Kemba Walker may have carried the Huskies to a national title, but an infusion of veterans and super blue chip recruits have UConn in position to dominate college hoops for years to come (including this season)
The official start of college basketball is still a few weeks away, but with the recent release of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll now seems like a better time than ever to speculate about the 2011-12 front runners.
There is no doubt that UNC and Kentucky will be great this year. Both teams have outstanding freshman recruits and decent retention of last year’s core talent. However, it is hard to look at this poll and see the UConn Huskies with not ONE vote for the number 1 ranking.
Lots of sports analysts want to knock the Huskies going into this year since they lost Kemba Walker. How often does a championship team only lose one key player and not even be in consideration for the top preseason ranking? It’s understood that Kemba was the glue to last year’s team and carried them through chunks of the season, but it was the team around Kemba that made the Huskies champions, not just the man himself.
Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith, and Tyler Olander were all crucial parts to the Huskies title run last year. Shabazz emerged as an elite PG by the end of the season and Lamb emerged as a potential top 10 pick for the 2012 NBA draft. Oriakhi, Smith, and Olander all showed signs that they could carry the team when need be and all look like future NBA players as well. Many will try to knock Oriakhi for his inconsistency, Smith for his boneheaded shot against Texas, and Olander for his softness around the rim, but these guys brought it when it mattered and have developed so much since the beginning of last season that it is scary to think that this core is all the same.
Not only do the Huskies retain 4 of their starting 5, and 2 key role players, but they bring in arguably the best big man recruit of the 2011 class, Andre Drummond. Drummond is a big man that will put Husky greats like Emeka Okafor and Hasheem Thabeet to shame (maybe not to shame, but he will be an overall better player). Drummond can play big around the rim, he can pass, he is athletic as all hell and he’s only 18!
The progress he will show from day 1 will be amazing and it’s a safe bet to say that he will emerge as the Freshman of the Year and a Big East first team all conference member before conference play even begins. Drummond gets the benefit of superstar talent with no expectation of carrying a team in his first year. Drummond can ease his growing pains under tutelage of Oriakhi and Olander and can let his game come to him on his own time. So often super recruit freshmen are expected to come in and carry a team from day 1, but Drummond gets the luxury of playing with guys who have already won as a unit. He will develop on his own time and what UConn fans will see throughout this year will be nothing short of brilliance.
Drummond isn’t the only major addition to the Huskies this year. Freshmen sparkplug Ryan Boatright will let his name be known to the Big East when they witness his explosive speed and first step: just wait until he throws down on his first big man and for a moment UConn fans will say, “Kemba 2.0”. While Boatright may not have Kemba’s scoring prowess yet, his athleticism is equal to if not better than what Kemba brought to the table his freshmen year, and after a full year of Shabazz learning under Walker this backcourt is going to be a nightmare again for every opponent this season.
It may be just the preseason coaches’ poll, and yes the Huskies are still ranked 4th, but there is no doubt that the Huskies will be the top team in the Big East and undoubtedly will impress the entire college basketball nation this season with their success. Husky fans, don’t fear a season minus Kemba, embrace the beginning of a new Husky dynasty.