A new season is here! That’s good news for UConn, because the last three haven’t been all that fun, as they’ve missed the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons for the first time since 1847 (don’t fact-check me on that).
But that’s in the past, and the Huskies have a real chance of making it through an American Athletic Conference season relatively unscathed, as they’re actually deep enough to withstand one or two injuries now. We don’t exactly know what the team will look like, or how they’ll play, but they’ll be better and they’ll win more games. For right now, that’s good enough.
They shouldn’t have any trouble against Sacred Heart (0-1), which opened its season with a 46-point loss to Providence, in which seven different Friars finished in double figures. That’s good news for Dan Hurley, who’s hoping to catch his freshmen up to speed quickly. He won’t have point guard James Bouknight, will have to sit out due to a team-imposed suspension, but swingman Jalen Gaffney and the highly-touted Akok Akok will be ready to go, and Akok could even appear in the starting lineup.
Northeast native Anthony Latina returns for his seventh season on the Pioneers’ bench, and his first where the team looks to be in good shape, as they return four starters from a team that finished tied for third in the Northeast Conference last season. While that shouldn’t spell trouble for the Huskies, the Pioneers aren’t your typical early-season patsy either. They’re capable of playing big and small and have enough depth to match up with major conference teams. Whether or not they have the ability is another question altogether.
E.J. Anosike begins the attack, and is probably the NEC’s best returning offensive player, and he’s matched by reigning conference Defensive Player of the Year Jare’l Spellman, averaging three blocks a game. You might be wondering why a team with the best offensive player and the best defensive player was only tied for third in the conference. That would be because neither showed much on the opposite end of the court.
In fact, unless the Pioneers get some major individual improvements, they might not have a true two-way player. Freshman Tyler Thomas might become that option as the team’s sixth man, but he’s not quite ready to match up against high-level opponents yet, and Kinnon LaRose, the team’s crafty small forward, is truly a small forward—his 6-foot-3 size isn’t likely to give players like Tyler Polley much trouble.
Sacred Heart will likely be an NEC contender, as they’re a tough matchup for any minor-conference team, but they don’t look to be constructed to upset major-conference opponents. That said, the first game of the year can be iffy. The Huskies’ last few season debuts have looked like this:
2018: 10-point win over Morehead State
2017: 12-point win over Colgate
2016: loss to Wagner
2015: 44-point blowout over Maine
Astute fans might note that the blowout win came in a season the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament. Even with early-season jitters and a roster that hasn’t fully settled into itself yet, good teams tend to look good in their season debuts. It’s not the end of the world if UConn doesn’t blow out Sacred Heart, but it would certainly be promising to see that happen. If they lose...we’ll re-examine our predictions.
Prediction: The Huskies overwhelm the Pioneers despite looking rusty for a while, but pull away in the second half. UConn 75, Sacred Heart 55.
How to Watch
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SNY, ESPN3
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network