With basketball season just a few hours away, please indulge us in our annually terrible (except for 2014 where I correctly predicted we’d win the national championship) preseason predictions.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!
Non-Terry Larrier candidate for breakout player
Nick Greene: Steven Enoch, sophomore, center: I will die alone atop this mountain if I have to, but I believe Enoch is a future first-round pick. He has the physical skill set to be a dominating big man and if he can make the natural progression many do from freshman to sophomore year look out. It might take some time for him to surpass Amida Brimah, but in the young buck can play defense—his offensive game will be too much to ignore.
Tucker Warner: UConn's going to play a well-rounded, team-style of ball this year, so there might not be one breakout player, but I'll choose Vance Jackson, whose skill set seems optimal for the type of offense Kevin Ollie likely wants to run this season. Jackson seems capable of being a solid shooter in a role-playing capacity, and that might be exactly what the Huskies need this year.
Tim Fontenault: I have high expectations for Steve Enoch. UConn's biggest question mark is at the 4, as someone needs to replace Shonn Miller. Will that summer with Armenia prove valuable to him?
Thomas Fritsch: Kentan Facey. Has always shown flashes of his potential (Duke game in 2015 anyone?) but has had trouble staying on the court, averaging 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes over his career. But he's a senior, put in a lot of work over the summer and looked great in the two exhibition games, so I think he'll be this year's breakout player.
Mike McCurry: Jalen Adams is the obvious choice here—and I'm not ready to buy into the Steven Enoch hype yet—so I'll go with Facey. His 16.6% Offensive Rebounding Rate last year would've been 8th-best nationally had he logged enough minutes to qualify. I expect him to easily double his 3.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG averages from last season.
Most likely to be a surprising loss on the schedule
Nick Greene: Wednesday, Nov. 30 vs. Boston University. This would definitely classify as surprising, if not a shocking loss, but this is UConn’s first game back after the Maui Invitational. How mentally prepared will the Huskies be after facing top-level competition in Maui and having to be ready for BU?
Tucker Warner: At Houston, February 22. At this point, we're just going to have to stop being surprised when UConn loses to Houston, but I'm still expecting UConn to win both games against the Cougars this year.
Tim Fontenault: What qualifies as surprising? UConn has proven to be inconsistent on the road in AAC play, so I wouldn't qualify any loss there as unexpected. I'll say Houston at home Dec. 28. Houston has proven tricky in the past, and UConn gets shaky in Hartford around the holidays. The Huskies are good for dropping at least one gimme at home. This could be it.
Thomas Fritsch: I was tempted to pick Auburn since it's a 2:30pm tipoff on a Friday at the XL Center two days before Christmas, but they have a pretty bad team. So instead, I'll go with the Tulsa away game on New Year's Eve #UConntButHurricane
Mike McCurry: Oklahoma State. I almost went with Georgetown here, but the Hoyas will probably be favored in that game. UConn owns Maui, but the six newcomers need time to mesh—and Oklahoma State features a dynamic backcourt duo of their own in Jawun Evans and Phil Forte III.
Nick Greene: Jalen Adams. Adams quickness and penetration ability was on full display as a freshman, quickly becoming one of the most explosive players Kevin Ollie had at his disposal. In two exhibition games Adams’ jump shot has looked improved, adding another layer to his offensive game. The addition of Alterique Gilbert will allow Adams to play off the ball more this season, giving him more opportunities to look for his shot instead of facilitating for others. was on full display as a freshman, quickly becoming one of the most explosive players Kevin Ollie had at his disposal. In two exhibition games Adams’ jump shot has looked improved, adding another layer to his offensive game. The addition of Alterique Gilbert will allow Adams to play off the ball more this season, giving him more opportunities to look for his shot instead of facilitating for others.
Tucker Warner: Only one returning player averaged double-digit scoring last season: Rodney Purvis. He's the safe bet for highest scorer this year.
Tim Fontenault: Rodney Purvis. This will be an emotional year for Purvis. It's his last with the Huskies, and we've seen him rise up when it's do or die. For him, this whole season is do or die. He's the leader. He'll step up.
