UConn falls to 1-2 in its second home at Madison Square Garden this season after losing to Villanova, 81-58, in their final non-conference game of the season. The Huskies will head into conference play with a 9-4 record.
Jalen Adams Will Not Take This Team Far
Aman: In over three seasons as a Husky, Jalen Adams has displayed amazing talent and an ability to score in all sorts of fun and creative ways. Unfortunately, he lacks a certain something that his predecessors had in spades: the ability to rise to the occasion and also lift up his teammates in the games and moments that matter most.
Adams simply isn’t that kind of team leader. He’s the best player on the team, and an absolute joy to watch when he’s clicking, but there’s something missing, and that gap is prominently on display with his body language when things stop going UConn’s way. His lack of discipline on and off the court and the way he disappears for long stretches of big games are problems that are not likely to get fixed in his fourth year.
If this team is going only as far as Jalen Adams takes them, it’s not going to be very far.
Dylan: When things go wrong for UConn, the team needs a leader to right the ship. Jalen Adams has been unable to provide the steady production that Connecticut needs. Had Adams had a tough time shooting the ball, it would be plausible to excuse his play on bad rolls or tough defense. However, he turned the ball over six times and became passive at times, something he is prone to doing.
Connolly: It looked like Adams’ development plateaued under Kevin Ollie. I thought Hurley would come in and help him cement a legacy as the next great UConn lead guard. Through non-conference play, Adams has not shown much likelihood of stepping up to that next level.
Great players are especially great when the pressure is at its highest. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier are UConn legends because of that special ability. Back when Adams was a freshman, he looked like the next in line.
In that incredible 4 OT game against Cincinnati — even before the full-court shot — he took over that game. When the Huskies needed a shot, the ball was in his hands. Then, of course, you have the buzzer-beater. In the years since, he’s been a great basketball player, but inconsistent.
This team needs strong leadership and someone that can take over when needed. As a senior, Adams has not been able to bring that to this team.
Bad Turnovers, Bad Defense, and Endless Sloppiness (Against good teams)
Aman: The difference between UConn against a bad-to-mediocre team and UConn against an okay-to-good team really is night and day. Better teams can contain the outstanding abilities that a few Huskies have to offer, and are well-equipped to attack UConn’s weaknesses. The Huskies haven’t been close in games against Villanova, Florida State, Arizona and Iowa. THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE.
Dylan: UConn took care of the ball and was solid defensively in the first half. All hell broke loose in the second:
UConn in first 8 minutes of 2nd half vs Villanova:— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) December 22, 2018
8 missed FG
After the Huskies scored their sixth point of the half, the team surrendered a 19-0 Villanova run. Much of the damage was self-inflicted with turnovers and poor shot selection and Nova was getting open looks on seemingly every possession. Villanova’s guards were getting by Husky defenders and kicking out for open shots. UConn allowed Nova to shoot 52.5 percent from three.
Connolly: With the Syracuse win looking more like a morale booster than an actual resume-builder, it’s becoming evident that UConn is a consistently mediocre team. Against bad teams, the Huskies have no trouble and can easily dominate despite their issues. But when they go against good teams, UConn can hang for a little before they’re eventually overwhelmed and fall behind.
And right now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The last two UConn teams could barely (and sometimes didn’t) beat the bad teams. Even the early years of the Kevin Ollie Era included some ugly losses, such as Houston in 2014 and Yale in 2015. There’s still a long way to go for Dan Hurley and the Huskies, but there are worse places to start than here.
Conference Play Opportunity
Aman: All of that said, there is certainly some upside to this team. They have good pieces, and if they gel better across the season against an AAC slate that is far from intimidating, there could be a surprise run into the NCAA Tournament. At the moment, it’s clear this team is not solidly of that caliber, but there’s still a lot of season left.
UConn being 9-4 with a win over Syracuse is a pretty good start to the season given the circumstances. After the past few years, Husky fans are obviously hungry for a more consistent winner, but they should appreciative the progress that is there.
Dylan: UConn is going to need to pull together for conference play if the team wants any hopes of being on the bubble come March. Connecticut likely needs 12 wins to be on the bubble. The Huskies haven’t reached 12 wins in conference since its inaugural season in the AAC (2013-2014), but at least the schedule shouldn’t be too difficult.
Connolly: In a vacuum, the American looks pretty good this year. Entering conference play, six schools have three losses or less and Houston is ranked No. 21. Dig a little deeper though and few teams have faced much resistance in their non-conference slate and have some bad losses in there. UCF lost to FAU and Tulsa lost to Southern Illinois.
Outside of Houston and Cincinnati, no other team is the conference that much better than the Huskies, especially if Hurley can get them playing better as the season goes on. Winning the regular season looks like it’ll be a longshot but there’s no reason UConn can’t compete to finish top 3 and make some noise in the conference tournament.
There’s plenty of talent on this team, especially with the guards, but this team needs to step up in a big way to have any hope making the NCAA Tournament.