, Villanova has experienced sustained success with a guard-heavy rotation. Prior to this past season, the Wildcats had qualified for seven consecutive NCAA tournaments. It has been the physically menacing teams, Wright concedes, that often clip his ‘Cats in the Big Dance.
Players such as Nolan, Tyler Olander and Enosch Wolf will be important when it comes to rebounding, an area that can give smaller teams fits against bigger competition.
But a move to a smaller rotation may also mean turning back the clock to an era when UConn would pressure 94 feet, with names such as Nadav Henefeld and Chris Smith providing the foundation for a program that has now won three national titles.
Achieving success in the Big East has been tough historically when lacking quality big men but it isn’t impossible, and that’s something the Huskies will look to prove this season.