The preseason hype may not be there for the 2012-13 UConn men's basketball team but let's be honest: this team hasn't exactly sprinted out of the blocks in recent years. In 2010-11, this was a mediocre club until February when Kemba Walker went off. And last season, it was a disappointment from start to finish. Both times, the Huskies finished the regular season as the Big East's No. 9 team.
This time around, expectations have been dampened weeks ahead of the first tip-off but that doesn't mean UConn won't be competitive. And who knows, placing higher than ninth not only seems like a reasonable goal but perfectly attainable. But any success this group has will be largely due to Shabazz Napier.
That helps explain Napier's place among college basketball's top 50 point guards. CBSSports.com ranks the UConn junior 17th.
"He had great games -- and brutal ones. Napier can really shoot the ball from deep, but needs to learn how to consistently get his teammates easy shots -- and also become a quality leader. Also capable of being a terrific perimeter defender."
It's a fair assessment and Napier's inconsistencies last season was one of the reasons the team struggled. (Also not helping: Andre Drummond was disappointing. Yes, he was a freshman but the best freshman in the country. He just didn't always play like it.)
But this is his team and he'll have to continue to score points from all over the floor while getting his teammates involved -- but now without the mental mistakes that led previously to silly turnovers.
Good news, though: Napier will have help in the form of backcourt mate Ryan Boatright. The sophomore is willing and able to carry some of the leadership burden.
“I was born to be a leader,” he said last month. “I was raised to be a leader. I was a team leader in high school. I would be doing it anyway, but with the inexperienced team we have, I’m speaking out, when I see something that doesn’t look right, I’ll say something to the person. And I try to lead by example.”
In case you're wondering about how the other Big East point guards graded out in CBSSports.com's rankings, Louisville's Peyton Siva was 9th and Michael Carter-Williams was 13th (backup Brandon Triche was 39th). Providence's Vincent Council came in at 18th, USF's Anthony Collins was 31st and Pitt's Travon Woodall was 36th