Basketball is back! No. 24 UConn men’s basketball will play its first contest since being ousted by Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, matching up against CCSU at Gampel Pavilion. The Blue Devils return to the court looking to improve upon last year’s 5-16 record, which did not earn them a bid to the Northeast Conference Tournament.
When: 6:30 p.m. Eastern
Where: Gampel Pavilion
TV: FS1/FOX Sports App
NOTE: Only the beginning of the game will appear on FS1. FOX is trialing whip-around coverage with seven Big East games and will show a portion of each game, then return to the most interesting contests. However, UConn’s matchup will be shown uninterrupted and in its entirety on the FOX Sports App.
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Line: UConn -32, over/under 144
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 88, CCSU 56
College basketball — normal college basketball with full arenas and energized student sections, will make its return to Storrs on Tuesday as the UConn men’s basketball program will spend opening night taking on a familiar in-state foe in Central Connecticut.
The Huskies and Blue Devils also started the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season with a matchup in the same building. James Bouknight grabbed 20 points and eight rebounds to lead the home side to a 102-75 victory. However, Bouknight is no longer with UConn, as he is now in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets, while CCSU has gone through some changes of their own.
Donyell Marshall, who spent the last five seasons leading the Blue Devils, mutually agreed to part ways with the school. He ended his tenure with a 40-104 record as head coach, never finishing higher than eighth in the Northeast Conference. He was replaced by someone else associated with UConn, Patrick Sellers.
Sellers, a CCSU alum and first-time head coach at the collegiate level, was previously an assistant at the school from 1999-2003, though he most recently was on the staff at Fairfield. He also spent three seasons as UConn’s Director of Basketball Operations and was promoted to associate head coach for an additional three years, spending 2004-2010 with the Huskies.
Sellers will be playing the kids early and often, as he has eight rostered freshmen, comprising half of his 16-man roster, while Hegel Augustin also joins the team as a graduate transfer from Division II Glenville State College (West Virginia).
The story is different for UConn, as despite Bouknight’s departure, he’s the only major factor from last season that is no longer on the roster, though Brandon Adams and Josh Carlton both transferred to George Washington and Houston, respectively.
UConn head coach Dan Hurley also brought in a four-man freshman class that is ranked No. 17 by Rivals. Headlined by top-50 prospect Jordan Hawkins, it also includes top-100 players Rahsool Diggins and Samson Johnson, while Corey Floyd Jr., a four-star guard in the Class of 2022, reclassified and joined the Huskies for this season. Hawkins’ debut will have to wait at least another game though as Hurley announced the freshman would not play Tuesday due to an ankle injury.
This strong recruiting class, combined with the returns of graduate students RJ Cole, Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley, has led to one of the deepest UConn rosters in recent memory.
When UConn has the ball
This edition of the Huskies should have a much more balanced attack. It was clear throughout last season that Bouknight was the focal point of the offense and the Huskies went how the Brooklyn native went. He was most comfortable with the ball in his hands and nearly every possession flowed through Bouknight in some fashion. However, Cole, who dished out 99 assists in 2020-21 to lead the team, should be able to be a more traditional point guard. He’s not afraid to get his own points, either, as he was one of the more prolific scorers in the country at Howard before transferring to UConn.
The Huskies also have a large stable of wing players, including sophomore Andre Jackson, Tyrese Martin and Polley, as well as three freshman guards that will factor into the equation in varying ways in Diggins, Floyd, Jr. and Hawkins. Hurley will likely be mixing in those six, as well as junior guard Jalen Gaffney, to try and see what works for his team.
On the post, Whaley will be one to watch. Already a dominant defensive player, he took a step forward on the offensive end last year and continued improvement will be a good indication of how far the Huskies might go this season.
A fully healthy Akok Akok will also be a storyline to follow, as he was treated very conservatively after returning from a torn Achilles late in 2020-21. He should be without restrictions this season and whether he can build on his impressive freshman season before his injury will be intriguing. They’ll be joined down low by more traditional big men in Johnson and Adama Sanogo.
When CCSU has the ball
UConn will look to improve from its defensive performance against the Blue Devils last season, which Hurley called “disappointing” after the game. CCSU is not nearly as long as the Huskies are, particularly at guard, and the home team’s traditionally stifling defense should be able to feed off of what will likely be an energetic crowd, as Gampel Pavilion will have a sizable amount of fans in attendance for the first time since Senior Day in March 2020.
The Huskies are stacked with elite shot blockers down low, including Akok, Sanogo and Whaley, while Johnson has plenty of size, at 6-foot-10, 200 pounds. Up top, Cole and Martin each averaged at least one steal per game last season, while Gaffney contributed 18 thefts across 23 games.
The defense will be focused on Nigel Scanlebury, who led the team in minutes last year and scored 8.2 points per game, adding 4.0 assists. Guard Tre Mitchell is the leading returning scorer, as he put up 9.4 points per contest last season. Zach Newkirk (6.7 points per game) and Stephane Ayangma (6.3 points per game) are the only returners to contribute more than 5.0 points per game.