Dan Hurley’s first season as head coach of the UConn men’s basketball team is set to begin against Morehead State at Gampel Pavilion on Thursday. Even with all eligible players returning from last year’s team, there’s a lot up in the air with a new head coach. We did our best to predict what kind of impact Hurley will on the team that went 14-18 last season.
Tucker Warner: Well, I’m at least pretty confident it won’t be Christian Vital again this season. If the rotations go as planned, and playing time is as expected, it’ll be the team’s best rebounder on a per-opportunity basis last season—Eric Cobb.
Daniel Connolly: Josh Carlton, because he’s the tallest big which means he has the best odds of getting the ball — in theory. The exhibition against Southern didn’t give me much confidence in the team’s rebounding ability.
tcf15: Josh Carlton. Carlton flashed in some games last year (12 rebounds vs. SMU, 9 rebounds vs. Villanova) and as long as he is able to stay out of foul trouble, he’ll get the majority of the minutes at the 5 and grab 7-8 rebounds per game.
Aman: I’ll go with Eric Cobb. He seems to be Hurley’s favorite thus far.
Dan Madigan: I think Carlton will be the leader here. He had flashes where he looked great on both ends and on the boards and I’m hoping he can be more consistent in his second year. I do think Mamadou Diarra will give Carlton a run for his money once he comes back, though.
Tucker: I don’t see who else this could be besides Jalen Adams. He’ll be getting the most opportunities, he’s a proven scorer, and he’s the only returning player who’s guaranteed to have the same role as last season.
Connolly: Jalen Adams. As long as he can get his head screwed on right (and go to class) he should have a monster season. Adams’s ceiling is the roof and Dan Hurley will finally unlock the remaining potential that Kevin Ollie never could.
tcf15: Don’t see how it could be anyone other than Jalen Adams. Dan Hurley recently said in order for this season to work, Adams will need something close to a Jimmer Fredette-type season. Game on.
Aman: Better be Jalen.
Madigan: Hurley needs Jalen Adams to score, and Adams needs to score (efficiently) to have a good chance at playing at the next level. This one’s a no-brainer.
Tucker: This could be a close race between Jalen Adams and Tarin Smith. Smith is a pass-first point guard, but Jalen will have the ball in his hands more often. I’ll say Jalen’s baskets start to be assisted more this year and say Smith takes this honor by a hair.
Connolly: Alterique Gilbert. As long as he stays healthy, he’s the clear floor general on this team. Jalen Adams will be in a more off-the-ball role that limits his assist numbers but definitely suits him better to score.
tcf15: Tarin Smith. While Alterique Gilbert will be the starting point guard and get more minutes than Smith, I think he’ll end up being more of a scorer than a facilitator. Same with Jalen. So someone else will have to get these guys the ball, and that will be Smith.
Aman: Alterique Gilbert, who will play a full season and be an amazing playmaking point guard that’s also a bulldog defender.
Madigan: Jalen Adams. Although the goal this season is to let him play off the ball, he’s this team’s best player, so he’ll have the ball in his hands when it matters. I think having scorers out wide like Vital and Gilbert around him and improved big men like Cobb and Carlton underneath lead to a lot of easy dimes.
Tucker: If Brendan Adams can get his shot to fall consistently, he’s exactly the type of player UConn missed last year. Whoever can help space the floor and open up opportunities for his teammates will have an immediate impact; the younger Adams will have the chance to do that.
Connolly: Kassoum Yakwe. Once he gets healthy, he’s going to provide the shot-blocking ability down low that the Huskies have lacked since Amida Brimah graduated and will let the guards be more aggressive around the perimeter.
tcf15: I’m cheating on this one and choosing a finally healthy (*knocks on wood*) Alterique Gilbert. Gilbert will end up averaging double-digit points and close to 2 steals per game.
Aman: Brendan Adams. UConn needs dudes who can score, and the younger Adams seems to be most capable of filling that hole.
Madigan: I’ve been a huge fan of Brendan Adams since he signed. He’s shown some scoring ability in the exhibition against SCSU and I think his size will be a huge asset on a defense, especially on a roster of smaller guards.
Total Number of Regular Season Wins
Tucker: Exactly 21. This team is much better than last year’s, though, and they’ll add a few more wins in the conference tournament.
Connolly: 23. There’s a lot of cupcakes on this schedule, especially with a weaker American Conference this season. This feels like the type of team that wins the games they’re supposed to and loses the ones they’re supposed to. Even thought that doesn’t sound super promising, that gives them a pretty good win total for Hurley’s first season.
tcf15: 22. The American is up for grabs this year, so here's hoping UConn can steal a couple of road wins this year. 18 home games (the most since 2013-14) should be of some help this year, too.
Aman: 21 - The non-conference slate isn’t too tough and the American is having a down year as well, so I like Hurley to have a better-than-expected first season, actually.
