UConn men’s basketball showed out in its first contest of the 2021-22 season, nearly reaching the 100-point plateau and doubling CCSU’s score in a 99-48 victory over the Blue Devils at Gampel Pavilion. While CCSU is a sub-350 KenPom team and a strong victory is an expected result, the home side still impressed, even beating the KenPom projection going in.
Intensity from jump
Shawn McGrath: UConn played this same game last season in the same venue to open last year’s campaign. The necessary caveats are that it was a unique offseason and there was no crowd to bring the energy, but the Huskies allowed a bad CCSU team to put up 75 points. While it ended up being a nearly 30-point win, the home side was up only seven at the half. It was a disappointing start to the game, something the Huskies were known for last season.
That was not the case Tuesday night.
The Huskies led by 29 at the half, nearly covering the 32-point spread after 20 minutes. The crowd was into it early and surely helped the hosts out. With such a large lead at the half, it would have been easy to lose focus. Instead, UConn started the second hallf on an 8-2 run to start the second half and outscored their opponents by 20, even with the game well in hand.
Dan Madigan: It’s really hard to overstate how impressive UConn looked defensively Tuesday night. Yes, it was CCSU, but the Huskies used their size and speed to their advantage and put the clamps on the Blue Devils for 40 minutes. While CCSU shot better than 40% for a good chunk of the game from the floor, it was mainly because there way fewer shots being put up — the Huskies were stealing, tipping, or blocking just about everything, forcing 29 turnovers.
Isaiah Whaley and Martin were the usual stalwarts defensively, and Akok Akok looked like his old self too, but sophomores Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson may have been the most improved. Sanogo finished with three blocks and looked much lighter on his feet compared to last season, while Jackson added three steals and a block and used his athleticism to keep just about everything in front of him.
With so much size top to bottom, it’s easy to envision some UConn lineups where the Huskies can switch up constantly and guard every position. That’s an incredible luxury to have.
Shawn: UConn missed more than its fair share of lay-ups in 2020-21, frustrating players and fans alike. On the season, they shot just 48.3 percent from inside the arc. While the Huskies have a large size advantage over CCSU, something the broadcast harped on throughout the evening, which makes interior scoring easier, their performance inside was still encouraging.
The Huskies were 30-49 on two-pointers, good for 61.2 percent. Most importantly, RJ Cole and Jalen Gaffney, the two guards who will have the ball in their hands most often, combined to go 9-12, while Akok, Adama Sanogo, and Isaiah Whaley, the three big men who got the most playing time, were 16-22.
Again, we understand the opponent, but such a large improvement from last season could be a sign of things to come. UConn is loaded in the frontcourt. Akok, Sanogo, or Whaley, all strong defenders in their own right, will have plenty of playing time but also enough rest to stay fresh, and Samson Johnson may be able to contribute as well.
Madigan: Sanogo was incredible. He feasted on the smaller, inferior talent from CCSU and dropped 20 points on 9-11 shooting with ease. He showed the same touch we saw as a freshman, but seems to be more aggressive on the boards and is much more mobile on both ends. If he can stay out of foul trouble and make an impact on both ends like he did Tuesday night, UConn has a chance to have a very good season.
Jackson settling in
Madigan: Jackson got the start Tuesday night and looked much more comfortable on both ends than he did at any point last season. The sophomore scored nine points and added six rebounds, three assists, and three steals on the night. He was an absolute menace defensively. Offensively, he had some success getting by his man and hitting floaters in the lane, and missed his only 3-point attempt. But overall, his shot looks more natural and seems to have improved since last year.
If Jackson can play perimeter defense at an elite level, his scoring is almost a bonus, even on this year’s team where scoring may be an issue at times. But even if he isn’t scoring, Jackson has shown the ability to be a great distributor. As good as Cole and Gaffney are, I have a feeling the offense will flow more and more through Jackson as the season rolls on.