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Shabazz Napier, Kevin Ollie and the UConn Huskies are back from NCAA sanctions, but can this historic college basketball program get back to the March Madness Tournament - Playboy's NCAA Bracket Preview
12/06/2013
 

Team Preview: 2014 Connecticut Huskies

By: Rob Kirkaldy

2012-13 Record: 20-14 (8-10 in the Big East)

Coach: Kevin Ollie (20-14 in UConn, 20-14 Overall)

RIP Big East. It’s American Athletic Conference time for the Connecticut Huskies. New conference, new season and new opportunity. But now that it counts, can the Huskies rise to the occasion?

Strongside: Paying for the sins of dunces who came before, UConn spent the last two years in a strange kind of purgatory.

Barred from competing in the postseason due to the academic failure of teams before them—the precise formula for calculating Academic Progress Rate (APR) would require another post—the team lost players, scholarships and, for unrelated reasons, a coach. Even appeals from the Governor of Connecticut couldn’t move the NCAA from its position on the issue and the Huskies were forced to participate in March Madness like millions of other Americans: by watching at home.

But it hasn’t all been bad news. The team’s unique challenges have given it time to grow and mature. Rookie coach Kevin Ollie exceeded expectations with a 20-10 record in his first season. A strong senior class of guards has stuck together throughout the turmoil. And thanks to the Mensa-level geniuses from the 2011-2012 Huskies roster—APR scores roll two years behind—the team is once again academically eligible for the postseason.

Now the Huskies are back to playing for keeps.

The hunger to repeat the success of the 2011 national championship squad has seen key seniors Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels forgo the NBA draft for another year, raising expectations for the team.

Weakside: However, there’s no papering over the challenge facing this Huskies squad: the strong backcourt can’t conceal the fact that UConn is laughably weak up front. Freshman center Amida Brimah has the sheer athleticism to perform but has only been playing the game for four years. If a guard goes cold, ends up in foul trouble or succumbs to injury, this team is in trouble.

And although they’re unbeaten thus far in 2013, four games have been decided by fewer than 10 points. That’s cause for concern in Storrs, particularly given the relatively weak competition.

All Told: The honeymoon won’t last long. Memphis is an early conference favorite, while playoff preview games will take place against Louisville and Cincinnati early in the new year.

For Kevin Ollie, all the easy challenges are in the past. Now he needs to show that his team can win when it counts; if the Huskies can compete with a strong Louisville squad, then the Ollie era may indeed be upon us. Expect to see this UConn squad playing deep into March.

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Rob Kirkaldy is a lifelong basketball fan who has contributed work to a number of Canadian publications. He’s lived and worked in four countries, on one planet.

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