We're just a few hours away from the start of another highly anticipated UConn Huskies men's basketball season. With two experienced newcomers and two highly-touted freshmen joining a strong core, Kevin Ollie's squad is as talented as it has ever been in his tenure as a UConn coach.
Although tonight's game against Maine may lack the panache of some of the Huskies' recent season openers--such as the Michigan State game in 2012 or Maryland game in New York City in 2013--the players, coaches and fans have been eager to move on from a disappointing 2014-2015 campaign. This day has been on our minds since March 15.
Luckily, we didn't have to wait very long for the healing to start. In April, first-team Ivy League selection Shonn Miller announced his transfer to UConn. The next month, Sterling Gibbs announced he would be taking his talents to Storrs. Both would be eligible immediately thanks to the graduate transfer rule, which came as really great news because Kevin Ollie's squad was in desperate need of a point guard and low-post presence.
Another transfer, Terry Larrier, committed to UConn as well. Though he would have to sit out a year, it affirmed our belief that Storrs was an attractive landing spot for high-caliber basketball players. The recruiting results for the Class of 2016 hammered the point home.
We have always believed the future was bright for the UConn Huskies with Kevin Ollie. But nobody could have predicted the 2014 championship run and the slightly lofty expectations that followed in 2015. With Ollie about to begin his fourth season at the helm, he has finally had a chance to make his imprint on the program.
This team wants to run, it wants to play position-less basketball, ideally it will space the floor with multiple legitimate three-point shooters, play aggressive defense, and be exciting as hell to watch. I can't wait.
Who finishes the season as the leading scorer?
Ben Zachs: While I see Daniel Hamilton leading UConn in everything else, I actually do not see him as the top scorer. Rodney Purvis is my guess for leading scorer. Rodney ended last season on an absolute tear. Over the final eight games, Purvis averaged 18.5 points per. As such an incredible athlete, Purvis excels in the open court and slashing to the hoop. He is not a great ball handler and is not great shooting off the dribble; however, this year's Huskies will look to play fast in the open court. Even in the halfcourt, UConn wants to drive and dish, creating lanes for Purvis, Hamilton, and Adams to get into the paint. This style plays directly into Purvis' strengths.
Tucker Warner: I think the leading scorer will be Rodney Purvis, by force if not by necessity. The ball will be in his hands a lot, and he'll shoot it a lot.
Tim Fontenault: Daniel Hamilton will undoubtedly be the Huskies' leading scorer, followed closely by Rodney Purvis. Hamilton enters his sophomore year poised to make it even better than the first. He has all the tools you could want in a scorer. He's as gifted on the perimeter as he is driving the lane and pulling up from mid-range. He can score in such a multitude of ways that I don't see how many teams will be able to stop him this year.
Ben Cantor: Daniel Hamilton at 14 points per game. I think Sterling Gibbs, Rodney Purvis, Jalen Adams, Shonn Miller, and Amida Brimah will all average close to double figures, and I wouldn't be surprised if any one of them led the team in scoring. But Hamilton is the most talented and versatile player on the roster, and after an offseason under Ollie, my best bet is that he will lead this offense.
Matt Gionfriddo: Rodney Purvis. After an up and down beginning to the year, Rodney Purvis finally put it together towards the end of the 2014-15 season. The once McDonald's All-American started to show what the hype was all about as he finished in double digits in the last 7 games of the season, including a 29 point performance in the loss to SMU in the AAC Championship game. Purvis is one of the most explosive guards in the country and I expect few to stop him from getting his share of points.
How many wins will UConn finish the regular season with?
Ben Zachs: I see 26-5 in the regular season for UConn. By my tally, UConn loses five games: Gonzaga in the Battle for Atlantis finals, at Tulane (which is my ,"WTF loss" of the season), at Tulsa, at Cincinnati, and at SMU. This UConn team can be very good and they know that playing in the AAC doesn't lend itself to being able to lose many games. Thus, expect a hyped up and ready team in the non-conference slate. I had worries about UConn's preparedness coming into the year, but the exhibition games have quashed that worry. With the way that the committee has treated the league since its inception, winning outside the league slate is paramount.
Tucker Warner: I'm predicting 23 regular season wins for UConn. A solid number, accounting for the number of big-conference opponents they play early in the season and a couple inevitable upsets. I won't go through the entire schedule and try to predict each game before the season even starts, but 23 wins seems about right.
