Progress is non-linear. Or, at least, UConn basketball needs it to be.
Reeling off two straight losses—both blowouts, both preventable—the Huskies have their backs against the wall. They’ll have to play nearly blemish-free basketball for the rest of the season in order to make the NCAA Tournament, and they haven’t shown many indications that they will be able to do so.
Their record so far looks like a team that’s on the right track, but hasn’t put everything together just yet. Despite having talent and defensive ability and generally just a handful of things a team would need in order to win basketball games, it hasn’t translated to success just yet.
The good news for UConn (9-5, 0-2 AAC) so far is that Tulane is the type of team to start a winning streak against. Although the Green Wave is off to a good start (9-5, 1-1) in Ron Hunter’s first year as head coach, they haven’t been particularly impressive on the court so far.
They have made strides on offense, to be fair, converting their threes at a much more efficient rate, although it remains to be seen whether this is a product of playing a week schedule so far. They still struggle on defense, though, particularly in the interior.
The improvement has been led by a pair of transfers, in TeShaun Hightower (from Georgia) and K.J. Lawson, making his return to the AAC after a stop at Kansas. The two veterans are the focal point of Hunter’s offense, with Rhode Island transfer and former Dan Hurley understudy Christion Thompson pitching in. The trio accounts for the majority of Tulane’s scoring, and the three wings are both pretty versatile.
Hunter tends to run smaller lineups with the first iteration of his Tulane, which is advantageous to the Huskies, who, to put it mildly, have been getting bodied lately. Despite the intensity of Christian Vital on defense and the shot-blocking prowess of Akok Akok, the Huskies have been getting beat inside far too often for sustainable success. Against a team that often sets up four players around the perimeter, getting bullied in the post doesn’t seem like it could be as big a problem.
Of course, it’s dependent on the Huskies’ center rotation, which has been inconsistent so far. Josh Carlton looks as if he’s taken a step back from a productive sophomore season, and Isaiah Whaley’s improvement, while legitimate, still hasn’t gotten him to the level of a strong starter. It’s possible that a good performance from either one in tonight’s game could give them the starting position for the foreseeable future.
While it didn’t seem like this would be the case before the season started, UConn’s matchup against Tulane seems like one of the season’s most important games. A big win could make a big difference for the rest of conference play. And, of course, a loss would effectively end the season.
Prediction: Thankfully, I’m not pessimistic at the moment. It will be close, and they’ll struggle at times, but the Huskies should come away with the win. UConn 67, Tulane 61.
HOW TO WATCH
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Connecticut
When: 9 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network