Following the footsteps of a legend, Kevin Ollie took over the men’s basketball dynasty at the University of Connecticut that former head coach Jim Calhoun built for 26 seasons. Calhoun sent the Huskies to 18 NCAA tournament appearances and captured three national championships. In his final two seasons of coaching, Ollie–a former player at UConn–began serving as an assistant coach, making his presence felt immediately in helping push 2011 lottery pick Kemba Walker to a breakout season. As an assistant that same year, he helped lead UConn to their third national championship in 2011, in addition to another NCAA tournament appearance in 2012. Just two seasons of coaching experience was enough to earn Ollie the head coaching job as soon as Calhoun called it a career after the 2012 season.
With the Huskies ineligible for postseason play last year due to poor academic performance violations, you better believe he has UConn hungry. If there’s any team that can bring down the No. 1-seeded Florida Gators, it’ll be Kevin Ollie’s Huskies.
For those who don’t know much about UConn, they’ve already defeated Florida this season, being one of two teams to hand them a loss this year. Florida’s only other loss came against Wisconsin, another Final Four team. However, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin did not play that game for Florida.
Senior guard Shabazz Napier has not only been the best guard, but arguably the best player so far in this year’s NCAA tournament. His play is the main reason why UConn has made it this far, a team NO ONE expected to do damage in March. After having a weird season of losing to Stanford, SMU twice and Louisville three times, including a 81-48 blowout loss, it’s easy to see why many people didn’t have the No. 7-seeded Huskies advancing to the Final Four.
There’s plenty of reason to believe that UConn’s road to the Final Four has been the next surprising thing to Kentucky’s. As a No. 7 seed coming in, did you really think they’d get by Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State, who were all higher seeds? Napier has been solid all year for the Huskies, doing it all by leading his team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. Junior DeAndre Daniels picked up his play in the tournament as a consistent double-figure scorer next to Napier, and Ryan Boatright is making the right plays and shots at the right time. In many ways, this team looks very similar to the UConn team that won it all in 2011 with Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb leading the way.
In the past, it’s been proven that a team dominated by a point guard can take you far in the tournament. Three years after Kemba’s incredible run, it’s his backup Shabazz Napier’s turn to shine. Ollie has been around to develop NBA players Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond. All three became lottery picks for UConn. While Napier probably won’t be a team’s savior in June, he definitely has the talent to forge a role for himself in the NBA.
Without having a dominant player who can take over games may hurt Florida against a talented Shabazz Napier. Don’t be surprised if Napier can outplay Florida, going for 26 like he did the first time around this season. Kevin Ollie has also turned away the critics who questioned if he could fill the void left by Calhoun.
Don’t sleep on UConn defeating Florida again. With the way they’re playing and clicking, they’re reminding a lot of people of the team that won a title three years ago. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised anymore to see UConn win it all.
Who do you have winning it all?
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