Obviously, being 3-3 is not where Husky fans expected us to be at right now. In an ideal world, we would have stormed through the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, defeated Texas at home in classic Gampel Pavillion fashion, and then taken care of business against in-state opponent Yale. None of this happened. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off was not a walk in the park by any means and then we all know what happened with Texas and Yale. This leaves us with a 3-3 overall record with our best non-conference win being Dayton.
Due to last year's statement to the AAC by the NCAA selection committee, we need to improve our signature wins out of conference and there's still time for that. Duke is coming up fast and we still have to travel to Florida and Stanford in January. Naturally, 3-0 would greatly improve our resume, but from a realistic standpoint, we need to go at least 2-1 in those three games. My point is, there's still time for everything to improve and here's why:
1. We haven't been at full health all season
There has yet to be one game for the Huskies where all of their scholarship players were suited up. Junior Omar Calhoun has had a sprained MCL which has sidelined him for our first six games along with the first two exhibition games of the season. While Calhoun was not great last year, there is a chance for him to make an immediate impact once he's healthy if he can knock down a couple three-pointers while playing good defense. Hopefully, he can be back for Coppin State on Sunday to shake off any rust before our showdown with Duke.
Rodney Purvis has dealt with both injury and eligibility issues in the first six games of the season. In the first game of the year, he was held out for "violating NCAA rules" by playing basketball over the summer. We then got our first look at him in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off where he did some good and some bad, but ended up injuring his ankle in the loss to West Virginia. While Purvis was listed as probable for Texas, he sat out and then clearly was not himself against Yale as he did not play in the second half. Ryan Boatright is also battling in ankle injury that he suffered against Texas, and he was not himself in the loss to Yale. I am less worried about Boat as he should be back to his normal self soon.
With Boatright, Purvis, and Calhoun battling injures, we've had to rely heavily on Sam Cassell Jr. and Terrance Samuel on the offensive end, where they have not produced much. Once we are fully healthy, we will have the depth at the guard position that we expected heading into the season, which will take the pressure off Samuel and Cassell.
2. The four game stretch we just had is arguably the hardest stretch we'll have all season
Believe it or not, we just played four teams that could very well be in the NCAA Tournament come March. We went 1-3 in that stretch, which doesn't seem promising, but it is rare to see a tough stretch like that in November. With the exception of a couple teams, there are a lot of cupcakes scheduled early in the season to boost a team's confidence. Kevin Ollie did not take that approach.
Dayton is currently 6-1 with wins over Texas A&M and Boston College and will be at the top of a strong Atlantic-10 conference. West Virginia is off to a very strong start at 8-1 and ranked 22nd in the nation. Bob Huggins will have this team in the upper half of the Big 12. Next up was Texas. They are currently 7-1 and ranked 8th in the nation with their only loss being to Kentucky. Lastly, there is Yale. The Bulldogs will probably not receive an at-large bid, but they are off to a strong start at 8-3 and will compete with Harvard to win earn the automatic bid from the Ivy League.
I don't think anybody expected to be 3-3, but it is fair to have a hiccup in that four game stretch. That stretch will be our toughest all season, especially being so early in the season. We still have plenty of time to figure everything out.
3. We have three main rotation players who did not play Division 1 Basketball last season
There has been some recent talk about chemistry not being nearly as good as last season. Fans can take that any way they want to, but to me, this is not surprising. We lost four players from a National Championship team who all played significant minutes for two straight years together so it makes sense. To add to that, Daniel Hamilton, Cassell Jr., and Purvis all did not play basketball at the Division 1 level last season.
Yes, Purvis played as a freshman at NC State, and even started some games, but he did have to sit a whole year out. Just because he practiced with the team every day doesn't mean he is now going to be a superstar on the court, scoring at will. Hopefully over time, he becomes the player that we all expected him to be, but it is unfair to expect him to be elite right away. As the season develops, Purvis will become a much better player offensively and defensively.
Hamilton also was not playing basketball in college last year, but was tearing it up in high school. He has obviously translated to the collegiate level well, proving that he can defend and be one of our main scoring threats on offense. He is the one out of the three that we should be the least worried about as long as he keeps up his defensive intensity.
Cassell, on the other hand, was playing basketball at the collegiate level last season, but in junior college. So far, he has been asked to do a lot in replacing the three-point shooting, and it doesn't help that Calhoun and Purvis continue to try to get to full health. For him, it is just going to take time until he starts to consistently make jumpers, which we started to see against Yale.
I know it is tough to grasp the fact that it is okay that Cassell and Purvis have not been great so far, but there is a learning curve. As the season goes on, these three players will all develop which will help this team immensely.
4. We are two shots away from being 5-1
If two shots from the corner miss, we are ranked and having a totally different discussion. Assuming we handle Coppin State, we would be sitting at 6-1 and feeling high and mighty heading into a nationally ranked game against Duke. Unfortunately, both shots did go in despite Jonathon Holmes being 3-12 from the field before hitting his three, and Jack Montague being 0-6 from the field before hitting his three. They both could have easily missed, but they didn't and now we move on.
My point is that we should still be feeling good heading into this game against Duke assuming there is not a disastrous performance against Coppin State. Duke has some high quality players, but we have high quality defense, ranking 43rd in the nation in total points allowed. As stated before, this is another game that can boost our non-conference resume for March, and every Husky fan should be heading into the game with the mentality that we can win.
We are UConn. We will compete with everyone.