A new season for UConn men’s basketball starts today, and with it, the hopes and dreams of a new era. The hiring of Dan Hurley as head coach has reignited the excitement around the four-time national champions, bringing back the aura of relevance that typically surrounds the Huskies.
More important than auras, of course, are the 31 regular season games the Huskies will play this year, and the first one tips off tonight as UConn takes on Morehead State at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies are looking to establish a new identity in a season they hope will be a turnaround from last year’s sub-.500 performance. With a new coach, a healthy roster and incoming talent, they’ll have the opportunity to do so, and can begin on the right track tonight.
Morehead State finished at the very bottom of the Ohio Valley Conference standings last season, but are expected to be much improved this year. The Eagles return all five starters from last year, and eight of their top nine in minutes, although the added experience might not matter as much against their major-conference opponents—Morehead State plays UConn, Syracuse and Missouri on the road this season.
The Eagles can be inefficient on offense, and young Preston Spradlin doesn’t always give the right players the most opportunities, although he may figure out his team’s attributes better in his second full season as head coach.
Jordan Walker and A.J. Hicks will get the bulk of the opportunities, as both are ball-dominant guards. Hicks was the better of the two last year, as Walker never really found his shooting stroke, though neither have reliable outside jumpers and both can be turnover-prone.
Djimon Henson is the 3-point specialist, leading the Eagles with a 37.4 percent mark from beyond the arc last year, but Lamontre Harris and Sasha Sukhanov might be the X-factors. Harris, used in a supersub role off the bench last year, is Spradlin’s most versatile option, capable of playing both inside and outside, and was the Eagles’ most efficient scorer. Sukhanov is a 6-foot-11 freshman with deep shooting range, and could be dangerous if he gets his shot to fall in his first year of college.
Sukhanov, though, is the only player on the Morehead State roster taller than 6-foot-7, which could provide good matchup opportunities for UConn. While the Huskies will likely start as expected, look for what adjustments Hurley makes early in the game; he’s not a coach who rests on his laurels, so every move he makes until the game is out of reach will be a tactical one.
Things to look for:
When UConn has the ball: First and foremost, in a major change from last year, what sets are the UConn offense running? How frequently is the play running through the hands of Jalen Adams? Does Alterique Gilbert have his shooting stroke back?
When Morehead State has the ball: Are the Eagles’ outside shots in rhythm, or are they forcing threes? Is UConn running a zone or a man defense? Which UConn defenders are in which roles—are players like Josh Carlton and Eric Cobb left on an island in the center position, or does he deploy two-big lineups with Isaiah Whaley or Kassoum Yakwe next to them?
How to watch:
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Gampel Pavilion