As the Connecticut Huskies sit at a perfect 6-0 on the season, one of the most important things for head coach Kevin Ollie to figure out is what his frontcourt rotation will be going forward. Riddled with rebounding issues (ranked 197th averaging 26.2 per game), the Huskies have barely escaped with wins against Maryland (78-77), Boston College (72-70) and Indiana (59-58). While some analysts jump right to the “wins” column, I believe it’s important to constantly look for ways to improve. The way this Huskies squad will move to the next level of upper echelon nationally-ranked teams is by establishing an effective frontcourt rotation.
Here are the givens: Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun and DeAndre Daniels must start and play a lot of minutes. Napier must have the ball in his hands almost every possession, Boatright must drive to the basket and either finish or kick it out to the open shooter, Calhoun must keep shooting effectively from the outside, and Daniels must be an efficient shooter and rebounder. Neils Giffey, who is best suited to be the sixth man, must provide energy and scoring ability off the bench. These five players have proven that they can do what they need to do. Now, it’s just a problem of executing what I just pointed out. Easy for me to say.
Note that the starting lineup of Napier, Boatright, Calhoun and Daniels is missing a key piece: the “five man,” also known as the “big man.” So far, Philip Nolan has been tabbed the starter in all six games. Here are his current season averages: 13.7 minutes, 2.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.3 blocks per game. It’s very obvious that he is not the answer the Huskies are looking for in the starting lineup, however, Ollie has not had a problem starting him.
There are two other options to start in place of Nolan: senior Tyler Olander or freshman Amida Brimah. Olander, who was involved in a few offseason incidents with law enforcement, didn’t see playing time in the first couple games. On the season, he has averaged 9.3 minutes, 3.7 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.2 blocks. While those numbers don’t jump out at you, it’s important to note that he has started on this team since he was a freshman, and during his freshman year, the Huskies won the NCAA Championship.
Brimah, a 7-footer from Ghana, however, is the best man for the job. Averaging 14.3 minutes, 3.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game, Brimah is the defensive presence that the Huskies need as a rim-protector. While his offensive production and rebounding numbers are low, progression through playing time and continued opportunity for the big man will give the Huskies the best shot of competing with the top teams in the AAC and in the NCAA.
If I was Ollie, my starting five would be Napier, Boatright, Calhoun, Daniels and Brimah. Giffey would be the sixth man, Olander would be the next man in, followed by Nolan, and the developing freshman forward Kentan Facey.
However, at 6-0 and sporting a career 26-10 record, I should probably trust coach Ollie. He probably knows what he’s doing.