Dan Hurley is known as a rebuilder. A program reviver of sorts. He did it at Wagner, he did at Rhode Island and now he’s on his way to doing it at UConn.
Hurley spent six seasons in charge of Rhode Island men’s basketball, a program that he inherited in 2012 as they came off a 7-24 record under Jim Baron. They had one of the worst defenses in college basketball and were one of the worst shooting teams as well.
By the end of his term, though he had taken them to two NCAA tournaments and won a regular season and conference tournament. He left Rhode Island with a .579 winning percentage (195-113) and improved his record every year from the year before in all but one season, 2015-16.
At the helm of UConn men’s basketball, he inherited a middling 14-18 team that was struggling in the American. A Kevin Ollie team that was in the 14th percentile in per game scoring despite having the best scoring season of guard Jalen Adams’ career. It was a team that only ranked in the top 100 in the country in one statistic – free throw percentage (62nd).
Hurley is going into his third year in Storrs, after finishing 16-17 and 19-12 in his first two seasons, respectively. It’s time to ask the question, what can we expect from this team based on what he did in his third year at Rhode Island?
The first thing to look at is the roster composition of the two schools at this particular phase of their Hurley rebuilds.
Hurley was able to finish third in the A-10 with a 23-10 record in 2014-15 despite having a roster that had just one RSCI Top-100 recruit in guard Jared Terrell, who was ranked No. 68 out of Brewster Academy. They went on a run into the A-10 Tournament but narrowly lost in the semi-final to Dayton 56-52.
That Rhode Island team had just two player average double digits in scoring, one player with five rebounds or more per game and no one with three or more assists per game.
They were incredibly guard-heavy, with nine on the roster to just three forwards and a pair of centers. Their tallest player was 6-foot-8 and yet they were one of the best blocking teams in the country – with 5.6 per game which was 11th in the nation, according to basketball-reference.
UConn has a much more power-packed lineup to work with. They have eight or nine players who will play a significant role – including four Top-100 recruits in their respective classes.
They’re guard heavy as well, but not nearly as much as that URI team was. They have four or five legitimate contributors at the one and two spots. They also have a formidable wing group and frontcourt on paper as well, and six players 6-foot-9 and over.
Hurley was able to finish 19-12 with a transitioning roster last season, much better than his 14-18 finish in year two with the Rams.
There are also some remarkable statistical similarities between the two teams as well, namely on defense. Hurley’s teams just don’t allow 3-point attempts and have a propensity to block their opponents out of the gym.
Last year, UConn was one of the best blocking teams in the country, averaging six per game, which was the fourth-best in the nation. They also had a much taller team, which has now only grown with the additions of Adama Sanogo and Javonte Brown, who’s a legitimate 7-footer.
While the 2014-15 URI team struggled to score, they did had a top-35 defense in the country. They allowed the lowest 3-point percentage in the nation, 26.5%, even though they were among college basketball’s worst shooters.
They were also in the top-100 in finishing their 2-point attempts, so they played to their strengths. UConn was among the bottom 100 schools in 2-point percentage last year.
UConn was a top-20 team in 3-point makes and attempts allowed last year, which should theoretically improve with added height. On the other hand, though, Hurley has said that he’s open to running a multi-point guard lineup, so that may not necessarily be true.
And despite a height disadvantage, they had everyone in their rotation contributing off the glass. Everyone who averaged more than 10 minutes per game also grabbed at least two boards.
UConn had a more productive offense, but not nearly as good of a defense. They were more middle of the pack in both than good in either.
The Huskies had a much better shooting team – potentially as a result of the extra length – despite having a deeper rotation and fewer guards. UConn was pretty average from deep but had a few bright spots in James Bouknight and Christian Vital. That should only improve this upcoming season with the addition of R.J. Cole and a health Tyler Polley.
Neither team really turned the ball over either, with just 13.7 and 14.2 per game for URI and UConn, respectively. UConn could reduce that even further since their biggest culprits, Vital and Alterique Gilbert, are no longer with the program. However, that might be negligible early in the season due to some roster turnover and layoffs.
UConn lost some talent coming into this season, but they added something they didn’t have a ton of last season — depth. Instead of facing a game with just seven scholarship players on the roster eligible to have play, Hurley has a full 13 guys he can use to build a rotation once Akok Akok returns from his Achilles injury. They also have some promising freshmen and transfer players this season. They look to be in a better spot than Hurley was at Rhode Island in year three.
The Huskies will also likely face even more road bumps as they continue forward from here. They already lost two weeks of time in the gym due to a positive COVID-19 test earlier this month. They do have a better facilities available to them than Hurley did in Kingston, as well as a superb training and conditioning staff, but there will be challenges. Whether that materializes in an unpredictable, ever-changing schedule or even further shutdowns, there will be headaches. If Hurley and Co. can keep them from becoming deafening migraines, then they could be in business. If not, it will be quite apparent.