To restate the obvious, things are not going well for the UConn men’s basketball team. Their winning percentage is at .500, they have some of the worst offensive stats of any team in the country, and they suffered their sixth 20+ point loss of the season on Sunday night. The season has been bad, and that is because the team has some problems.
This team is not good at shooting, an important facet of competitive basketball. Following Wednesday’s loss to Central Florida, UConn’s shooting percentages sit at .452 from inside the arc (which ranks 328th in the nation) and .311 from three (326th). Only one player has an above-average mark from three. The two players with the highest shooting percentages on the team combine to take only six shots per game. The free-throw shooting is actually well above average, but since they so rarely get to the line, this ends up not being much of a factor in most games.
I don’t know how best to describe it, because there is often so little to the gameplan that it appears what passing and movement does occur is, for the most part, purposeless. Aimless passing around the perimeter gets the team nowhere, and without a communicated plan for what happens after penetration, the ballhandler rarely has a second option on the inside. That’s the value of a set play. Since UConn’s guards are genuinely good at breaking through to the inside, running more productive plays would increase the number of times they can get the ball to the middle and increase the effectiveness of their drives.
On the other hand, they can just dribble around for a while, look off every teammate, and hope the shot goes in.
With four transfers joining the team this season, the expectation was that their experience could contribute more to the team than filling up the roster with freshman would. That makes sense; the development curve is really important at this age, and the average senior is typically way, way better than the average freshman.
Unfortunately, Kevin Ollie took risks with his transfer players, and the team is now paying the price. One is suspended indefinitely for disciplinary reasons (he left his first school because of a disciplinary issue as well), one is relegated to the deep bench, one (who struggled in his previous stop) contributes very little when he is on the floor, and Antwoine Anderson... well, he went through a deep slump. There’s not much you can do about that, I suppose, and he’s been playing much better since breaking his cold streak. But it would’ve been nice if there was some insurance—say, some transfers who had more to offer the team. Or even just retaining the three players who transferred out of Storrs last season.
The defense is better than the offense, though that’s obviously not a high bar to clear. They struggle to defend the three, as the perimeter rotations are often too late, or someone has let their assignment slip by to a new area, completely unnoticed. They’ll run two different zone defenses, neither of which look in-sync. They’ll try a double-team, but the shift is too slow, and their opponent has a wide-open shot with one simple pass. There’s a lot that goes wrong for them, even though they’re capable of playing good defense in stretches. It’s just never focused enough.
Yes, UConn isn’t bad at everything, but there’s a lot of different areas where they do struggle. Free-throw shooting? Great percentage-wise, but they struggle to get attempts. Rebounding? It can be a real problem. Turnovers? The offense can be really sloppy at points. Fouling too often? Yep, that too.
The one simple way to illustrate how far UConn has to go is that there aren’t just one or two areas that need improvement. It’s pretty much everything. Being great in one area would help offset some of these issues, but it’s hard to do even that without a baseline competence in multiple different facets of the game. A few good players alone (i.e., what UConn does have) won’t be enough to overcome their structural deficiencies.