When Kevin Ollie took over a Connecticut Huskies program banned from the postseason last year, he didn’t blink or complain or make excuses about the expectations of Husky fans. They expected nothing but the continuation of success brought by Jim Calhoun. Ollie didn’t blink, because that’s the Husky way.
As I write this, Ollie has his Huskies up seven early in the second half in their Elite 8 game against Michigan State. His Husky team looks an awful like Calhoun’s teams did, although they lack the size Calhoun’s team did. Ollie’s Huskies have the Kemba Walker-esque guard in Shabazz Napier. They play that tough northeastern style of man to man defense. But make no mistake — these Huskies have Ollie’s stamp on them.
Ollie’s Huskies feature more NBA sets than the Huskies of old. They also take many more three-point shots, as one would suspect with the team being smaller, but those shots are more part of Ollie’s NBA background than anything else. Ollie’s development of Napier will be one for the history books, especially with the season Napier has had this season. It’s a crime he was not chosen as one the four finalists for the Naismith award (all four candidates are currently out of the tournament). If Napier is not a first team All-American, then I’ll take him and the second team to beat whoever is on the first.
In a year when Gregg Marshall, John Beilein, Larry Brown, Tony Bennett and Billy Donovan are up for Naismith coach of the year, Ollie has quietly taken a team unranked in the preseason to a Top 25 ranking, an Elite Eight berth and wins over Florida (one of only two losses for the Gators all season), Villanova, Iowa State, two wins over Cincinnati and three wins over Memphis. Maybe the Naismith voters simply don’t like UConn, but Ollie should be at the very least in the discussion.
Maybe Kevin Ollie will get in the discussion now. UConn just upset Michigan State, 60-54, and Ollie has just led his school back to the Final Four.