Even with star sophomore James Bouknight unavailable due to a hyperextended left elbow, the UConn men’s basketball team won convincingly on the road against Butler, defeating the Bulldogs 72-60 for their second-straight Big East road win. The win elevated the Huskies to 6-1 on the season and 3-1 in the Big East. Here are some takeaways from UConn’s latest win.
Tyler Polley, the hottest shooter on the planet
Dan Madigan: Earlier this season, we saw how stagnant this offense could be when Bouknight was not on the floor. But that was before Polley became the most lethal shooter in college basketball. In the last three halves of basketball he’s played, Polley has scored 42 points and shot 62.5 percent from three on 16 attempts.
Polley isn’t going to shoot over 60 percent from deep all season (at least, I don’t think so), but his emergence as a scorer came at the perfect time. He shouldered a good amount of Bouknight’s scoring load and helped space out the offense, allowing the post players to operate without being double-teamed down low and giving guards like Brendan Adams, Tyrese Martin and RJ Cole lanes to slash to the basket.
If Polley can stay a consistent 3-point threat all season, he’d alleviate a ton of pressure offensively from Bouknight. And with the way Martin has been playing, maybe the formula for this UConn team isn’t one singular second scorer, but two or three players like Polley or Martin that can consistently chip in alongside Bouknight.
This team is an offensive rebounding juggernaut
Patrick Martin: The sample size was too small for this take after DePaul. But after Marquette and now Butler, it’s safe to say the Huskies are the best in the conference in offensive rebounding. They led the Big East in rebounding margin heading into yesterday’s game, and then added nine more vs. the Bulldogs. It’s not just one player gobbling them up either; five different players crashed the offensive glass Sunday, a gang rebounding effort spearheaded by Tyrese Martin, Isaiah Whaley, Adama Sanogo, and Josh Carlton. The senior leadership of Carlton and Whaley, combined with the additions of Martin and Sanogo, has totally transformed the Huskies’ rebounding fortunes. Remember the days when 6-foot-1 Christian Vital was the team’s leading rebounder?
Ball screen defense has been fun to watch
Martin: Another testament to the upperclassmen leadership has been UConn’s communication on switches and overall defensive attentiveness. The bigs are doubling ball screens, and Whaley’s artful hedging —which is quickly becoming the stuff of legends — has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team. But beyond that, the team just flies around the court at a frenzied rate. Closeouts and helps are coming so much quicker, teams are hesitating and stalling out their ball movement. Year three under Hurley and it's clear the team knows where it needs to be on defense, and can shift as a unit.
Now DePaul, Marquette, and Butler won’t be blowing the doors off many teams this year. The true test will come against the Villanova's of the world and a rematch against Creighton, but the early season results look promising.
A boring win, and that’s a good thing
Madigan: Compared to some of the other games that have happened this season, this was about as uneventful of a win as UConn has put together in recent memory. Even without Bouknight, Dan Hurley and the Huskies outplayed a team from start to finish, and with the exception of a brief 11-2 run from Butler, never let the Bulldogs really get close. Butler isn’t a Big East title contender this season, and really only a slight step up from the competition UConn faced last year in the American, but even last year, UConn didn’t always handle those teams with ease. Bouknight aside, the fact that the Huskies took care of business on the road to win a game that they were supposed to win by a comfortable margin speaks volumes to how well Hurley’s rebuild is going — for the first time in too long, this program will likely be ranked in the AP Top 25 come Monday.