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Takeaways from UConn men’s basketball’s win over Sacred Heart

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Huskies did enough to win their first game of the season comfortably.

UConn’s Tyler Polley puts up a shot in the first half against Sacred Heart.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Game one the UConn men’s basketball team’s 2019-20 season is in the books, with the Huskies rolling to an easy 89-67 win over Sacred Heart after a somewhat concerning first half. Thanks to a strong second half, UConn pulled away to get to 1-0 on the year.

Even though it’s just one game in a long season, there are still some meaningful takeaways both good and bad from tonight’s win.

Josh Carlton still has room to improve, and that’s scary

As expected, Sacred Heart couldn’t do much about Josh Carlton. His 18 points and eight rebounds were both team-highs, as the junior added four blocks in just 22 minutes on the floor. The scary part for future opponents is, Carlton still had room to grow.

He needs to be a little bit better finishing around the rim. Most of his shots came from inside three feet, and missed some that should have gone in, especially against smaller competition. He shot 60.7 percent from two last year, but never attempted more than 13 shots. If he can raise his efficiency to match his volume, we’ll be looking at an all-conference player by the end of the year.

Defensive dominance

Even when the offense couldn’t get going in the first half, UConn did a great job locking things down on defense. The Huskies got in the passing lanes for easy steals, but picked their moments wisely to not get burned for easy layups. That led to 10 steals against the Pioneers, seven of which came from Christian Vital.

On top of that, UConn took advantage of its size against a smaller Sacred Heart team, racking up nine blocks. If they can continue to protect the rim at this rate, it will make it easier for Vital and the guards to get steals; they can play closer on their defender and gamble more if they know Carlton (two blocks tonight), Akok Akok (four blocks) and Sid Wilson (one block) can make any shot around the rim difficult.

New and improved Sidney Wilson

With all the exciting offseason additions, fans could be forgiven if they overlooked the second-year players that have the potential to make the jump. One game doesn’t mean much, but Wilson looked much more confident out there, posting 13 points on 6-10 shooting with four rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes off the bench. He gave the offense a much-needed boost in the first half.

Wilson is still all arms-and-legs-flying-towards-the-basket in his main approach, but this time it resulted in positive basketball results. Hopefully he can build on this and be a consistent contributor in an important reserve role.

First game jitters

It’s game one, so we will give Dan Hurley and UConn some slack, but this game wasn’t the prettiest, especially at the start. The Huskies were dominated on the glass, with Sacred Heart outrebounding UConn 49-41 and surrendering 19 offensive rebounds. While it seems that the Huskies are once again going to be blocking shots at a high clip this year, they’re going to need someone on the weak side to box out and clean the glass better.

Christian Vital also wasn’t a factor in the first half, scoring just two points. If he and the Huskies want to return to the NCAA tournament, Vital needs to take and make smarter shots throughout the game to keep up with better opponents.

Zone Busters

Between Tyler Polley and Wilson, UConn had success breaking down the Sacred Heart zone for easy looks on offense. One of them would flash to the free throw line and get the ball, leading to an open jumper or an easy pass for a layup.

This isn’t more than textbook zone offense, but it’s something UConn hasn’t executed consistently in years. If Polley, Wilson and others can get to the middle and hit that open jump shot a handful of times, it will lead to easy looks for 3-pointers or layups time and time again. While it was Polley and Wilson in that role often tonight, Whaley, Brendan Adams or Vital could hop in and do just as much damage.