Madigan: 20. We’ll have a pretty good idea of this team by the time the Villanova game comes around. If the Huskies take on the defending champions with a record worse than 8-3, it could be another tough year.
Upset Watch (team that could upset UConn)
Tucker: It isn’t that much of an upset, but the game at Temple on Feb. 6 worries me. It’s at a time on the schedule where the Huskies could overlook the Owls, and Temple is better than people might think. Also, thankfully, there aren’t many teams on the non-conference schedule that could upset UConn.
Connolly: Is losing at Tulsa even an upset anymore? Probably not, but that’s still my pick. I’m going to assume UConn loses whenever they travel to Tulsa, Cincinnati and Moody Coliseum until proven otherwise.
tcf15: Yeah, I'd watch out for Temple, too. Not only are one of the more underrated teams in The American heading into this year, but it's Fran Dunphy's final year. Dangerous combination.
Aman: Memphis, they’re excited for Penny, we’re excited for Penny. The rebuilding Tigers steal a win from UConn.
Madigan: As sad as this is to say, the road loss to Tulsa is inevitable. If Hurley can somehow win there, that will definitely be a sign that this team is not like the ones in the past. I’m not optimistic that happens just yet, though.
Best Non-Con Win
Tucker: Arizona might not make the NCAA Tournament this year, but a win over Arizona is a win over Arizona. It wouldn’t shock me if UConn finishes the season as a better team, and I think the Huskies beat the Wildcats head-to-head on Dec. 2.
Connolly: Syracuse. I don’t care how good or bad Syracuse might be in a given year. Slicing the Orange is always a big win.
tcf15: Tough year to expect UConn to pull off a win against top-20 opponents like Villanova, Syracuse and Florida State. Arizona is my pick. UConn will get the Wildcats early enough in the season when they are still trying to figure things out after having to replace its entire starting lineup from last year.
Madigan: Florida State. The Seminoles Florida State plays mostly cupcakes leading up to UConn except Florida in the opener, Tulane immediately after and Purdue two games before UConn. I could see the Huskies catching FSU off guard in front of what will likely be a pro-Hurley and pro-Huskies crowd. It’s far from a lock but if UConn can pull it off, it would be a huge win for the Huskies’ tournament resume.
Tucker: I hope this isn’t too optimistic, but I’ll say fourth. SMU, Cincinnati, and Houston look like the top three, but there’s an amorphous blob of teams that make up the middle of the pack, and there’s no reason UConn can’t be the best of those.
Connolly: I want to be optimistic and say top three, but I’m going to be realistic and say five. UCF, SMU, Houston and Cincinnati are still all good and I think this team is going to have a Jekyll and Hyde type season, definitely not enough to compete for the regular season title.
tcf15: Fourth. UConn finally exceeds preseason expectations in The American.
Aman: Fourth. Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF or SMU could finish ahead of UConn, and don’t rule out a Temple or Memphis either.
Madigan: Fifth. I don’t see UConn outperforming UCF, Houston and Cincinnati this season, and there’s a good chance at least one of SMU, Temple or Memphis squeaks by the Huskies this season too.
Tucker: Mick Cronin’s Bearcats of Cincinnati. I know they lost a lot, but so did the other top teams in the conference, and Cincinnati seems to be less affected by player departures than most other teams of their caliber. That is, until the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Connolly: Houston. Kelvin Sampson has put that program on an upward trajectory since he took over and it’s all going to come to fruition this season.
tcf15: Cincinnati. Death. Cincinnati winning The American. Cincinnati losing in the round of 32.
Aman: Cincinnati. Whateva.
Madigan: UCF. I’m all in on Tacko Fall and B.J. Taylor, and I think Johnny Dawkins and team take advantage of a down year in the American to win the conference title.
Tucker: The NCAA gods are happy to reward a turnaround season of a major program with a NCAA Tournament bid, but Huskies’ record means it’s only as a 10 seed. The Huskies get an unlucky draw with a 7-seed ranked way too low, and bow out in the first round.
Connolly: The Huskies do better than Cincinnati. It’s not really a high bar, but it would still bring me plenty of joy. If I’m doing a real prediction, I say a 9-seed against an underachieving Power-5 team. UConn wins one game then run into some buzz-saw 1-seed and end the season there.
tcf15: UConn ends up in the First Four Out and get a #1 seed in the NIT. UConn wins the NIT championship over St. John’s (MSG Basketball in March baby!) and we spend the entire offseason comparing Dan Hurley’s NIT championship to Jim Calhoun’s NIT championship.
Aman: Losing in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament.
Madigan: I think the ceiling for this team is a 10 or 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament and I think that ceiling is certainly attainable, especially with Hurley at the helm now. If things go like they have in the past, however, I think this team is still good enough to get into the NIT and win a few games. While it would still be a down year in the history of the program, it would still be a step in the right direction for the Hurley era.
Give us your own predictions down in the comments below!