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Roundtable: How is UConn Men’s Basketball’s Rotation Shaping Up Entering Conference Play?

UConn Men’s Basketball head coach Dan Hurley Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

With the UConn men’s basketball team’s conference play kicking off against USF tonight, we gathered some of our staff and brought in Jake Storiale from Talkin’ Huskies to look at the Huskies rotation at the midway point in the season.

How does Sid Wilson fit on the team? How can UConn make the most of his athleticism?

Tucker: This is going to sound pessimistic for a player who has a ton of potential and the opportunity to be a major contributor in a year or two, but I’m not sure Wilson—right now—is anything more than a bench body who won’t kill you.

He’s shown some moderate defensive ability against bench units and has room to grow into a good shooter, but Polley’s emergence as an asset, combined with a trio of solid options at center means there’s no reason for Wilson to enter a major role unless someone gets hurt. He’ll need more experience to become a more consistent defender capable of guarding more players (and become more adjusted to Hurley’s defensive schemes), but his offensive game needs an overhaul, as his True Shooting % ranks a distant 12th on the Huskies and he has not looked fully acquainted with the team’s offensive style.

Getting the most out of him entails not stretching him beyond his current abilities and working around his limitations—pairing Wilson with two of the Jalen Adams/Vital/Gilbert trio, Tarin Smith, and the backup center would be the best lineup for him.

Jake: Personally I feel like Wilson could be frustrating for fans this year because Hurley may not want to ask too much of him. Hurley loves guards but specifically guards that can handle the rock and speed up the opponent. 3 out of 5 between J. Adams/Gilbert/Vital/Smith/B. Adams will be on the court most of the time. That leaves Polley and Wilson for the 4’s and if we need shooting, it’s going to be Polley.

Dylan: Hurley’s love for guards is frustrating when it comes to Wilson’s prospects of helping this team. Most other college basketball teams do not have a small forward that actively handles the ball. Of course this is typically a bonus, but when you can add the length and athleticism of Sid Wilson to the team, why not play him at small forward? Husky fans have yet to see Wilson at the three with Tyler Polley at the four and one of the true bigs at the five. Why not? The length would likely make this squad the best defensive team that UConn has and what Wilson may lack on the offensive floor, Polley makes up for with his three point shooting.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

40 minutes from Josh Carlton/Eric Cobb/Kassoum Yakwe - how would you divide the minutes?

Tucker: I’d try to give Carlton a few more of Yakwe’s minutes when he’s not in foul trouble, since the sophomore is the Huskies’ best center by a country mile and leads UConn in every important rate-based advanced stat. The fouls are, of course, an issue, but because Yakwe plays later minutes, his foul situation (7.9 per 40 minutes, compared to Carlton’s 6.0) doesn’t look quite as bad during the run of the game.

I’d like to see Cobb and his unique skill set used a little more creatively, but his current minutes seem to be a solid usage. Carlton, though, is so much better than the team’s two other center options that he must be deployed more aggressively. I’d like to see him get at least 20 minutes per game, keeping Cobb around 13, and Yakwe down to six or seven.

Jake: Can my answer change depending if they’re playing a mid-major or not? Josh Carlton still does not have a basket against any of our 4 (!) major conference games. Recently Yakwe has earned the minutes but we’ll see if Big Game Cobb shows up against Villanova. 20 Carlton, 15 Yakwe, 5 Cobb. If none of these guys earn minutes could we see Diarra or Whaley get some run?

Dylan: It’s starting to become too much of a coincidence to explain how Josh Carlton dominates mid-majors and Eric Cobb battles it out in tougher matchups. I’m not convinced that Carlton can’t hang. Is it in his head? I’d like to see a longer leash on him against Nova this Saturday to see if he can break this trend. Kassoum Yakwe has shown that he can provide a spark on the defensive end, too. He may be more capable physically than Cobb against bigger opponents. Show me 16 Carlton, 12 Yakwe, 12 Cobb. Each one of them will need to bring a higher energy level every minute they’re on the floor.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

After Alterique Gilbert, who should be the second point guard on this team?

Dylan: The numbers would tell you that it’s Tarin Smith. Smith averages 4.3 assists per 40 minutes -- good for second on the team behind Gilbert. He also turns the ball over far less than UConn’s other guards with 2.1 turnovers per 40 minutes. Next on the team is Gilbert again with 3.3 per 40. The numbers show that Smith is capable of doing things that point guards do, but it still might be Jalen Adams.

Tucker: Dylan is right to point out Smith’s assist numbers; they’re impressive and suggest he’s doing a great job in his role, but it needs to be Jalen Adams. We’ve seen, especially in the past few years, how important it is for the point guard to space the floor to open up opportunities for teammates.

In fact, in order to succeed as a point guard without being able to threaten opponents with outside shooting, you’d have to be an elite passer. UConn has some good playmakers, but they don’t have an elite passer. Adams might struggle at times, but if he’s only running the offense part-time, that turnover problem won’t look quite as bad. When Gilbert’s out of the game, the ball should be his first.

Jake: I lean Jalen Adams here for a couple reasons: In games we’ve seen Jalen struggle (1st half vs FSU, Manhattan), it was because he was too passive off the ball. A couple minutes at the point could spark him back into action. If Alterique Gilbert were to foul out of a game, would you rather have the game in Jalen’s hands or Tarin Smith’s? Tarin is great as a scorer off the bench and you can motivate Jalen knowing that’s the position he has the best chance to thrive in the NBA.