UConn as a Big East Sleeper?

NBC Connecticut

For all the hand-wringing about the 2012-13 Huskies (and we're partly responsible for this), the reality is that UConn has been a middle-of-the-road Big East team during the regular season the last two seasons. In 2010-11, they got hot at the right time, reeled off 11 straight postseason wins and ended up as national championships. A year ago, they played like a middle-of-the-road team and were ousted in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

So what can we expect from the 2012-13 outfit that will be without five players from last year's team and their Hall of Fame coach? We'll know for certain in early November when the season officially starts but for now we'll have to speculate. And for ESPN's Andy Katz, that means naming the Huskies as his Big East sleeper, something that would've seemed ridiculous last spring.

Here's what he wrote Wednesday:

The Huskies aren’t eligible for the Big East tournament but can compete for the regular-season title. They won’t win it. But they will be better than projected if they stay healthy.

The three-guard lineup of Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun can match up with any perimeter unit in the league. DeAndre Daniels is developing into a solid rotation player and Tyler Olander can become a more than serviceable rebounder.

The question for the Huskies will be their bench. They need the three German-born players on their roster -- Leon Tolksdorf , Niels Giffey and Enosch Wolf -- to be productive. The sleeper on this sleeper team, however, may be 6-9 freshman forward Phillip Nolan. If he can emerge as a scorer, the Huskies will have balance.

Katz adds that "Ollie has three former head coaches on the bench to help guide him through the next seven months" and concedes that "The Huskies should finish above the bottom third of the league, even though they will be predicted to finish lower."

So, yeah, the expectations aren't particularly high. But that could be in the team's best interest. There will be absolutely no pressure on a young team with a young coach. Jim Calhoun said that he wanted to leave the program in good shape before departing and taking the long view he's certainly done that. But there's no disputing that the Huskies are rebuilding. We'll know the stage of the rebuilding process when the season begins in a few weeks.

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