#17 Connecticut by Mike Rutherford

Photo: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Let's go back to March 21, 2014 for a moment.

Connecticut, which has trailed for the vast majority of the game, is down three against Saint Joseph's with 49 seconds to go in the 2014 NCAA Tournament Round of 64. Imagine now that the Hawks take care of business and close that game out. Suddenly, Kevin Ollie goes from one of the brightest coaching stars in the game to a guy who finished eighth in the Big East in his first season (when Connecticut was ineligible for postseason play), lost in the first round as a No. 7 seed in his only Big Dance appearance and then lost in the first round of the NIT in Year 3.

It's a hypothetical that seems eye-roll worthy at the moment (most national champions experience at least one big "what if" moment on their way to the title), but it's also one that will start to get significantly more play in Hartford if the Huskies underachieve once again in 2015-16.

In order to keep that from happening, Ollie will have to rely on a group of talented newcomers led by former Seton Hall star Sterling Gibbs and highly touted freshman Jalen Adams. Of course, it's not like there aren't some significant pieces already in place for the Huskies. Ryan Boatright is gone, but a returning nucleus of Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton and Amida Brimah gives UConn what appears to be a top-25 roster. If that potential doesn't translate to success on the court, then there might be a bit of unrest surrounding the program that has won more national titles than any other since 2004.

The flip side of that, of course, is that this talented group plays above its potential, 2014-15 is viewed as an outlier and Ollie continues to receive a significant amount of attention from downtrodden NBA franchises in need of a coaching boost. The answers will start flowing in about a month.

How the Huskies can succeed: Properly utilize their superior talent

These might be the least insightful "how the ____ can succeed" snippet in this entire preview series, but it really does seem this simple when you examine this squad.

On paper, no team in the American appears more formidable than Connecticut. To take it a step further, there are only a handful of teams in the country whose attributes sparkle more on paper than the Huskies' do. If UConn had produced an average season by their standards -- say, a No. 5 seed which won one or two games in the NCAA Tournament -- there's little doubt in my mind that this would be a team in just about everyone's 2015-16 preseason top 10. Instead, everyone's worried about the potential of another inexplicable 15-loss campaign.

They probably shouldn't be.

Omar Calhoun and Phil Nolan are proven players who have experienced the highs and lows at UConn and who should be able to provide some much-needed leadership on a team with so many new parts. Daniel Hamilton is a burgeoning star who was the only freshman in the country last season to score 300 points, grab 200 rebounds and dish out 100 assists. Sterling Gibbs is a noted bucket getter who shot 43.6 percent from beyond the arc last season at Seton Hall and at times looked like he might be the best guard in the Big East. Amida Brimah is the token Husky rim protector who blocked 121 shots last season, but he's also a capable offensive player. Former five-star recruit Rodney Purvis finally looked like the player everyone has been waiting to see near the end of last season.

All that and we didn't even get to Sam Cassell Jr., Cornell transfer Shonn Miller or freshman studs Jalen Adams and Steve Enoch. This team is deep and talented at every spot.

How UConn can go home early: All that talent never blends

Over the last decade we've seen a number of talented teams that just, for whatever reason, could not come together. I'm not sure that it's fair to throw last season's Huskies under that umbrella, but there were plenty of people who did just that, and who fear that something similar could transpire in 2015-16.

Omar Calhoun and Sam Cassell Jr.'s college careers have both been loaded with inconsistency, but both are going to be looked towards for leadership this season. What if that inconsistency rears its head again and suddenly more and more of their minutes/production starts shifting in the direction of freshman Jalen Adams? Adams is a talent who already is going to demand court time, and if his stepping into more of a starring role becomes the best thing for this Husky team, you have to hope that the upperclassmen will handle it the right way.

The other major backcourt player on this team is another newcomer, Sterling Gibbs. While we never got the actual story, it was apparent last season that there was a major issue at Seton Hall between Gibbs and freshman Isaiah Whitehead. That rift played a large part in the Pirates' season completely falling apart and Gibbs choosing to spend his senior year elsewhere. Maybe the beef was overblown or maybe it was all Whitehead's fault, regardless, if Gibbs doesn't co-exist better with his UConn teammates then it's a safe assumption that the Huskies won't have much of a shot at hitting their ceiling.

There is no area -- size, speed, talent, experience -- where this squad fails to pass the preseason test. If the ingredients all blend perfectly then there's no reason for Connecticut to not be back in the national title picture. If they fight the process the same way they seemed to at times last season, then they can expect to end up in the same place.

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