Everyone has heard of the national championship hangover. We’ve seen teams like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and numerous other big-time programs struggle in the years immediately following their championship glory. However, we have not yet seen a fall as great as the one the UConn Huskies have taken this season. The lowly Huskies are a mediocre 10-7, with losses to the likes of Tulsa, Stanford, Temple (at home no less), and the worst, in-state rival Yale.
For Connecticut residents and fans, if UConn can’t beat Yale at basketball, what does this program have to lean on? Last season, it seemed that Kevin Ollie was the perfect man to take Jim Calhoun’s spot. He had his team motivated and focused when it mattered, leading them to the American Athletic Conference championship, and eventually a victory against Kentucky in Dallas in front of tens of thousands of fans. Many of those fans, including myself, a Connecticut native, counted UConn out of that game. Kentucky appeared too big, too physical, and too athletic to fall at the hands of the Huskies. However, Ollie, and his point guard and fearless leader, Shabazz Napier, led the “Hungry Huskies” to their fourth national championship in school history.
Now Napier is gone to the Miami Heat, as is power forward DeAndre Daniels, leaving Napier’s backcourt partner, Ryan Boatright, to lead the team. While Boatright has been fantastic this season, he has proven time and time again that basketball is not a one-man game, and his teammates have sorely let him down. Amida Brimah, the Ghanaian center who was touted as the successor to UConn legends like Hasheem Thabeet and Emeka Okafor when he arrived, has hardly made the leap many expected. While his offense will take time to build, his rebounding has taken a dip, and it appears that sometimes he disappears in games, overmatched by the opposing frontcourt man.
In order for the Huskies to be competitive this season, they needed Brimah to be the star his physical tools demand, but the development just hasn’t occurred. Scarier still for Huskie fans: Brimah is the second leading scorer on the team behind Boatright. No one else on the team has even shown signs of stepping up for the second half of the season, leaving Connecticut fans wondering if this team can even go .500 in a very weak American Athletic Conference.
While the outlook may be dismal at this point, I don’t want to paint the picture that all is lost for Kevin Ollie’s Huskies. Daniel Hamilton has emerged as a nice option as a freshman, and players like Omar Calhoun, Sam Cassell Jr., and Rodney Purvis will continue to develop in the UConn system. After all, the championship teams of Huskie past have always thrived on the play of seasoned upperclassmen who had been to the tournament before, thus understanding every challenge that would be thrown their way and how to overcome it. We saw it with Rip Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin. We saw it with Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor. We saw it with Kemba Walker. We saw it last year with Napier. We’ve seen it throughout Connecticut’s history.
However, this year, Ryan Boatright will probably come up short as he tries to lead UConn to the NCAA tournament, making them the first team to win it all only to miss the Big Dance in the next season since Kentucky’s team in 2012. While this may be a tough year to stomach for UConn fans, they must be patient. Jim Calhoun’s program wasn’t built in a day, and Kevin Ollie’s won’t be either.