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UConn men’s basketball positional preview: Wings

The wings may be the position where the Huskies have the least depth, but they’ll provide some much-needed adaptability to the team.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

While the other position groups may be getting more attention (the bigs because of the addition of highly-touted freshman Akok Akok, the guards because this is UConn), Dan Hurley’s wings may be the key to taking the Huskies over the hump this year. There’s existing talent and projectability, which means these players’ progressions can be unexpected. Well, hopefully.

Regardless, the team has been sorely lacking versatility the past few years, and the development of the wings this year is the hinge on which the Huskies’ success will swing.

Tyler Polley is the standout among the group, as the lanky junior developed into a consistent player on both ends of the court last season. Polley’s shooting is his biggest strength, knocking down 38 percent of his 3-pointers last season, but just as important is how he improved at being able to create for himself. As a freshman, he needed the ball off the pass, but he’s become more comfortable shooting off the bounce. Combine that with a solid straight-line drive (and the ability to improve) and you’ve got a solid off-ball wing. Increased versatility on defense could turn Polley from a quality role player into a secret star. UConn’s roster makeup this year could demand some unorthodox lineups, and keeping an offensive threat like Polley on the floor for all of those lineups could create mismatches in the Huskies’ favor.

Defensively, Polley has already proven himself to be solid when guarding similar players—long wings who can put up a shot or drive if they get a step on their man. Learning to guard multiple positions, whether it be switching onto smaller guards or playing up on bigs in the high post, would be a huge benefit to the Huskies. Whether he should prioritize defensive versatility or becoming an even more dangerous shooter is up for debate, since Polley is one of only two returning Huskies who converted his threes at an above-average rate (the other being Christian Vital). Maybe he’ll improve in both areas. Let’s be optimistic again this year.

In theory, Polley’s backup will be Sid Wilson, but if he isn’t ready to be as steady a contributor, a guard or big could spell Polley more often. Wilson showed potential last season and proved himself to be a talented shot-blocker, but needs a lot of improvement in order to help the team. Even on defense, Wilson was truly only productive when swatting shots, and since he averaged fewer than one per game, he’ll need to make a consistent impact on defense in order to earn the same minutes he played last season. Increased foot speed and a less aggressive mindset could make him a better defender.

On the other end of the floor, Wilson will need to show he can contribute in one area before defenses take him seriously. Last season, his offensive game lacked any sort of polish, as he struggled to adjust to the speed and size of the collegiate level. His true shooting percentage ranked last among scholarship players, and he didn’t create opportunities for his teammates, with or without the ball in his hand. There’s reason to think he’ll be better on the scoring end, and he has a lot of room for improvement, but he needs significant improvement on offense to become a net positive, even as his defensive game matures.

With a lack of depth among true wings, we’re counting UConn’s two walk-ons as wings, which is okay because they probably won’t run the offense, and none of them are taller than 6-foot-5, so they aren’t exactly bigs either. Matt Garry is a sophomore in his first full season with the team after earning walk-on status last February. Garry was recruited by Jim Calhoun to play Division III ball at St. Joseph’s, but chose UConn for its academic programs.