With a year under his belt, could Ryan Boatright make UConn a better team next season, despite losing five key players? At least one expert thinks so.
Most of the conversations about the 2012-13 UConn men's basketball team are usually in the hushed tones reserved for the recently deceased. With five players having left the program this spring, the 2013 postseason ban, not to mention Jim Calhoun's uncertain future, there's a lot to be decided in the coming months.
Luckily, Bleacher Report's Zachary Peck is a glass-half-full type of guy. Earlier this week, he wrote several hundred words about why next year's team will be better than the 2011-12 squad. Perhaps that's the soft bigotry of low expectations; last season was by any measure an utter disappointment. UConn had four returning starters from the 2010-11 championship team, not to mention the best recruit in the country, Andre Drummond.
Turns out, Kemba Walker was a much bigger part of that offense than anyone imagined, and without his leadership and point-scoring ability, the Huskies were a middle-of-the-road Big East team. Now, with Alex Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Michael Bradley and Drummond no longer in Storrs, UConn will somehow be better? Really?
With the losses of Lamb, Drummond, Oriakhi and Smith, UConn has no other options on offense than Napier, Boatright and incoming five-star recruit Omar Calhoun. This will be a blessing in disguise for the Huskies.
No longer will Napier have to worry about getting enough touches for Lamb, Oriakhi and Drummond—all players who considered themselves scoring options (with some more mistaken than others...ahem Oriakhi...). Napier has the ability to be an excellent scorer, and the team's success will depend heavily upon those skills.
No longer will Boatright have to worry about fitting in as a freshman and not stepping on the toes of the accomplished upperclassmen. As mentioned earlier, Boatright showed flashes of what he is capable of. He has elite quickness and leaping ability to go with a decent jump-shot and excellent finishing skills.
These are all reasonable points. Two issues, however: there isn't any depth behind Napier and Boatright and given the current state of the roster, they'll spend a lot of time on the floor together so it's not like one can sub for the other. And that means if one gets in foul trouble it doubles the other's burden. Also: there are still huge issues about the front court. The Huskies signed Phil Nolan and Leon Tolksdorf, and have Enosch Wolf and Tyler Olander currently on the roster, but that's a far cry from Drummond, Oriakhi and Smith.
But Peck makes a point that has held true in recent years: whenever critics expect the Huskies to fall on their faces, UConn has responded, most recently in 2010-11. The biggest difference, of course (to paraphrase Rick Pitino): Kemba Walker ain't walkin' through that door.