For a program that has won four national championships since 1999—the most of any school in that span—the UConn men’s basketball team surely isn’t accustomed to suffering this many setbacks so early in the year.
The Huskies are 2-4, suffering home defeats against Wagner and Northeastern. Additional crippling losses are Terry Larrier (knee), Alterique Gilbert (shoulder), and Mamadou Diarra (knee), all of whom have been ruled out for the season. UConn is down to eight legitimate scholarship players.
Despite all that, the sun will rise on Wednesday. Kevin Ollie knows it, and as dire and trying as this season has become, it will go on.
UConn plays host to Boston University (4-2, 174th KenPom) in its first regular season game at the XL Center this year at 7:00 p.m. on SNY.
A matchup that may have originally been glossed over now is perceived as something more analogous to a coin flip—that’s simply the aftermath of a team having already fallen at home to a pair of mid-majors.
The Terriers, chosen to finish second in the ten-team Patriot League, are shooting 59% on two-pointers, the ninth-best rate in America, yet are not bashful about chucking from beyond the line, either. Eric Fanning (13.8 PPG, 57% 2FG), a First Team All-Patriot League member last year, is the go-to guy.
For Boston University, Wednesday’s game represents a chance to bounce back from Monday’s 13-point loss at St. Peter’s, rediscover themselves just as their schedule ramps up (BU plays UConn, NC State, and Syracuse in three of its next four games), and knock off a traditional power.
For UConn, Wednesday signifies a fresh start.
It’s been a miserable first month of the season for the trendy dark horse Final Four pick—so bad, in fact, that UConn fans are not even thinking about the NCAA Tournament any longer. Nor should they be.
Say what you want about Ollie—the man has been through it all during his five-year tenure, including the 2012-2013 season, his first, when the Huskies were ineligible for postseason play. He knows he has his work cut out for him, but that is something he is embracing.
“At the end of the day, I’m smiling inside, because it’s another challenge for me and I’m getting better as a coach,” Ollie said. “I’m not smiling because those guys are hurt, but it’s another challenge for me, and I’ve conquered every challenge that’s come my way.”
For those losing hope and on the verge of quitting on this team, don’t. The coach certainly isn’t throwing in the towel and, based on what we saw in Maui, neither are the players.
So it wasn’t supposed to be a transition year, and a 2-4 showing out of the gates is unacceptable for such a prestigious program. That’s the consensus opinion, and a very valid one at that.
Still, that should not prompt one to consider the season a lost cause. There are a few good reasons to keep on watching UConn going forward:
Jalen Adams: In three games at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, all Adams did was accumulate 86 points, 22 assists, and 18 rebounds on 64% shooting. His assist rate has skyrocketed from last season, the jump shot appears more refined, and the turnover issue is overblown: 15 of his 21 turnovers this year have come in two games. The sophomore has a ways to go, and he might never develop into a true point guard, but he’s taking those necessary steps to stardom.
Rodney Purvis: Adams wasn’t the only UConn guard who benefited from the trip to Hawaii. Purvis averaged 18.7 PPG while making 9 of 22 threes (41%) in three games on the island—this after averaging just 5.7 PPG on 2 of 16 shooting from distance in the three contests prior. A rhythm player, Purvis is shooting with confidence again. And despite Gilbert’s torn labrum, the Adams-Purvis combination is still a dangerous backcourt duo.
Vance Jackson: Jackson has started the last two games and figured to see the biggest uptick in shots and minutes (along with Christian Vital) with the injuries to Larrier and Gilbert. Jackson has taken advantage of the opportunity thus far, averaging 12.0 PPG and 3.0 RPG over his last three games. The freshman possesses one of the sweetest shooting strokes in the nation, but it would be nice to see him mix it up a little more (26 of his 36 FGA have been three-pointers). Additional floor time should only improve Jackson’s questionable on-ball defense.
Developing the Bench: With the three season-ending injuries, Ollie will be calling on his reserves much more frequently—only ten teams have relied on their bench less entering Wednesday, according to KenPom’s Bench Minutes statistic. It’s time to see what Juwan Durham is made of. Steven Enoch, too.
A Fast Start, Maybe: Can UConn get off to a fast start for once against BU on Wednesday? The Huskies have fell victim to sluggish beginnings, falling behind 21-11 to Wagner, 15-4 to Northeastern, 18-3 to Oklahoma State and 30-9 to Oregon.