The only thing we know for sure about this year’s UConn Huskies is that they’re going to have an interesting season. This thing could go anywhere from a medium NCAA Tournament run to an NIT berth, and neither would be particularly surprising.
As part of our men’s basketball preview series, which launched with a look at the season’s most important non-conference games, we run through all of the preseason predictions from a variety of national media outlets to see where things stand. Be sure to bookmark this page and check back on it after the season.
The Worldwide Leader offered one of the least optimistic rankings of anyone out there, plopping the Huskies between the unfamiliar company of St. John’s and Arkansas and fifth in the American Athletic Conference. Their AAC preview highlights Alterique Gilbert as a freshman to keep an eye on, noting that “the 6-foot combo guard will team with Jalen Adams to form the potent backcourt that Kevin Ollie has been waiting to put on the floor.”
Sports Illustrated: 57th
SI’s projections have the Huskies fifth in the conference by national ranking but tied for fourth in the standings with a 10-8 record. Jalen Adams was on their preseason all-conference team and listed as one of the reasons for optimism in Storrs:
“Can Jalen Adams join the Kemba Walker/Shabazz Napier stratosphere? If he does, look out. The Huskies will get Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier back from major injuries—if healthy, they form a dynamic trio that could make UConn a sleeper.
Matt Norlander is high on the Huskies’ ability to pull things together this year, with one of the highest preseason projections we’ve seen:
“I'm buying UConn stock. The Huskies were hexed last season, starting with some awful losses early and then compounded by injuries. Jalen Adams and Terry Larrier are both good enough to be the first team in the American. Kevin Ollie, this season sets up as a big one for you. Anything shy of the Big Dance will have UConn fans frequently discussing a coaching change.”
Fans will definitely be calling for a change if the Huskies miss out on the big dance, but would firing be a realistic, or reasonable, fate?
Recruiting has picked back up for Kevin Ollie and the roster and staff seem to be better prepared for the future. Ollie definitely needs to prove things are moving in the right direction and an NCAA Tournament berth would certainly do that. But he doesn’t need to make the tournament.
The KenPom preseason rankings are based on a statistical analysis of offensive and defensive performance in the Four Factors, a widely accepted theorem on the statistical keys to basketball success. We have a simplified summary of the four factors here:
Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) - this is the same as field goal percentage, except that three-pointers count as 1.5 made shots to account for the additional points earned.
Turnover percentage - turnovers divided by the number of possessions.
Offensive rebound percentage - offensive rebounds divided by offensive rebound opportunities, which is measured by offensive rebounds plus opponent's defensive rebounds.
Free throw rate - measures a team's ability to get to the free throw line: free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts.
KenPom’s preseason rankings take some additional information into account, since performance data is impossible to collect for players who’ve never worn a Husky jersey or even played at the college level. So for the Huskies, this figure is particularly prone to move quite a bit given how many question marks there are heading into this season. Still, this is probably the lowest UConn has been ranked going into a season in the KenPom era, which dates back to 2002.
All of this is to say, this will be the most accurate assessment of UConn’s performance across the season, but given how much roster turnover UConn has had, the preseason ranking does not tell us a whole lot.
SB Nation: Unranked
Our friends at Dot Com (understandably) don’t have the Huskies in their top-25, but Mike Rutherford wrote a pretty fair piece on this year being an inflection point for the program:
UConn suddenly finds itself slipping from college basketball’s top tier. In something resembling the blink of an eye, the Huskies have morphed from superpower to being on the verge of moving back from the forefront of the collective mind of the sport’s fan base. Because of this, they are perhaps the most intriguing program in the entire country at the moment.
He did also offer some reasons why this season can go well:
“The final justification for optimism in 2017-18 and beyond is that Ollie has consistently churned out stars at the guard position, and he has a guy capable of being one of the best players in the country this season in Jalen Adams. Without much support a year ago, Adams led UConn in both points (14.4 ppg) and assists (6.1 apg). A healthy Gilbert and Larrier will force defenses to stop keying entirely on Adams, which should allow him both to shoot at a higher percentage and get to the free-throw line more as a junior. Don’t be surprised if Adams winds up being the AAC’s top performer this season.”
What do you think? Have the experts missed the mark? What’s your preseason prediction for UConn’s final national ranking?