As the 2020 college sports season came to an end so suddenly, it was hard to process everything that was happening.
With the cancellation of winter championships and spring sports, UConn played its final contest as a member of the American Athletic Conference in mid-March, before the men’s team could take the court for this year’s conference tourney.
With that end, UConn’s KenPom ranking went final as well. The Huskies ended their second year under Dan Hurley ranked 52nd, their highest finish since being no. 26 to end 2016.
After taking some time to collect ourselves, we at The UConn Blog have started looking back on the season that was. There’s a review of the Huskies’ back court and front court performance and where those units are heading in the future, and a look at the women’s hoops season as well.
This article is going go through UConn’s 2019-2020 KenPom performance, how it stacks up against previous years, and how the year-over-year improvement compares to other Dan Hurley teams.
No. 52 finish
The years most comparable to this past one are 2013 (49th), 2010 (51st), and 2007 (56th).
Were all of those seasons signs of big things to come, including two pre-championship years? Heck yes!
Should we get our hopes unreasonably high for 2021? Probably not! But we have plenty of reason to believe things will continue getting better. The current state of UConn is probably most like 2007; it’s likely two years away from becoming a real dangerous contender.
As you can see in the graph above, things took an unprecedented, precipitous fall by the end of the Kevin Ollie era, and Hurley has done well to claw out of it. UConn finished 179th in 2018, and then 98th in Dan Hurley’s first season, a 45% improvement. He followed it up with another large leap, improving 46% to 52nd in 2020.
It’s also worth noting, UConn would have probably finished 2020 even higher if two starters didn’t get injured during the season and if this team had a chance to play in the conference tournament and NIT.
A few other takeaways from this historical data: Jim Calhoun’s average ranking during the KenPom era (which starts in the 2001-2002 season) is 22.27. Kevin Ollie’s was 73. Dan Hurley’s is at 75 right now, though the future seems bright.
Notable individual performances
Christian Vital ended a super productive four-year career with a fantastic senior season. The numbers tell us that he was a decently efficient player, especially given his high usage, and that he was a good shooter, great at defensive rebounding and getting to the free throw line, and elite at hitting his free throws, finishing 17th in the country in free-throw percentage. Vital also finished 10th in the country in steal percentage, something he had always been among the best in the country at during his time in Storrs.
Elsewhere on the roster, Akok Akok had the 28th-best block percentage in the country over his 25 games played. Isaiah Whaley (43rd) and Josh Carlton (150th) also had notable national rankings in this statistic. Both Carlton (20th) and Whaley (97th) stood out for their offensive rebounding percentages and Whaley had the team’s highest overall offensive rating at 114.5, good for 234th in the country. It doesn’t mean Whaley was the team’s best offensive player, but this is still very good for someone who was buried on the depth chart at one point.
As for the breakout star of the season, James Bouknight ended his freshman campaign with top-500 rankings in offensive rating, fouls drawn, and free throw percentage, and was already one of the best players in the AAC, landing in the top-25 in many individual statistics in conference play. Some of the noticeable freshman seasons Pomeroy’s data compares Bouknight’s performance to are Lance Stephenson’s 2010 at Cincinnati and Malik Beasley’s 2016 year at Florida State.
Both of those guys left for the pros and have gone on to have some success at the next level. As far as we know, Bouknight plans to return to the Huskies next year.
Other Hurley rebuilds
Earlier we mentioned the percentage improvements so far in the Hurley era at UConn. Here’s a look back at his two previous stops to see how things went over the years.
Starting at Wagner in 2010, Hurley inherited a team that went 5-26 in the previous season on its way to a KenPom finish of 335th. He brought them up to 230th in his first year (a 31% improvement) and then 102nd in his second season (55% better) before earning the job at Rhode Island. So no year three, but his Wagner teams made similar leaps as UConn did in the first two years.
URI had some good runs under Jim Baron, but things tanked in his final season there with a 7-24 record and no. 255 finish in KenPom in 2012. Hurley brought the Rams to 193rd in his first year (14% improvement), 115th the following year (40%), and 60th in his third season (47%), good for a 73% improvement over three years.
Rhode Island took a step back in Hurley’s fourth season, finishing 82nd, before peaking at 34th in year five and 52nd the next season, before UConn hired him, making the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 in each of those last two years in Kingston.
Extrapolating these numbers to make a guess about the future would be irresponsible, but the important takeaway is that Dan Hurley has proven himself to swiftly move programs forward and his early years at UConn have shown similarly positive results as his previous head coaching stops.
Aw, what they heck, let’s irresponsibly extrapolate. If Hurley’s five-year KenPom improvement at URI happens at UConn, he’d have the Huskies at around 22nd in the country by 2022. That sounds fun!