UConn men’s basketball kicked off its season with a convincing win over Central Connecticut State University. Although the performance was far from perfect, Husky fans have a lot to be excited about.
Here are our takeaways from the opening action of a 2020-2021 campaign that is sure to be an interesting one.
Bouknight looks the part
Patrick Martin: If you’re on this site you already know James Bouknight is good at basketball. But one game in, we can confirm that The Leap is indeed in progress. He went downhill on the break a few times, displaying a sleeker handle and stronger frame through contact. He also showed some quick hands in passing lanes. Bouknight is the unquestioned alpha of this team.
Aman: 20 points, eight boards, assertive, and breathtakingly athletic. As Patrick noted, great to see signs of improvement from last season. Fantastic opening effort from the sophomore
My pro comparison for James Bouknight is Mewtwo, tbh— The UConn Blog (@TheUConnBlog) November 26, 2020
A deep team with strong leadership
Patrick: Christian Vital — now hooping in Germany for BG Goettingen — was the heart and soul of the team last year. With the unquestioned vocal leader gone, a lot of guys seem to be stepping up. RJ Cole was demonstrative and vocal. Tyler Polley was quick to huddle the team up after defensive possessions. Brendan Adams and Isaiah Whaley were always talking. The team’s upperclassmen appear to be taking the reigns in the leadership department.
I’m also excited to see the cohesion from veterans Brendan Adams, Tyler Polley, and Isaiah Whaley, all of which showed they could play their role. Whaley and Polley in particular have completely shed their ‘passive underclassmen’ labels. Both seniors gave the team a solidifying presence in an uneven first half. Whaley does the dirty work; he protects the rim, hedges with energy, and get the ball out of your hands on offense. Polley hunts for his shot but also showed impressive post-injury mobility on switches and aggression on the offensive glass. A few of his pump fakes scrambled CCSU’s defense and led to crisp ball movement. It’s really awesome to see two Ollie holdovers find a niche in this team.
As for Brendon Adams, he was rock-solid the way he had been most of last season. There is talent all over the roster, talent that wasn’t here when Polley, Whaley or Adams first got here. But the older guys are bringing a lot to this team. It’s early, but that’s the recipe of a successful team in March.
Sanogo, Cole and Jackson deliver promising debuts
Aman: This roster really has been revamped as Hurley kicks off his third season and the combination of experience and new talent is downright tantalizing. R.J. Cole had some mistakes but clearly has the ability to be a difference maker and Andre Jackson looks he can be a solid contributor as a freshman. While Tyrese Martin didn’t play Wednesday night, he adds even more depth to the equation.
This team will be getting Akok Akok back at some point, which will be amazing. But Adama Sanogo really shined in his Husky debut, and should be in line for more minutes than we may have thought. He’s looking like the kind of solid big man a team can depend on, giving UConn some big buckets on his way to eight points and seven boards in 17 minutes. Senior Josh Carlton was quiet, logging only three minutes on the night. He may see more time against other teams but may also be ceding time to Sanogo as well as maybe Javonte Brown, a very large fellow who also showed some promise playing a few minutes off the bench.
Patrick: As someone with a broken jumper at 31 years old, I have a soft spot for Andre Jackson. He’s Rajon Rondo in wing form. As I’ve assured myself for the last decade, there are more ways to impact a game other than shooting. Disrupt passing lanes, push the ball, set up your teammates, and overall just fly around the court making plays. Jackson did all of that and unlike me, his shot can improve. The freshman is a gamer.
As for Cole, he may not get much lift on his shot, but man does it look smooth. It sure will be nice to have not one but two or even three players on the team that shoot well. Is that even allowed?
Clean up that defense
Patrick: While the second half was a welcome chaser to the first-half shot of well vodka, consistent defensive effort will be something to watch going forward. UConn defenders did a poor job of keeping their men out of the lane. The second half was a a different story, yes, but still a few lapses put CCSU back on the cusp of single-digit territory. UConn’s depth is as advertised, so any miscommunications on defense or mental lapses should result in a quick hook from The Carpenter. The UConn teams of recent years that gave away double-digit leads like they’re candy will need to become a distant memory in the Big East, where the level of competition is better night in, night out.