I’ve said this in most of the other season-preview articles we’ve posted here, but it bears repeating: this is going to be a weird season. So weird, in fact, that we weren’t even sure of the details of this game until Monday. (In case you’re wondering: 8 p.m., Gampel, FS1.)
Nonetheless, the game will be played, which means we’ll need to preview it, even if the opponent is Central Connecticut. I mean absolutely no disrespect to Donyell Marshall, one of the greatest players in UConn history and someone who is genuinely doing something admirable in lending a name of his stature to improve a small program like the Blue Devils’, when I say that Central Connecticut stinks. A 4-27 record isn’t what you want, and the roster will need to make significant improvements in order to have much of a chance in the Northeast Conference this year.
The good news is that the Blue Devils basically have nowhere to go but up. This year, they lose only a pair of real contributors, and have a team that is almost entirely sophomores and juniors with the exception of one senior. If everyone is healthy, they do have some shooters in Ian Krishnan (who converted 42 of his 93 attempts in an injury-shortened season) and Jamir Reed. Krishnan will be their top scorer again this season, but they don’t have much in the way of ball movement, as the team averaged only 10.1 assists per game last season, with combo forward Reed being the team leader in assists.
Marshall is surely hoping one of two junior college transfers will fill the point guard role, as he looks how to fit Nigel Scantlebury and Tre Mitchell into the mostly-intact rotations. Both fit solid profiles for playing at the NEC level, and getting literally anybody to facilitate the passing game can only benefit the Blue Devils.
Against UConn, though, the team’s biggest disadvantage is their lack of height. Only sophomore center Ola Olamuyiwa, little-used this past season, stands above 6-foot-7, which does mean UConn small forward Tyler Polley would be Central Connecticut’s tallest player. Defensively, the Blue Devils will have to rely on Xavier Wilson to block some shots and Stephane Ayangma to clean up the boards in order to have a shot against the Huskies.
Thankfully for UConn fans, this shouldn’t be like the early-season games they’ve become accustomed to in the past half-decade, where the Huskies often struggled to put away inferior regional teams. That was due to a lack of depth and high-level talent, both of which Dan Hurley has in droves this season. James Bouknight and R.J. Cole alone should be enough to take big leads against a low-end NEC team, and an excellent 3-point shooter in Polley and tons of talented freshmen available off the bench are enough to keep those leads even when the first unit is on the bench. The biggest sign of UConn’s depth this year is that the first unit and second unit don’t have to share any players.
Of course, it’s going to be a weird season, and the Huskies recently taking two weeks off from team activities due to a positive COVID-19 test means that you might see some anomalies. But that’s why tune-up games exist, and the Huskies found a good partner for one, with bigger tests to come later in the year.
What to Look For
When UConn has the ball: What roles do Bouknight and Cole take, and where does Jalen Gaffney fit into the backcourt squeeze? With conflicting reports coming out of this summer’s private workouts, what do top recruit Andre Jackson’s top skills appear to be?
When Central Connecticut has the ball: Do the JUCO transfers offer enough to the offense to take the Blue Devils out of the cellar of the NEC? Does Dan Hurley try to go with big lineups to physically dominate a smaller team, or does he stick with the three-guard lineups he’s typically built his programs around? How do freshman Richie Springs and Adama Sanogo stack up defensively against their first taste of Division I action?
Prediction: I have a hard time believing this one will be close. The Huskies will have some kinks to work out, but unless the Blue Devils go through unexpected growth, they’ll still be among the worst teams in a weak NEC. If the Huskies don’t win by a good amount, that would portend poorly for the rest of the season. UConn 78, Central Connecticut 52.
How to watch
When: 8 p.m. Eastern
Radio: UConn Sports Network
UPDATE: Per UConn, Tyrese Martin is ineligible for tonight’s game.
Just hours before the Huskies start their season against Central Connecticut in Gampel Pavilion, UConn announced that Martin will be ineligible for Wednesday’s game against the Blue Devils for playing in an unsanctioned summer league game this offseason.
Martin was ruled immediately eligible in September, roughly five months after transferring to UConn from Rhode Island in April. In his two seasons at URI, Martin averaged 10.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and previously was recruited by Dan Hurley to play in Kingston before Hurley left for Storrs.
When he becomes eligible again for the Huskies’ matchup against Hartford on Friday, Martin should be able to immediately carve out a role in Hurley’s rotation as a physical, experienced guard that can rebound and guard multiple positions on defense.