South Florida is one of the worst teams in the country. The Bulls would be the worst team in at least 10 other conferences. The USF offense and defense both rank in the bottom 100 nationally, and they have lost to Morgan State, Appalachian State, and East Carolina... twice.
This isn’t meant to mock South Florida. It’s to set the stage for a discussion on how disastrous UConn’s performance was Wednesday night.
The Huskies won by three points on Wednesday night, avoiding overtime only because a last-second three-point attempt—an open, hittable attempt—fell just short. In a home game, UConn avoided a tie at the end of regulation by about an inch against the team currently ranked 319th in KenPom out of 351.
That’s obviously not ideal, but it’s worse than just an off night against a bad team; it’s a performance so bad that it likely would have been a loss to any other team in the country.
South Florida’s -8.5 average point differential is the worst in the American Athletic Conference. They exceeded that average by 5.5 points on Wednesday night. The next worst average point differential, at -5.9, belongs to East Carolina, the same East Carolina that beat the Bulls twice and came close to beating UConn. USF lost by 10 points to Morgan State (ranked 321st in KenPom) and by 23 to Appalachian State (226th).
That’s the only other team in the conference where there’s even a doubt. Only two other teams in the AAC have negative point differentials. One is Memphis, who already beat UConn by 24 points. The other is UConn.
There are a few reasons why South Florida was able to keep the game so close, and none of them can be attributed to bad luck. First among them is rebounding, where USF was able to score 24 second-chance points from cleaning up 15 offensive rebounds. It had been a problem all game, as South Florida took advantage of these opportunities in both halves. And yet, the team’s best rebounder (and best all-around center), Josh Carlton, played only 13 minutes, seventh-most on the team, and still ended up as the team’s leading rebounder that night.
Carlton was bounced from the starting lineup in favor of the talented but raw Mamadou Diarra, who picked up four fouls in eight minutes. Mysteriously ahead of Carlton in the rotation was David Onuorah, who struggled in his 17 minutes, grabbing only one rebound in that time and fouling out late. With the team’s big men struggling to get rebounds, and that issue causing a lot of trouble for them on the scoreboard, the one guy who UConn can count on to box out and pull down missed shots sat on the bench.
Next is the shooting, which has been a problem all year. In a game where the Huskies made 70% (really) of their attempts from inside the arc, they still attempted 35% of their shots from three, where they were unsurprisingly far less successful. Terry Larrier made half of his three-point attempts, which was nice to see, as injuries have caused him to slump a bit lately. The rest of the team shot 1-10 from distance. In a game where they were essentially scoring at will on the inside, the team continued to attempt shots from outside.
The third problem is the over-reliance on Larrier at the expense of other players. Larrier is a good basketball player. He’s been the only consistent outside scoring option this season, and he has shown a nice shooting touch. But he’s limited in other ways too; his defensive lapses give opposing teams scoring opportunities and he’s prone to giving up turnovers with the ball in his hands.
Larrier should continue to start, but playing him for 37 minutes while the team’s best defensive forward and top rebounder sits on the bench is a questionable decision when the team is in need of defense and rebounding. In a game where he caused four unnecessary turnovers, didn’t help the rebounding issue (only three the whole game), and didn’t contribute on defense (1.19 points allowed per possession, worst on the team), the decision to play him for so long looks more and more questionable. Not only would UConn have gotten the opportunity to improve the areas they were struggling in, Larrier might have been even more effective offensively had he gotten more rest.
Many fans noticed the poor performance Wednesday night—after all, you don’t survive a home game against the worst team in the conference by playing well—but the win might mask that those specific issues are the natural progression of how the team has played all season.
Beating South Florida by three points is not the mark of a team that plays well. And because the recurring issues that led UConn to that point are not outliers, something has to change for them to have any level of success for the rest of the season. Kevin Ollie needs to use his lineups better and get his players in better position to succeed if they are to have any hope against Wichita State.