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October 15, 2008
When A.J. Price went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the first half of UConn's NCAA tournament opener against San Diego, he took the Huskies' hopes of a deep run with him. The Toreros sprung the upset, and coach Jim Calhoun was left to wonder what if.
Connecticut guard A.J. Price has fully recovered from a torn ACL.
Jerome Dyson will start alongside Price. He was suspended for a portion of last season by Calhoun and missed nine games, and he didn't make a start after returning from the suspension for the Huskies' final six games. Still, he remains a big-time scoring threat. Prior to the suspension he was averaging 14.3 points per game and had scored 20 or more on five occasions. He's capable of carrying the Huskies on the offensive end, not that they should ever need it with the weapons around him.
The third starter in the backcourt will be senior Craig Austrie, who made 16 starts last season and averaged 8.7 points per game in Big East play. He's a veteran who shoots it decently from the outside and plays within the system.
Five-star freshman point guard Kemba Walker is the heir apparent to Price and will play alongside him at times this season. He wowed Davidson coach Bob McKillop, who guided Walker on the U.S. 18U Team at the FIBA Americas Championship. "He's a floor general, a real throwback point guard," McKillop told Rivals.com. "He wants to make his teammates better before doing anything else. He has great ability to knock the '3' down or get to the rim and draw fouls."
The frontcourt has a pair of stalwarts in forward Jeff Adrien and center Hasheem Thabeet. Adrien enters his third year as a starter and Thabeet his second, and they control the boards as well as any duo in the country.
Adrien had 17 double-doubles last season and ranked third in the Big East in rebounding. Thabeet had seven double-doubles and ranked 10th in the Big East in rebounding. The Huskies ranked No. 1 in the Big East in rebounding margin (plus 6.4).
Adrien scored in double figures in the Huskies' final 25 games. He scored between nine and 20 points in all but four games last season.
Thabeet ranked first in the Big East and third nationally in blocked shots. He has outstanding spring and athletic ability for someone his height. Last season he began to show improvement on the offensive end, significantly raising his scoring average (from 6.2 ppg to 10.5 ppg), shooting percentage (55.4 to 60.3) and free-throw percentage (51.3 to 69.8). If he continues to show that type of improvement, he will become one of the scariest matchups of this season.
There isn't a lot of depth up front. Forward Gavin Edwards, a 6-9 junior, averaged 2.9 points, 1.6 rebounds and 7.9 minutes in 31 games last season.
There's no question that the Huskies' starting lineup has as much talent as any in the country. The biggest questions are depth and perimeter shooting. Can they get by with a six- or seven-man rotation? Can they win in March with only one player (Price) who made more than 40 3-pointers? The guards have plenty of talent, but the only real perimeter threats are the point guards, Price and Walker, which probably is not ideal. But it also lends to the real possibility of seeing them play extended minutes together. The frontcourt is in good hands – big, strong ones, too – in Thabeet and Adrien. The more Thabeet develops on the offensive end, the more room everyone around him will have. This is a team that should find its way into the Final Four.
The Huskies play mostly man-to-man.
Shoes to Fill
Stanley Robinson. Robinson, a forward, averaged 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds and was second on the team in blocked shots. On an already-thin front line, his departure could have a significant impact. Robinson is not enrolled for the first semester and is working on some personal issues and his academics. The Huskies are hopeful he could return for the second semester.
Must Step Up
Price. If this is anyone's team, it's his. He made huge strides last season and became a first-team All-Big East performer. If he continues to improve and develops his leadership skills, the Huskies will be tough to beat.
Walker. McKillop said Walker was the leader of the U.S. 18U team from "the first day of tryouts until the final buzzer against Argentina (in the gold-medal game)." That's high praise, and you can bet you'll see Walker for 20-25 minutes per game.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.