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UConn Men’s Basketball: Early-Season Report Card

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The Huskies’ 2016 season started in a way which nobody could have predicted. Do they have what it takes to recover?

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Ohio State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This hype-machine was in full force in Storrs going into this fall. UConn was ranked as high as #16 in the polls. The frontcourt was supposed to be deeper and more experienced. Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert were set to lead a fast and dangerous backcourt deep into March. Husky fans delirious with anticipation of Kevin Ollie’s top-10 recruiting class.

How quickly things can change. Nine games into a challenging non-conference slate, the Huskies sit at 4-5 with only eight healthy scholarship players available. UConn has grinded out every single game, but the early returns leave fans questioning what could have been.

But all is not lost. The American Conference as a whole is rebuilding this season. The conference tournament will still be played in Hartford this March. We beat Syracuse. There is hope.

With a third of the season played, here’s a look at the Huskies’ body of work.

BACKCOURT

Jalen Adams (A-): Adams has done just about everything Kevin Ollie could ask out of the sophomore. He leads the Huskies in scoring (17.9 PPG), dishing (5.3 APG), and swishing (.429 3PT%). Also, the 6-2 guard is 3rd in rebounding behind Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey. While his breakout in Maui gave Husky fans a glimpse of his limitless potential, Adams needs to squeeze the orange (3.4 turnovers per game) and vastly improve from the foul line (.656 FT%).

Alterique Gilbert & Terry Larrier (INCOMPLETE): It’s a shame to see any player’s season end from injury, but few situations are more heartbreaking than these two. Both are very talented playmakers and former top recruits that were on their way to leading a dynamic Husky offense. Larrier waited an entire season already before getting to be on the court. Gilbert’s shoulder and Larrier’s ACL injuries not only robbed them of promising seasons, but it also has forced UConn to play under-manned and further adjust expectations for this season.

Rodney Purvis (B-): Purvis’ season so far has played out the same as his entire tenure in Storrs: a tale of two Rodneys. The 5th-year Senior was ice cold from three to start the season (2-16 in 3 games), but then scored 56 points in the three Maui games. While Purvis was the best player on the floor against Syracuse, he followed that with a 4-14 shooting night and 5 turnovers at Ohio State. Purvis’ skill set could have made him a lethal off guard for UConn, but his shot selection (.352 FG%) and turnover rate (2.6 per game) must improve.

Christian Vital (C+): While Vital’s talent and grit are for real, the freshman from Queens wasn’t expected to be more than the 4th guard in a deep backcourt this season. Alterique Gilbert’s shoulder injury forced Vital’s game to mature faster. With that in mind, this grade reflects on his growth. Yes the jumper needs consistency, but the defense has showed up recently. This grade reflects the overall body of work, but Vital deserves bonus points for his 13-point performance vs Boston University and his poise down the stretch in the upset vs Syracuse.

FRONTCOURT

Amida Brimah (C): Brimah’s case is the most puzzling. In theory, here’s a 7-foot Senior who can run the floor and protect the rim as well as anyone in America. Husky fans have heard all summer about how much bulk he has added. Yet, it appears Brimah is exactly who we thought he is: a gifted rim protector with limited offensive liability who still gets pushed around. While his rebounding numbers are up, he has regressed from the foul line and still can’t stay out of foul trouble. With only eight healthy scholarship players, it is crucial for Brimah to avoid silly reach-in and loose-ball fouls.

Mamadou Diarra (INCOMPLETE): A top-100 recruit, the 6-foot-8 freshman’s motor and muscle on the glass could have been a great help to UConn, even this year, but chronic knee issues have sidelined Diarra all season. Like Gilbert, he will redshirt.

Juwan Durham (C): Coming off ACL surgery, there were rumblings about Durham possibly redshirting this season. He’s averaging less than ten minutes per game but the freshman displayed the shooting touch against Syracuse’s zone. It’s a small sample size, but the Tampa native has shown a glimpse of why he was highly recruited.

Steven Enoch (C-): Enoch has both the size and skills to be the power forward UConn fans have craved since the days of Jeff Adrien, but with a much different skillset. At 6-11, 258, Enoch is built like a tank but also came in with a reported shooting touch. While he spent the summer averaging 17 and 15 in the FIBA U-20 European Championships, that success has yet to carry over to Storrs. He has to finish at the rim and show more fight on the defensive glass.

Kentan Facey (C+): The Senior started the season off slow averaging 2.5 PPG and 4 RPG through the first six games. Then something really clicked for Facey at Madison Square Garden, where he grabbed a career-best 13 boards and scored 8 points despite battling an illness. In the last 3 games off the bench, he’s averaging 7 PPG and more than 8 RPG while shooting 10-14 from the floor. He’s finishing around the rim and shown an improved mid-range jumper. It’s been a welcome sight for a team in need of frontcourt production.

Vance Jackson (C): No one can doubt Jackson’s shooting ability. He has both the range and stroke to one day become a lethal perimeter shooter for years to come. While he’s shooting below 40%, Jackson should find confidence in his shot as he accrues more minutes. On the other hand, his defensive performance early on has been troubling. The freshman has been late rotating and looked steps behind defending ball screens. He may not be a burner, but Jackson has to improve his footwork on the defensive end.