The UConn men’s basketball team is coming off a split performance in their first two tests of the season at the 2K Classic in Madison Square Garden. They left New York City with a big win over Syracuse and a big loss to Iowa to go into tonight’s contest against Cornell with a 3-1 record.
With four games under their belt overall we now have some sense for this team, and will also see how they recover from a bad defeat. In particular, head coach Dan Hurley is looking for people to step up on defense, and to slow the rapid turnover rate.
“We haven’t had one standout defender,” he said. “Tarin Smith’s probably our best all-around defensive guard.”
Right now UConn is 212th in the country in FG% allowed and 256th in PPG allowed out of 353 Division 1 teams. With a big match-up against Arizona on the horizon, preparation and better familiarity with the system will be key to their resilience.
“The guys are pretty good in practice,” Hurley said. “It was our first chance to respond to some adversity, we didn’t respond well to the in-game adversity so now we have a chance after a couple days of preparing for a real system team.”
Offensively, he thinks the Huskies need to protect possession better. Three top guards—Jalen Adams (2.3) Alterique Gilbert (2.5) and Christian Vital (3.3)—are the team’s biggest turnover offenders. Hurley likes Vital’s toughness, even though his shot selection needs work, and there’s of course plenty to like about Gilbert and Adams, but they all need to be smarter with the ball.
Hurley mentioned the wild shot selection as a problem after the Iowa game, but felt the offense was pretty sloppy overall.
“We over-dribbled,” he said. “Particularly in the Iowa game. ... the ball stuck a lot versus Iowa ... there were some high risk, low reward passes that were turnovers ... so we talked a lot about respecting the possession more.”
If they don’t get any better at it at it, we might have a different style of play than the fun and fast-paced style we enjoyed across the first three games of the season.
“If we keep turning the ball over like this, we will not be a running team, we will be a rock fight team and I will control every possession. We’ll run a set every time down the court if we don’t get more responsible with the ball.”
While it may seem like an empty threat or coach speak, UConn still isn’t good enough offensively to win shootouts, so there may be some truth to Hurley’s comments. The offense was stymied in the Iowa game, with the Huskies failing to hit a three until the second half and finishing a dismal 4-24 (16.7%) from behind the arc.
“They’ll give me no choice if we’re going to turn the ball over because we’re not prolific enough to get away with that,” he said. “If we don’t learn to respect the ball more, you give your guards less freedom and you try to control the game more.”
So far, UConn has one component of Hurley’s preferred style down, with a solid and improving assist-to-basket ratio, but needs to be more protective of the ball, a formula which was key to his success at URI.
“I didn’t have to [slow things down] at Rhode Island because we had older mature guards that were a high assist, low turnover team,” Hurley said. “We’ve been a fairly high assist team but some mindless turnovers can’t go on.”