2009-10 Preview: Connecticut

My friend John is the biggest UConn Huskies fan I know, going back to the Ray Allen era, so I figured he would be the perfect person to ask about writing a UConn preview for the 2009-1o season. John pontificates about the Huskies’ two Senior leaders, a solid midseason addition, and their NCAA Tournament chances. You can find his blog about the Cleveland Indians at Waves of Arms

For the first time in years, a Jim Calhoun team will be perimeter orientated with his 2009 edition of Huskies hoping to give the longtime coach success to go along with that change in style.

The team will be led by seniors Jerome Dyson and Stanley “Sticks” Robinson. Both have been through the ups and downs which nearly all four year college athletes endure. Robinson, from Birmingham, picked himself off the scrap heap literally a year ago and spent the first semester working a blue collar job before rejoining the team in time for its Final Four run.  Dyson, a Potomac, Md. native, was suspended early in his career for drug and alcohol related issues. The duo has overcome their past struggles and both clearly are All-Big East performers if they remain on the court for the duration of the season.

Robinson struggled to fit in with the squad for nearly the entire season until tournament time rolled around. He saved some spectacular performances for March and will be looked on to continue his double double caliber performances into late March of 2010. His athleticism is considered “elite” (proof) and the defensive presence he brings on the wing is unusually good. He is playing with the confidence he lacked last year and he certainly plans to pick back up right where he left off in Detroit. The Huskies would not have made even close to the run they did in the Dance had Sticks not taken off down the stretch. He is a monster difference maker.

Dyson’s knee injury last season crushed nearly all chances of UConn winning Calhoun’s third title. A heavyweight North Carolina-Connecticut battle on Monday Night would almost certainly have occurred had Dyson not came up limb in February. Slicin’ Dyson already has over 1,000 career points and nearly as many highlight dunks as Robinson does. Jerome should easily be the Huskies leading scorer and outside shooter. If he struggles for a stretch, expect the team to do so as well.

The mercurial seniors need to have the same type of breakout season which A.J. Price did his junior season. They are known commodities by this point in their careers but they are not totally consistent or reliable every night out. And that is the difference between good players and legends.

Joining the duo in the senior class is F/C Gavin Edwards from Arizona. Edwards lingered in the shadow of former frontcourt mates Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet for three years so he is quite unknown. With his opportunity now here the playing time will be there for him to make an impact. He should be ready based on the experience he has gained. Calhoun is counting on him to have a steady senior campaign.

Sophomore point guard Kemba Walker from the Bronx is the engine of the team. At times last season he was able to take over games (Purdue in the Sweet 16) and others he disappeared. His inexperience or lack thereof, was usually his downfall or success. His quickness and playmaking ability in the backcourt also gives him a very good chance to be in the mix for All-Big East awards at the end of the season. He is an early entry candidate for the NBA Draft should his sophomore season be a breakout. His jump shot is easily his biggest weakness as was that of Taliek Brown a few years back. After Walker shot hundreds of three pointers during the summer the results will hopefully be encouraging for the Husky faithful.

Rounding out the major players is freshman McDonald’s All-American Alex Oriakhi. The 6’9 center is the next great UConn pivot player. He is going to be playing tons of minutes during his career and his maturation into role player or lead player this season could be a key as this transition year unfolds. The team likely will be his and Walker’s during the 2010-2011 season so it is important to keep an eye on the progress of Oriakhi. Expect him to shoot a high percentage from the field and grab lots of rebounds this season. Most likely, his freshman numbers will dwarf those of former UConn centers and #2 overall picks Emeka Okafor and Thabeet. The only question is how much of that ability will Oriakhi live up to?

The bench likely will be fairly thin. Oriakhi’s longtime high school teammate and good friend freshman swingman Jamal Coombs-McDaniel has the ability to be a replacement for Robinson eventually. His savvy and knowledge of the game gives him a distinct advantage on the court as he plays older than his age.

The rest of the roster likely will be thin until F Ater Majok finally joins the squad in December. His journey to the team has been well documented and he will make a significant impact to the team at some point or another. For the remainder of the pre-conference schedule some light minutes will also be given to junior guard Donnell Beverly and freshmen guards Darius Smith and Jamaal Trice.
The extraordinary run of the Huskies being among the national leaders in blocked shots likely will come to an end this year. A new type of team will emerge which relies on athleticism and quickness. This is definitely a transition year for Husky basketball and Calhoun is hoping his team will live up to its billing even without some of its bigger name players on the roster.

The Huskies should be a Sweet 16. To get past that would be a great accomplishment, yet not making it past the first weekend of the dance would be a large disappointment.

In addition, I should note that if anyone out there wants to write a guest post, just email it to any one of us by clicking on the contact tab up top.

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