Big East Basketball Preview: Can UConn really repeat?

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 16: U.S. President Barack Obama (C) poses for a photograph with the 2011 NCAA Champion University of Connecticut men's basketball team and its coach Jim Calhoun at the White House May 16, 2011 in Washington, DC. UConn earned the national championship with an 11-game run through the postseason, ending with a 53-41 win over Butler in the NCAA title game. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Andre Drummond + DeAndre Daniels + Ryan Boatright ≥ Kemba Walker ?

In its simplest terms, this numberless math inequality provides the biggest question for this season's UConn Huskies. Throw out all those intangibles, think in terms of talent, and the best way to truly gauge what will come of the 2011-2012 squad lies more in the ability of three incoming freshman to exceed the production from Kemba Walker than any other storyline.

Quick Predictions on the Big East
  • Tourney Teams - UConn, Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Cincinnati, West Virginia
  • POY - Kris Joseph, Syracuse
  • Newcomer - Andre Drummond, UConn
  • Coach - Buzz Williams, Marquette
  • Champion - UConn
  • Don’t Sleep On - Marquette (team); WVU's Deniz Kilicli (player)
    • What the Husky point guard accomplished in 2010-2011 was unprecedented, carrying a squad that lacked defined roles and an identity when the season began, and helping it morph into a an unstoppable force in bracket play.

      While we were all entranced watching this team gallivant through March unblemished, the writing was on the wall months earlier that this team embraced tournament style basketball when they captured the Maui Invitational. As the season wore on, Jim Calhoun just sat there with an ear-to-ear shit eating grin, fully understanding just how easier his job was when Kemba Walker was in control.

      Now there is no Kemba, and in his wake are monumental expectations for his former teammates and incoming freshman to repeat as national champions. Now, there will be no pre-season snub from Sports Illustrated, no stealthy November ascension to the top, and no fan base that's just happy their club is overachieving. 

      With an opportunistic schedule that allowed them to play, and defeat the likes of Wichita State, Michigan State, Kentucky, and Harvard in 2010, the ball was rolling early for the Huskies.

      To start this season, the early non-conference schedule is a proverbial cakewalk. Including a trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Huskies toughest opponent before the new year could be Florida State, or scheduled match-ups against Arkansas or the aforementioned Crimson. In short, the jury will still be out even if they remain undefeated entering January.

      But one strong parallel you can draw between this and last year's teams is this: there's argument to be made the the Huskies will repeat only if it gets a surprise improvement from its starting point guard Last year it was Walker, and this season sophomore Shabazz Napier will be asked to drive the boat for Calhoun. Pizzazz not needed.

      "Since I’ve been here, he’s the best true point guard since Marcus Williams," assistant coach George Blaney told Blue Ribbon Yearbook. "He can create baskets for you without running offense."

      While he doesn't need to be all-world, Napier must continue his heady play from last season's NCAA Tournament. He must enable budding star Jeremy Lamb to get shots where he's most comfortable, facilitate production for the new guys, and overall accept the responsibility of being a leader both on and off the court. So far, both he and those around him are adamant to the throngs of media visiting Stoors these past few weeks that Napier is the man for the job.

      If the Huskies repeat, they'll be the first to do so without the previous year's NCAA Tournament MVP since UCLA in 1971.

      Calling up that equation we opened with, I believe there is more talent on this year's UConn Husky team, but there's also more talent on the whole for college basketball. The entire game improved over the summer, and it remains to be seen if Calhoun's club improved enough to keep pace.

      We do know, however, that this team won't creep up on anyone. They'll have quite a lot to prove from the moment the season tips off.

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