"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, October 28, 2022

Connecticut Preview, 2022-23

Connecticut Huskies

Head Coach: Dan Hurley (73-47 at Connecticut, 224-152 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 37.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 31.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 61

Projected Starters: PG Tristen Newton (6'5" Sr), SG Nahiem Alleyne (6'4" Sr), SF Jordan Hawkins (6'5" So), PF Andre Jackson (6'6" Jr), C Adama Sanogo (6'9" Jr)

Adama Sanogo is the Big East Preseason Player of the Year

Photo by Ian Bethune | The UConn Blog

Dan Hurley finally seems to be settling UConn back into the top-25 range. Fans will be heartened by consecutive single-digit seeds, with last year's team earning a 5-seed even after losing star guard James Bouknight. That was largely driven by the trio of R.J. Cole, who was an effective scorer and distributor, Tyrese Martin, a sharp-shooting wing with an excellent all-around game, and Adama Sanogo, the space-eater in the middle who posted 9 double-doubles last season. Unfortunately for Husky fans, Cole and Martin are gone, along with defensive stopper Isaiah Whaley and sixth man Tyler Polley.

Everything will start with Sanogo, who was named Big East Preseason Player of the Year. He's the kind of player who can vacuum up rebounds, block shots, and impose his will physically on opponents. The biggest question will be who can get him the ball. Tristen Newton will likely get the first shot at replacing Cole. He's a big guard who averaged 17.7 ppg/5.0 apg last season, but did so for East Carolina, a team that finished in the bottom-3 of the American every year he was there. He's joined by Nahiem Alleyne, who was effective as a secondary or tertiary option for Virginia Tech but has consistently shown he can knock down open shots. Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson were big time recruits that fans are hoping will break out this year. Both have viable NBA aspirations and are explosive athletes but thus far haven't translated that into on-court consistency. They need to step up for UConn to maintain that top-25 status. The roster boasts some depth as well, with Texas A&M transfer Hassan Diarra having microwave scoring ability, redshirt freshman Alex Karaban providing shooting depth, and 7'2" freshman Donovan Clingan providing depth behind Sanogo.

In Hartford, Hurley's teams have primarily gotten offense out of imposing their physical will on opponents. His teams have turned in back-to-back top-30 offenses with only one of the four factors ranking in the top-100, and it was offensive rebounding both times. They were #4 in 2020-21 and #2 last year. They haven't even been good at finishing inside, ranking outside the top-230 in 2PFG% both years, but having bigs like Sanogo, Whaley, and Martin attacking the offensive glass kept giving them opportunities. To continue thriving like that, they need Jackson and Hawkins to be more aggressive on the offensive glass. Defensively, UConn is the team more concerned with winning the fight than the game. They will hammer opponents inside, limiting 2PFG% while blocking shots at a high rate. They also aren't afraid to foul, as Hurley's teams have ranked outside the top-220 in defensive free throw rate every year of his career going back to Wagner. Adding Clingan will insure they always have an effective rim protector, but the other downside is they let teams take a lot of threes. That has bit them in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments as they lost first round games as favorites to New Mexico State (11/17 from deep) and Maryland (9/18 beyond the arc). The key to beating UConn is not getting drawn inside, but being patient enough to move the ball around for the perimeter shot and connecting on those.

The biggest question for Connecticut will be how the pieces fit together. Sanogo's return is huge, but they lost four of their top-five scorers. Hawkins and Jackson have the talent to star, but have to deliver on that promise and look like NBA talents consistently, not just in isolated athletic spurts. Newton and Alleyne look like nice pieces, but they have to translate what they did elsewhere. And none of the major reserves are players that have done it in this system. They should finish in the top-half of the Big East and earn a tourney bid, but whether Sanogo is a legit BEPOY contender, whether the returners deliver on their promise, and how well the newcomers fit in will determine the difference between a possible protected seed and a team closer to a double-digit seed.

Marquette Memory: When UConn left the Big East in 2013, they only faced Marquette once that season. It was a snowy night in Milwaukee and for most of the game MU fans were pretty comfortable. But after building a double-digit second half lead, it began to slip away. UConn went on a 16-5 run to take the lead, largely because of Marquette's abysmal shooting as they began the night 0/14 from long range. When Ryan Boatright hit a long fade-away jumper with 6 seconds to play to push the lead to 69-66, it looked to be over. Instead, Junior Cadougan pulled up on a deep three to force overtime at the buzzer. Marquette went on to win 82-76 in overtime and send the Huskies out of the Big East with a loss and 3-6 record against Marquette.

No comments: