NCAA countdown: No. 14 Connecticut
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: Connecticut spent almost all of last season in the dark. The Huskies were banned from the postseason (poor APR score) and then-interim coach Kevin Ollie was believed by many to be on a “four-month contract” after replacing 26-year coach Jim Calhoun.
Yet Ollie and his players never stopped believing, and now there’s bright light at the end of the tunnel.
The Huskies, now eligible for the NCAA tournament, enter 2013-14 with new life in a restructured, renamed conference — the American Athletic — bringing back the highest scoring trio in the Big East last season in NBA-caliber guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, and forward DeAndre Daniels.
They also bring back their coach, who accepted a five-year contract last December following a 9-2 start and stellar first-semester grades.
This Connecticut group shouldn’t lose any traction from last season, following Ollie’s “10 feet in” approach in quest of a conference title — which means going through defending champion Louisville — and making noise in the NCAA tournament again.
2012-13 in review: 20-10 overall (10-8 in the Big East), ineligible for the NCAA tournament.
Tournament projection: At-large bid, No. 4 seed.
Coach’s corner: “Everybody said I had a four-month deal. But I looked at it like I had a lifetime deal. I look that way at every aspect of my life, everything. Sometimes you’ve got to believe in the dark. You don’t know the outcome but you just keep believing in each other. That’s how we built this program. I’ve seen it back in the early days with coach (Jim) Calhoun. I’m from that thread.” — Ollie told USA TODAY Sports this summer.
Star watch: Napier (17.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.6 apg) and Boatright (15.4 ppg, 4.3 apg) both wrestled with the idea of turning pro but their return is huge for UConn. That’s especially the case based on their backcourt chemistry last season when the duo accounted for close to half of the team’s scoring output. Guard Omar Calhoun (11.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) was a double-digit scorer last season as a freshman and should again … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 14 Connecticut, click here.]