Thomas Fritsch: Rodney Purvis. Purvis is on a mission this season after being left off of the preseason all-conference teams. He was the leading scorer last year and he'll do it again this year. Should also become the first transfer (in JC/KO era at least) to score 1000 points at UConn (currently at 845).
Mike McCurry: Terry Larrier. It's risky to instill so much faith in a transfer who hasn't suited up for the Huskies yet, but there's not much Larrier can't do. It won't be long before the VCU product makes UConn fans forget all about Daniel Hamilton.
Nick Greene: Kentan Facey, senior, forward: Facey will get plenty of opportunities to see the floor this season without Shonn Miller and Phi Nolan ahead of him on the depth chart. Ollie has put a premium on attacking the boards and Facey has said he knows the key for him is being an effective rebounder.
Tucker Warner: Kentan Facey? It's probably not going to be Amida Brimah, as his rebounding numbers have always been low due to the court positioning he's required to have by his role in the defense, but I'm not sure who else will get enough consistent minutes to outrebound the entrenched starting center. So I'm going with Facey, tentatively.
Tim Fontenault: Back to Enoch. Amida Brimah's game calls for someone else to be close to the rim to clean up. If he steps into the role of the 4 and produces, he'll be on the glass regularly.
Thomas Fritsch: Kentan Facey. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with my break out candidate choice. Facey has averaged 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes for his career. If he is able to stay on the court, I think he'll hover around 7-8 rebounds a game.
Mike McCurry: Kentan Facey. Larrier would be my second choice, but if you haven't already figured it out, I'm bullish on Facey in 2016-17. Here's hoping that Amida Brimah can average five boards per night for the first time in his career.
Over/Under 13ppg for Rodney Purvis (12.8 last year)
Nick Greene: Over: Ollie has played with a lot of different lineups thus far, looking the most explosive when going small with Terry Larrier at the four. Having a three-guard look with Adams, Gilbert and Rodney Purvis has been dynamic in transition and if Purvis can just improve his field-goal percentage at the rim, the senior should eclipse his scoring total from last season.
Tucker Warner: Over! There's going to be a while at the beginning of the season where Ollie figures out rotations and the five freshmen get adjusted to playing at the college level. That leaves a lot of time in non-conference play where the offense is going to rely on Purvis scoring the ball.
Tim Fontenault: Over. Probably not by a lot, but I don't think 14 per game is unreasonable for the leader of this team.
Thomas Fritsch: Over, but not by much. I think Purvis will be around 14ppg this year.
Mike McCurry: Over. Purvis made 1.9 threes per game last year at a 39% clip, and that's with some very inconsistent stretches sprinkled in. It would be nice for the Ferrari to become a more effective finisher at the rim.
Top three teams in AAC regular season standings
Nick Greene: Cincinnati, UConn, Houston. The Huskies have struggled recently against the Bearcats and if that trend continues this season, Cincinnati should have the upper hand in the AAC. Houston showed some flashes of being a really good offensive team last year.
Tucker Warner: UConn, Cincinnati, and SMU, I guess. I don't think that the Mustangs lost so much from a quality season last year that they won't still finish in the top three in the conference.
Tim Fontenault: 1) Cincinnati, 2) UConn, 3) SMU
Thomas Fritsch: UConn, Cincinnati, SMU
Mike McCurry: Cincinnati, UConn, Houston. Cincinnati is really, really good—I know, great analysis, right? The Bearcats may edge out UConn by a game in the AAC regular season, but regular season titles aren't really the Huskies' thing, anyway. Keep in mind, the AAC Tournament returns to Hartford this year.
NCAA Tournament seed and finish
Nick Greene: 4 seed, Elite Eight. The Huskies have all the pieces in place to make a run. Playing in the AAC will hurt their seed a bit but UConn should build on last year’s tournament appearance and make an even deeper run this time around.
Tucker Warner: UConn will get a 7 seed, beat an overrated major-conference team in the first round, then get clobbered by a championship contender.
Tim Fontenault: Joe Lunardi has them as a 4, which is certainly attainable, but I'm going to guess they'll be a 5, which obviously changed nothing about the path except starting against a 12. Given that they would then be on a collision course with a 1-seed again, I think Sweet Sixteen will be the finish, but it's UConn in March, so who knows?
