2008-09 UCONN Basketball Preview: #3
Overall Rank: #3
Conference Rank: #1 Big East
2007-08: 24-9, 13-5, 4th
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
Connecticut rebounded from a bad 2006-2007 campaign to reach the NCAA Tournament. But once there the Huskies bowed out early at the hands of San Diego. Expectations are high again, but can Coach Jim Calhoun’s team live up to it this time? Thanks to the return of Hasheem Thabeet, it is quite possible. Thabeet, a 7-3 center, could have been a first round pick had he not opted to return to Storrs. After averaging 10.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots, Thabeet should dominate the paint.
Doug Wiggins is the only real loss. Wiggins added 6.7 points per contest. Nate Miles was supposed to be a major addition, but the incoming freshman was expelled from school. That still leaves a talented group of newcomers, but not anybody who can fill that role as well as Miles would have.
Scottie Haralson is a quality shooting guard, but he is more of a role player than somebody who could be starting in the Big East as a freshman. At 6-4, Haralson has the size to play the three if necessary, but he will likely play the two spot off the bench this year. Kemba Walker is a great pass first point guard and the star of this class. He should be a fine back-up for now; however, if he wants to emerge as a great Big East guard, he has to find more consistency on his jump shot. Charles Okwandu, a transfer from Harcum Junior College in Pennsylvania, is another 7-footer who will give the Huskies even more depth in the paint. (Ater Majok, UCONN’s 2nd best freshman is still waiting word whether he’ll be eligible in December).
Who to Watch:
Last year it was A.J. Price and a bunch of inconsistency in the backcourt. That should be different this year, but Price has some knee concerns that could have a huge effect on the 2008-2009 season. Price tore his ACL in last year’s first round tournament loss to San Diego and if he is not at full strength, Uconn is not at full strength. Price is a great scorer from anywhere on the floor and he also dished out 5.8 assists per contest. He is a solid defender and a great leader and he will be the man that leads the Huskies to success. The departure Robinson and Wiggins, and the expulsion of Miles, makes things a little more interesting, but the team still has plenty of talent on the perimeter. Jerome Dyson missed nine games in the middle of the season due to a suspension, but when he was playing he proved to be a solid slasher who could finish above the rim. Dyson does not shoot as well as your usual shooting guard and he could end up spending some time at the three spot due to a lack of other options. That would put combo guard and defensive specialist Craig Austrie into the starting lineup. Donnell Beverly is the only other returning perimeter player with any experience and he only averaged 4.8 minutes per game.
Connecticut would prefer to have Dyson at the two and Austrie coming in off the bench, but with Thabeet and Jeff Adrien in the frontcourt, the team would not lose out on much rebounding if Dyson was forced into the small forward position. The expected return of Stanley Robinson on December 20, would clear any lineup problems. The former can’t-miss propsect averaged 10.4 ppg last year, but has never lived up to the hype. Still, his absence leaves UCONN’s lineup out of balance.
As good as Thabeet is, Jeff Adrien outperformed him in the scoring and rebounding departments, averaging 14.8 and 9.1, respectively. With Thabeet eating up space, Adrien used his toughness to have a great junior season. His senior year might be even better. Gavin Edwards and Jonathan Mandeldove will provide a majority of the minutes off the bench up front and the Huskies, despite the defections (and uncertainties), appear to have enough depth and experience to make a deep run in March.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
A.J. Price, Senior, Guard, 14.5 points per game
Craig Austrie, Senior, Guard, 7.5 points per game
Jerome Dyson, Junior, Guard, 12.5 points per game
Jeff Adrien, Senior, Forward, 14.8 points per game
Hasheem Thabeet, Junior, Center, 10.5 points per game