As part of Testudo Times’ basketball coverage, staffer Alex Kirshner is corresponding throughout the season with beat writers and bloggers from the opponents’ on the Terps schedule – an identical concept to the "Behind Enemy Lines" series of football season. The hoops Q&A feature, "Shot Clock," starts with Aman of The UConn Blog – SB Nation’s Connecticut Huskies site.
Testudo Times: You're now a year out from the enormously successful Jim Calhoun era. What are your expectations for the 2013-14 Huskies under second-year coach Kevin Ollie?
UConn Blog: I cannot appropriately explain to you how much we LOVE Kevin Ollie. Most of us, even the most level headed fans, believe we have one of the next great college coaches on our sidelines. He took over a team in September of last year after Calhoun's sudden retirement that was coming off a disappointing NCAA first round exit, lost three players to transfer, lost two to the NBA Lottery, had no NCAA Tournament to play for and somehow he won twenty games with wins over Michigan State, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Cincinnati. He is universally respected in both pro and college basketball circles- take it from Larry Brown or Rick Pitino.
This year, returning almost the exact same roster expectations are quite high. We were ranked 18th in the AP and came out 11th in the KenPom rankings. We fully expect to push Louisville for AAC dominance and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Crazier things have happened than the 18th-ranked team in the preseason winning the National Championship, but all indications are that Kentucky will be winning it all this year so championship talk is at a minimum.
TT: Could you run us through the Huskies' rotation? Everyone knows Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels and Shabazz Napier can do a lot of damage, but I think a lot of us aren't deeply familiar with the rest of Ollie's team.
UB: The front-court is more of a question mark. We've added two freshman bigs in Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah. The 6-foot-9 Facey is a 4-star recruit and New York's Gatorade Player of the Year, but don't sleep on Brimah. He's 7 feet tall and crazy athletic- you may see him block a few shots this Friday. These guys along with Daniels, Senior Tyler Olander and Sophomore Phil Nolan will comprise some sort of rotation that we're just not sure about yet.
Last but not least, Ollie's "glue-guy", Niels Giffey. The German senior is a scrapper who darts around making hustle plays all over the court. If some scrawny, bearded flash steals an inbound play or throws the ball off an MD player’s feet while he's falling out of bounds, you've found him.
TT: Boatright, the small, speedy guard, was impressive as a sophomore last season. Against Maryland, he'll almost certainly be guarded by someone several inches taller than him, and the Terps have several excellent perimeter defenders. Is he going to score the ball Saturday night, or will Ollie primarily to other options?
UB: Unfortunately, since it's game one of the season, your best guess is as good as mine. Boatright is a playmaker, able to breeze past taller perimeter defenders to create his own shot and routinely goes up against big men at the rim so I doubt much changes in the way of our offensive gameplan for Boatright.
TT: I feel like Napier has been at UConn since 2008. How is he not a redshirt senior? His per game numbers have all jumped year to year, in sync with rising shooting percentages. Is he primed for another significant step forward this season?
UB: Hahaha, excellent point. How far we have come from the days of Freshman Shabazz making bonehead mistakes and prompting impatient people (actually, probably just me) to beg for him to transfer. Your observation is very sound; he has been getting better and better every year and with more experience and more experienced talent around him yes, we do expect him to continue his upward trajectory and vault himself into the pantheon of great UConn point guards by leading a deep run in the NCAAs.
TT: Last, who's your pick, and why?
UB: For Maryland to win this game, you need to dominate the boards, earn lots of second-chance points and find a way to contain Shabazz, Boatright, Calhoun and Daniels who are all threats to drop 20. Even with Seth Allen, you're still pretty over-matched here. Some first game adrenaline may benefit you, but we should have most of the crowd behind us at this neutral site. Our backcourt is one of the best in the country, and with improved play from our big men it should be really tough for you to win this game. I predict a double-digit win for the Huskies, 72-60.
Thanks to Aman for chatting with us.