We're just a few days from tip-off for UConn Men's Basketball against Maine this Friday. With the season fast approaching, we're going to be engaging in discussions around topics such as what role Omar Calhoun will play, or who may emerge as a leader on the team. Every piece of our preview coverage can be found here.
Today, we ask our esteemed panel: who will lead the team in rebounds and assists? This isn't about filling the stat sheet- it's a discussion on who the chief creators will be on the court and who's going to play with the right positioning and tenacity to be a factor on the boards, preventing second-chance points while creating them for UConn.
Tim Fontenault: Having Shonn Miller on the squad is a huge boost for UConn. The Huskies have struggled recently to be the strong rebounding team it needs to be to put teams away. Miller gives them another long guy who can grab boards.
But Daniel Hamilton is still going to lead this team in rebounding. We're talking about a guy who flew through the air and grabbed nearly eight per game as a freshman in a physical league. He looks a little stronger this year, so expect him to win even more battles on the boards.
Assists will go to Sterling Gibbs. He's not the scoring option he was at Seton Hall now that he is at UConn. He will get the ball to Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton and create chances for them to get points. He will still average between seven and nine points, but he's also going to provide a league-leading number of assists.
Tucker Warner: Leading the team in rebounding will more than likely be Shonn Miller. He showed himself to be a valuable contributor on the boards for Cornell, and I see no reason why that won't continue at UConn, particularly playing next to Amida Brimah, who is not as strong a rebounder as many would suspect, given his size and overall defensive ability.
Now, it should be noted, the Cornell that Miller played for is not the same Cornell as we saw in the Steve Donahue era, when they made the tournament three straight years and made a Sweet 16 in 2010. Miller's Cornell has yet to earn a winning record, having no more than 13 wins in a season when Miller plays (in 2013-14, when he was injured, the team won only two games). So take it with a grain of salt that Miller is statistically the best rebounder who will get enough minutes to earn the top spot—but know that he is still a quality player who will contribute to the Huskies, especially on the boards.
Sterling Gibbs will probably be the assists leader for the Huskies. Playing at Seton Hall, whose team chemistry was put together by a mad scientist, didn't give Gibbs the opportunity to be a great assist man, even if he is more of a shoot-first point guard. However, his shooting skill will only open up opportunities for UConn teammates, and will allow him to be at the forefront of this offense. He won't go unchallenged for the team assist crown, of course—Jalen Adams could be even better than we expect in his freshman year, and Daniel Hamilton is a terrific playmaker for teammates as well as himself—but Gibbs will get the most opportunities to assert himself in the assists race.
Ben Zachs: Daniel. Daniel. Daniel. Rebounds. Assists. Minutes. Yeah. I added an extra category for him to lead the team in. My expectations for Daniel Hamilton are incredibly high going into this season. His court vision is top notch and he has more weapons to get the ball to. He also will be relied upon more heavily to to handle the ball and initiate the offense. Last year, Hamilton had one fewer assist on the season than Ryan Boatright and Boat was the catalyst for everything the team did.
Kevin Ollie has made it clear that he wants the team pushing tempo and initiating offense. When defensive rebounds come into Hamilton's hands, expect him to run and look to distribute on the break. Expect more than 4 assists per game from Hamilton.
Hamilton led the Huskies with 7.6 rebounds per game last season and I don't expect that to change this year. Early last season, Hamilton played more SF than PF, as Kentan Facey was given a lot of minutes; however, as the season progressed, Facey's minutes diminished and Hamilton played more PF. This saw an uptick in his rebounding numbers. This year, I hope to see a lot of Hamilton at PF, but with Miller in the fold and Brimah (hopefully) not having rocks for hands, he may not be relied upon as heavily to crash the glass. Still, his nature is to get in there and when Hamilton secures a rebound, the offense gets going immediately. Whether he matches his per game average or not, I am unsure, but I expect him to lead the group.
Matt Gionfriddo: It was tempting to put Daniel Hamilton down for the leader in both rebounds and assists, but with the athletic Shonn Miller coming in, I believe it will be the Cornell transfer who will lead the team in rebounds. Averaging 8.5 RPG last season, Miller comes to a team that needs rebounding and he can certainly fill that void. As the season gets in full swing, I expect Miller to treat rebounding to be his primary job, grabbing everything and anything that comes his way.
Hamilton, however, is still my pick for leader in assists per game. The sophomore proved last year that he has the ability to create for others as he averaged 3.7 APG, second on the team to Ryan Boatright. Whether it was against man to man or zone defense, there were countless times when Hamilton received the ball at the free throw line and either hit someone for a three or threw one of his infamous lobs to Amida Brimah. With one year under his belt, I expect Hamilton to cut down on turnovers and be even more intelligent with the ball, increasing his assist total.
Ben Cantor: The early reports are in, and Shonn Miller has already become manager of the local glass cleaning service in eastern Connecticut. Miller comes to UConn after averaging 8.5 rebounds per game at Cornell, and even though this was against Ivy league competition, I don't see that number dipping. He will play most of his minutes next to Amida Brimah, who loves nothing more than stretching completely out of position in order to block and alter any shot that goes up inside the three point line. Miller is the perfect complement, as he will cover up all the space Brimah will have left open, eliminating opponents' hopes for second-chance points, a category that has really hurt the Huskies the last few seasons.
Sterling Gibbs is my pick to lead the team in assists. Throughout his college career, he has shown the ability to facilitate the offense and help his teammates get good looks at the basket. Gibbs was fifth in the Big East last season in assists, a league with tremendous guard play. With teams needing to respect his three point shooting ability, Gibbs can use his serious quickness to gain a step on defenders and penetrate into the lane where he can rack up dimes to the Huskies' swath of big men.