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UConn Men’s Basketball Mailbag: Recruiting, Sidney Wilson, and More

You had questions, we answered them.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Halfway through the season, fans still have a lot of questions about UConn men’s basketball. That’s why we decided to do a mailbag! Here’s a handful of questions we received about the huskies, as they try to build on their 10-7 record.

Phoenix Husky asks: Who else will UConn land to fill out the 2019 class?

I have thoughts on this question as well, but first I wanted to see what our recruiting expert, tcf15, thought. Here’s his answer below:

“Qudus Wahab and a yet-to-be-named graduate transfer. Kenya Hunter was recently on the UConn Coach’s Show with Mike Crispino and mentioned that UConn wants to land another high school kid and possibly a grad transfer to go along with their current class of Akok Akok, James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney. After Kofi Cockburn spurned UConn for Illinois, the remaining 2019 offers are forward Precious Achiuwa, center Qudus Wahab, and center Tre Mitchell.

Now that North Carolina has offered and other big schools might get involved, I don’t think Achiuwa comes to UConn. Between centers Qudus Wahab and Tre Mitchell, I think UConn only gets one and with Mitchell leaning towards reclassifying to 2020, my guess is that it is Wahab or bust for UConn. Should UConn miss on Wahab and Mitchell, another frontcourt target that UConn could turn its focus to is three-star forward Karim Coulibaly.”

Dan Hurley shot high with this recruiting class, and it’s worked so far, as Bouknight and Akok in particular would be good gets for any school. But UConn still isn’t the program it used to be, and that means it can’t get any high-profile recruit it wants.

A grad transfer seems very realistic. Achiuwa might have some loyalty to UConn because they’ve been recruiting him for longer, but we don’t know for sure that’s a priority for him. At this point, I’d say UConn isn’t the favorite anymore, but the odds of landing him aren’t zero.

I also think one of Wahab or Mitchell commits to UConn—although with Mitchell, you run the risk of him reclassifying to next year. Mitchell once seemed like a lock to go to LSU, but unofficially reopened his recruitment, which probably means he won’t end up in Baton Rouge.

We’ll see what ultimately happens, but I doubt the Huskies finish up the 2019 recruiting class without getting a commitment from one of their final three targets. I think the other spot will go to a graduate transfer, but it’s too early to tell which seniors will be looking to play one final season.

Charles M. asks: Wilson or Polley in the starting five?

I like this question a lot, given the recent great defensive play of Sidney Wilson. However, I think there’s a clear answer to this question: the starter should be Tyler Polley.

That’s no knock on Wilson, who’s improved a lot since his delayed debut, and is beginning to prove he’s a real asset to the Huskies. But Polley is a significantly better player right now, and deserves to be getting starters’ minutes.

It goes beyond just the typical offense vs. defense debate, because Polley is a solid defensive player in his own right, and a much better option on offense. Despite a recent slump, Polley is still one of the team’s best three-point shooters, helping to space the floor from the power forward position, something that Wilson (who has made only one of his ten three-point attempts) can’t do just yet. He’s also a more versatile offensive player with good court vision, and takes care of the ball—he has fewer turnovers than Wilson despite playing nearly three times the minutes.

Wilson will eventually have a more rounded game, since he’s still only a freshman and has just 162 minutes of collegiate experience. But for now, and likely for the rest of the season, Polley should be playing with the starting unit; the team is simply better with him on the floor.

Ben D. asks: What’s your prediction for the final record?

They’re 10-7 right now, so I’m going to break down the remaining games by type—likely wins, likely losses, and tossups.

Let’s start with the hard part; here are the (thankfully few) likely losses: at UCF, vs Houston, at SMU, vs Cincinnati.

The likely wins: at Tulsa, vs Tulane, vs Wichita State, vs East Carolina, vs South Florida, vs Temple, at East Carolina.

And the tossups: at Temple, at Memphis.

Now, to be fair, any game is technically a tossup, and we’ve seen that UConn is capable of playing both great and poorly. But with those games included, the Huskies’ record would be 18-12, assuming they go .500 in tossup games.

A favorable draw in the American Athletic Conference Tournament would help the Huskies get to 20 wins, which might put them back on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Unfortunately, it’s most likely the Huskies will only get one conference tournament win, which would put them at 19-13. That’s my prediction for the final record.

AJ asks: What are the top three takeaways from UConn’s loss to Cincinnati?

We covered this very subject over the weekend, but I’ll say a few things in brief to cover my own opinions.

One is that the three-point slump was just a slump. The Huskies didn’t face the toughest non-conference schedule, so there was some concern that the outside shooting was inflated by weak opponents, especially after two straight games where they shot poorly from beyond the arc. The Cincinnati game, where the Huskies shot very well from deep, proved that it was just a slump and three-point shooting can continue to be an asset to the team.

Two is that this team can rebound with just about everybody. I had my suspicions this was true after the UCF game, where the Huskies held the Knights to zero offensive boards, but out-rebounding one of the best rebounding teams in the nation—one dependent on second-chance points—is a great sign for the future. Don’t look at just individual rebounding stats, as they can be very misleading; this team plays well on the glass.

Third is that the team does not need Jalen Adams in order to play well. It’s certainly a benefit to have him on the floor, but hanging with Cincinnati after he fouled out — nearly ten minutes of game time — proves that a backcourt of Alterique Gilbert, Christian Vital, and Tarin Smith can run the show too. That’s not necessarily a knock on Adams, the team’s leading scorer, but a statement toward UConn’s guard depth. It might show Hurley that, if Adams has a bad game with turnovers, the team has other options. After all, there’s no insurance policy in basketball as important as having multiple good players.