Thomas Fritsch: 5th seed and Elite Eight appearance. Unless UConn draws the MSG regional this year - then it's the Final Four.
Mike McCurry: Four seed, Elite Eight. With the five freshmen plus Larrier in the fold, it'd be a lot to expect perfect cohesion from the get-go. This team will get better as the year progresses, and the Elite 8 may not even be the ultimate ceiling if guys like Juwan Durham and Vance Jackson rise to the occasion.
Does anyone leave early for the NBA Draft?
Nick Greene: The obvious choice is Larrier. The redshirt sophomore has been dynamic in the preseason and has the size and athleticism to compete at the next level. If Daniel Hamilton felt comfortable leaving after his sophomore campaign, Huskies’ fans should enjoy Larrier while they can.
Tucker Warner: Not this year. UConn doesn't have many players who are heavily being considered by NBA scouts for the upcoming draft, and the ones who are will be leaving after this year anyway (Brimah will assuredly get very strong consideration; he reminds me of a young Ian Mahinmi). There might not even be any transfers after this season.
Tim Fontenault: No. I don't see any underclassmen making enough of a rise up the boards to even warrant it. It will be a conversation again next year, though with Adams, Larrier, Gilbert and Jackson.
Thomas Fritsch: Yes - Terry Larrier. I think Jalen Adams will also declare and get feedback but ultimately return.
Mike McCurry: No. Larrier and Adams are the practical selections here, but my guess is both are back in Storrs next winter. Then again, after Daniel Hamilton's decision, who really knows?
UConn can overachieve on the season if...
Nick Greene: The newcomers all grow into their roles. UConn has a ton of new talent coming in and if those guys can settle into their roles and be productive along side the returners, it could be a big-time season for the Huskies.
Tucker Warner: They'll overachieve if they find consistent three-point shooters and play strong perimeter defense. We know what we're getting out of this team in some cases (great rim protection, disciplined defensive play, etc), but stopping the ball and creating turnovers is going to be more important this season, and they'll need to find players who can stretch the floor on offense and have every open shot be a good one-- and that can't just be Purvis. Further progression from Jalen Adams would be key here.
Tim Fontenault: I don't believe in the term "overachieve" when discussing a four-time national champion, especially a team that still has title experience on its roster. I don't see UConn as a title favorite, but history has also shown us that UConn has done it all with a lot less than this team has.
Thomas Fritsch: they win 12 non-conference games. UConn teams in last 15 years that have won at least 12 non-conference games: 2014, 2011, 2009, 2006, 2004.
Mike McCurry: Brimah can stay on the floor for around 28 minutes per game…Jalen Adams takes the leap we all expect him to…and Alterique Gilbert makes a seamless transition from high school to the college ranks right from the get-go.
UConn's season disappoints if...
Nick Greene: The bigs can’t pull their weight. Ollie has loaded up with guard and wing players but if the front court can’t anchor the defense, rebound well and score when called upon things could go south quickly. Brimah, Facey, Enoch, Juwan Durham and Mamadou Diarra won’t be the focal points but their roles are undeniable.
Tucker Warner: The freshmen aren't ready, Adams doesn't improve his shooting, and the defense collapses in front of Brimah. Missing the tournament isn't really an option this year, with how weak the American conference is, but they could end up on the bubble if these three (very possible!) things happen.
Tim Fontenault: They don't make the Sweet Sixteen and they don't win the conference tournament. The tournament is in Hartford, and there's no excuse for not winning from the 1-or-2-seed position, which should be the expectation. Come NCAA Tournament, elimination before the regional semifinals is almost always unacceptable.
Thomas Fritsch: they lose to Syracuse.
Mike McCurry: Adams has recurring freshman moments reminiscent of last year…Durham is unable to overcome both the physical and mental hurdles of not playing competitively since the spring of 2015 due to multiple ACL tears…and the frontcourt (predominantly Brimah and Larrier) is unable to replicate the rebounding prowess of Hamilton and Shonn Miller.