This is part two of three in our UConn Men’s Basketball Season Review. To read part one, which focused on the guards, click here.
The smallest unit on the UConn men’s basketball’s roster, at least by population, were the wings. With just two underclassmen (and a senior suspended for the season before conference play began), the Huskies had neither experience nor depth at the wing position. Nonetheless, it became a productive unit for the team when operating at full strength. Here’s how each of the wings performed this season, and how they can progress into the next season.
Tyler Polley had a breakout year in 2018-19, developing into an important role player in his sophomore season and one who exhibited more room to improve. Most important in his growth was the development of his three-point shot into a consistent weapon. Always the focus of his game at the collegiate level, his outside jumper is becoming something the Huskies can rely on rather than just something to take advantage of if the defense allows it.
There are two reasons why his jumper is emerging as one of the team’s best: One is that his shooting accuracy is simply improving with more experience and comfort from distance, allowing him to make jumpers when not wide open. The other is that Polley is becoming a more well-rounded basketball player, understanding the flow of the offense better, improving his footwork, and gaining the confidence to call his own number.
Most importantly in that second group, though, is figuring out how to use an inside-out game to improve his shooting at all three levels. As a freshman, Polley shot only .231 from inside the arc, a number that more than doubled to .494 as a sophomore. He’s continuing to get better opportunities from both inside and outside, and the improvement he made with his shot ensures he’s able to take advantage of most of them.
He’s also solid defensively too, so his skill isn’t purely in scoring. Polley could use some work with foot speed and versatility, but has shown strong ability to guard similar players, using his body well to both contest shots and box out (though Christian Vital often steals his rebounds). If Polley can learn to play up a size on defense, making him capable of guarding both wings and bigger power forwards, he could become a very valuable player. While he still needs work in certain areas — he has occasional lapses in focus — he’s a useful on-ball defender who can frustrate certain opponents.
While the increasingly-popular 3-and-D player prototype might not be as popular in starting units in college ball as it is in the NBA, Polley’s skills seem to fit that right now. As a member of a college starting unit, though, he’s asked to do more than camp out in the corner. While Polley isn’t relied upon to be a playmaker—his skillset is more suited to him finding his own shot—he’s not a player who needs the game to come to him either. Next year, expect him to be in a similar role in the starting lineup, but a bit better and more mature, as he works on becoming a complete player.
A redshirt freshman transfer (an unusual situation for which we have the NCAA to, uh, “credit”) from St. John’s, Sidney Wilson caught up quickly after a brief season-opening suspension. Even if he still had to adjust to game action in college ball, it was immediately clear he understood team concepts and strategies. His actual play, though, was a little more up-and-down than the team would have liked.
First, the positives. Wilson, as a defender, showed promise. At a razor-thin 6’7”, he’s not yet able to play up against traditional power forwards, but he already has the foot speed to stay with most wings and shows an understanding of the team’s defensive scheme. He displayed good shot-blocking ability on his own assignment, which is much better than blocking ability in help defense, but he still bites on shot fakes too often.
Essentially, he’s already adequate on the defensive end and all a team can realistically hope for from bench freshmen is adequacy on one end of the court. A little more versatility would go a long way in Wilson’s growth, but this isn’t a problem area by any means.
Unfortunately, he was essentially a non-factor when not a detriment on the offensive end, as his shot simply did not fall as a freshman and often didn’t look good either. Of course, shooting can be improved and college fans regularly see players who struggle as freshmen become good shooters by even their junior year.
The downside is that those players typically have a better base to build off of, while Wilson struggled to shoot jumpers from any distance. His shot may need a mechanical overhaul, because a small-ball four without floor spacing ability on offense or the ability to guard larger forwards on defense simply doesn’t have a big role in major-conference college basketball.
Frustrating too is seeing his positive attributes on offense. He’s solid at the rim. He can grab offensive rebounds. His ballhandling shows enough potential to one day be a plus. But because his shooting was so poor, defenses can simply focus entirely on stopping the things he is good at, rendering him helpful only in help roles on offense. That’s fine for a center, or for a player with a greater defensive impact. It’s not fine for a small-ball wing, for a player counted upon to spread the floor for the lead guards.
Wilson, who has three years of eligibility left, still has a lot of potential, and he’s already showed some aspects of the game he’s genuinely good at. There are paths that would allow Wilson to be a net positive role player next season. That either involves developing a secondary legitimate skill besides contesting shots, or developing competency in a few different areas. Wilson will likely find himself in a similar role next season, but as the UConn roster gets deeper in Dan Hurley’s second season at the helm, he may find himself outside the rotation if he does not continue to develop.
Only playing in parts of seven games before an indefinite suspension carried throughout the entire season, Kwintin Williams never found his niche at UConn. Known for his jumping ability and Instagram dunk compilations, the senior JUCO transfer never showed much game skill outside of deprioritized skills such as catching alley-oops and rebounding against bench units. Williams was also frequently confused on the court, failing to understand team concepts and showed very little game awareness on either end of the court. In short, he never quite got the hang of college basketball.
Williams’ size and athleticism may overwhelm less-talented opponents, but people not named Zion Williamson can’t rely on just size and athleticism (and, for the record, Zion used a tool shed’s worth of secondary skills, as if his size and athleticism wasn’t enough). Williams may have a stint in American minor leagues and other local circuits, but he does not appear to have a future as a high-level professional player.