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October 31, 2012The forward and center positions bring uncertainty for UConn. Last year, UConn had a glutton at the small forward position, with none of the options truly separating from the pack. This year, UConn brings back DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey, and Tyler Olander. Giffey is a hustle and fundamentally sound player with a good shot. His defense is suspect against quicker players, but he boxes out for rebounds and stays between his man and the ball. He is also a good outside threat when his confidence is there. Last year, Daniels came into the season with high hopes as a top 15 recruit; however he did not perform with big numbers. This season, much will be expected from him. At 6'8", Daniels has a prototypical small forward body. He can stretch the floor and also get to the rim. He struggled last season handling the ball, but has been described as UConn's hardest working player. Daniels has NBA aspirations and this season will give him an opportunity to show the skills that put him so high on recruiting lists.
Olander is the big key to UConn's front court success. At the 1-3, UConn should be able to score the basketball and defend. The big question comes from its ability to rebound. Even with Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi,UConn was unable to rebound effectively last year. This season will be all fundamentals and heart. Olander will oftentimes need to box out and battle with bigger, stronger, and faster forwards around the country. His work ethic and fundamentals will be imperative in stopping opponents from scoring second chance points. New to the Huskies front court are Phil Nolan, a lanky 6'10" freshman out of Milwaukee, and Leon Tolksdorf, a sweet-shooter from Germany. In early practices, Tolksdorf has been described as UConn's best shooter and Phil Nolan impressed at the Greater Hartford Pro-Am this summer. These two will be asked to guard bigger players and work relentlessly on the glass.
For years, UConn's defensive strategy has been to have the guards play aggressively on the perimeter, forcing opponents in to the paint towards a bevy of shot blockers. It is not certain the strategy will stay the same, but if so, the Huskies third German, Enosch Wolf? will be the man down low. In his first two seasons in Connecticut, Wolf was a non-factor, but with the departure of Alex Oriakhi, Andre Drummond, and Roscoe Smith, he will need to step up and become a defensive and rebounding force. He worked much of the offseason on his quickness and footwork to be better prepared for the speed of Big East play.
In reality, this season will come down to effort, determination, and heart. These players are not necessarily playing for a team goal, but for each other and their coach. Ollie is basically auditioning for a career. His style and demeanor will differ from Calhoun. His ultimate goals this year are to have the kids play as hard as possible. From opening tip to ending buzzer, Ollie wants his players to fight and be fundamental. UConn's frontcourt will struggle, but with proper box-outs, they will not get abused on the boards. In addition, look for UConn to go small, running and pressing teams to try and create a frenetic pace. On the offensive end, UConn will probably not run the same offense it has in previous years. Kevin Ollie played for many coaches in many systems and has a wealth of knowledge for X and Os. For some time, UConn has, seemingly, done two things: one is let the point guard break down a defender and use a high ball screen to enter the lane and kick to an open shooter or cutter (usually represented by a thumb being pointed down). The other is a series of back screens opening up to a slasher curling from the corner into the lane or for a corner three (usually represented buy a swirling finger). Without the superstar UConn has had, it will rely more on precision of playmaking. If UConn can box out, create turnovers, and run effectively, it should be able to surpass the preseason poll of ninth in the Big East and get Kevin Ollie an extended contract, the ultimate goal of the season; thus, opening the outlook on the new era of UConn basketball.