Tim Fontenault: I'm really high on UConn this year. But this is UConn. It's just as likely this team will finish 21-10 as it will 28-3. With such a weak non-conference schedule and assuming the best from UConn this season, I will give this team 25-6, with losses coming to Gonzaga in Atlantis, on the road at Texas, Tulsa and Memphis, and at home to Cincinnati. The sixth loss I leave open as a wild card. Your move, Houston, SMU, Temple, UCF, Tulane...
Ben Cantor: 25. Losses at Texas, at Tulsa, at Houston, Cincinnati, and at SMU.
Matt Gionfriddo: 26. UConn loses once in the Battle 4 Atlantis, at Texas, at Temple, at Cincinnati, and at SMU. I don't think UConn loses even once with a home court advantage, whether it be at Gampel, the XL Center, or Madison Square Garden. Maryland, Ohio State, and Georgetown are all defeated in front of the Husky Nation.
Assuming UConn makes the NCAA Tournament, how far do the Huskies go?
Ben Zachs: I never guess for UConn to win the national championship pre-season. It feels like bad juju. I do see this Husky team getting to the Sweet 16. They have enough talent and depth to go further than that, but the NCAA Tournament is a crapshoot that UConn dominates...
Tucker Warner: I honestly do not expect big things from this year's UConn team in the tournament. If they get a favorable matchup, they'll probably get to the Sweet 16, but I'm thinking it's more likely that they're out in the second round this year.
Tim Fontenault: I probably dug my own grave writing UConn will win the national championship. It's a gut thing, nothing else, but this team has what it takes to get back to the Final Four and win it all, without question. Everything needs to come together. At worst, this is a Sweet 16 team. I'd love to see my dream Final Four—UConn, Maryland, Cal and Villanova—come to fruition, but that's obviously a ridiculous pipe dream. I think it's wide open this year. There are probably 10 to 15 teams I wouldn't be surprised to see win it all. UConn is one of them.
Ben Cantor: Predicting a 4-seed, losing in the sweet sixteen in a rematch with top-seeded Maryland.
Matt Gionfriddo: Earn a 4 seed and lose in the Elite Eight. It may take some time for the Huskies to put it together, but the talent on this team is real. I don't think it is unrealistic at all for UConn to earn a 4 seed after loading up on non-conference quality wins and then taking care of business in the American. Ultimately, this team has what it takes to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, but unfortunately, the run stops one game away from the Final Four.
Who (if anyone) leaves for the NBA Draft?
Ben Zachs: Daniel Hamilton is going to be a star this season - a true jack of all trades. 15.4 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. The pros will understand his potential and, with brothers who understand the system, he will put his name in the draft. In the spacing of the NBA, Hamilton will be one heck of a pro. The other player who has a chance to jump early is Rodney Purvis. Purvis, will not be a high draft pick, but he will graduate after the season and want to start making money. For UConn's sake, his furthering education, and the potential to lead another top team next season, I hope he ends up staying.
Tucker Warner: I'm not sure anyone leaves for the NBA Draft this year, but if somebody does, it's likely Amida Brimah. His defense will soon be too good to ignore, and he's got strong finishing skills around the basket (and he doesn't turn the ball over!). He'd have a role from day one in the NBA, which will be realized by scouts very soon, and the allures of professional basketball might be too persuasive for the big man to ignore after this season. There are certainly other NBA-caliber players on the UConn roster, but unless Jalen Adams is an absolute monster in his freshman season, I doubt anyone else declares early.
Tim Fontenault: Daniel Hamilton and Amida Brimah have the most upside going into the year (Brimah based solely on his build and potential). However, we saw what happened to DeAndre Daniels, who all but said he regretted his decision four months after declaring. It all depends on what those closest to them say. Rodney Purvis is primed for a big year that could see him skyrocket up the draft boards. He could work his way into first round conversation with a big year, but would that be enough to see him go packing? I wouldn't be surprised to see Hamilton and Brimah leave at this point. I wouldn't be surprised to see them all stay. If I have to pick someone who is definitely going, however, it's Daniel Hamilton.
Ben Cantor: Daniel Hamilton leaves early to be UConn's first lottery pick since Andre Drummond, while Amida Brimah returns to become a member of the second class of Huskies to win two national championships.
Matt Gionfriddo: If all goes according to plan this season, NBA scouts are going to be drooling over the potential of Amida Brimah and Daniel Hamilton, both of whom should be first round draft picks. However, I expect Hamilton and Brimah to team up with Rodney Purvis for one more shot at a National Championship in 2016-17.
Feel free to share your thoughts and predictions in the comments!