On the heels of Jim Calhoun’s team missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years and Calhoun’s second health-related leave of absence in the past seven years, the University of Connecticut proposed and Calhoun accepted a $13 million extension of his contract, locking him up as the Husky head coach through 2014. While the UConn administration made sure the appearance of stability at the head of the program (and, to be clear, this is very much Calhoun’s program, built into a national power from the ground-up), there is no such luck with the roster, as three of the four players on the team that averaged more than 30 minutes per game have departed (Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, Gavin Edwards); those same three were 3/4s of the players on the team that averaged over 10 points per game. The sole remaining returnee to fit into both of those categories is point guard Kemba Walker, returning for his junior season with the need to prove that he is capable of being the unquestioned team leader. Walker is a lightning-fast true point who made significant strides on improving his outside shot as a sophomore. Further improvement of that outside shot, combined with his already devastating penetration ability could make him a nightmare for opposing backcourts around the Big East.

Beyond Walker, the roster has more question marks than declarative answers. Senior Charles Okwandu, sophomore Alex Oriakhi and redshirt sophomore Ater Majok split the majority of the starts at the four and five spots last season, and they will likely do the same in 2010-11. Majok has the most upside of the trio, with his massive wingspan and improving post game, but he was a model of inconsistency in his first year in the Husky rotation. Oriakhi has been the most consistent of the three, a solid rebounder, inside defensive presence and interior finisher, but his offensive game is decidedly lacking. Okwandu is most notable for his ability to pick up fouls at a startling pace, and he’ll need to correct that in order to ever be a significant contributor on this squad. Along with that trio, center Jonathan Mandeldove will return for his senior season, having missed the entirety of 09-10 attempting to correct academic issues. Also, reinforcements arrive in the form of 6-9 freshman power forward Tyler Olander and 6-10 freshman center Michael Bradley. Bradley could get a redshirt next season in order to improve his strength, but Olander, a raw but strong back-to-the-basket player, could scoop up a few minutes in his freshman year.

Robinson’s wing spot will likely be inherited by sophomore Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, an athletic defender whose offensive game and shooting will need to improve. Pushing him will be incoming freshman Roscoe Smith, a versatile performer with a ready-made offensive game who could step right into a starting spot should Coombs-McDaniel leave the door open.

The final available starting spot is alongside Walker in the backcourt. Senior guard Donnell Beverly may be a contender that role, but he has a very limited offensive game, and with the relative lack of offensive punch from the big guys on this team, Calhoun may need to find more of a scoring threat at the two-guard. Incoming freshman Jeremy Lamb is a natural scorer at the two and he could slide into a starting spot. He could use some more strength, but handles well and has a big wingspan for an off-guard. Sophomore Darius Smith could also contend for some minutes after getting just spot duty in his freshman year. Another contender to take the second backcourt spot is 5-10 incoming freshman Shabazz Napier, a tiny scoring point guard with a ton of confidence. While a Walker/Napier backcourt would be among the quickest in the nation, both players are best with the ball in their hands, and their lack of size could be taken advantage of on the defensive end. Fact is, there is no clear-cut best option here for Calhoun, and it is possible that the fifth start could be a revolving door depending on matchups.

A year out of the Tournament for the Huskies, and looking at a roster with question marks in abundance. This is not your typical UConn team with hopes for a deep March run. Putting on the rose-colored glasses for a minute, however, Calhoun has a history of developing big men, and if he can get Majok or another of the big guys to take a big step forward offensively, there is some hope here. There is no dearth of talent here, but there is a dearth of experienced consistent production, a void that will need to be filled for the Huskies to go dancing.

 


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