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Takeaways from the UConn men’s basketball loss to Providence

The Huskies may not have as much depth as advertised and are clearly missing Adama Sanogo.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The UConn Huskies took a disappointing loss to Providence at the XL Center Saturday in a game that had been built up with some pretty heavy hype.

It was the program’s first home conference game with fans since joining the Big East and it was against a Providence team that appears to be better than its preseason expectations. Before the sold-out game, fans gathered on Pratt Street in an event co-hosted by the Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the Husky Ticket Project.

But the Huskies came out flat, looking lost offensively, and failed to make enough plays when they miraculously had a chance to tie it in the final minutes. It was a poor effort on many ends, here are some of our thoughts:

Tyler Polley’s shot is off

Aman: Since scoring 24 points in the Auburn game, Polley has been struggling from deep. He went 0-3 and 0-4 against Michigan State and VCU, totaling three points in those two contests. He also went 0-4 against West Virginia. Polley seemed to be back on track when he shot 3-8 beyond the arc and scored 13 points against St. Bonaventure, but missed his first six attempts against Providence before finishing 1-7.

UConn needs Tyler Polley to be more consistent. He especially can’t be struggling against better teams. It’s a long season and he has plenty of time to fix this, but the roster is already lacking in shooting ability. When Polley isn’t on, it puts a lot of stress on the rest of the offense.

Dan Madigan: In the past, Polley was able to impact a game even when his shot wasn’t falling by grabbing boards and playing solid defense. This year, he has 12 total rebounds in the month of December and hasn’t been a factor defensively. Combine this with the fact that he’s still getting a lot of offensive looks — he’s been no lower than fourth in shot attempts in these last three games.

Polley still has value as a bench shooter, but going forward, some of those minutes and looks need to go the likes of Akok Akok and potentially Samson Johnson so that the Huskies can remain stout defensively and spread shots out more.

Adama Sanogo’s absence is felt

Aman: Tyrese Martin’s return was a welcome sight. He brings so much to the floor for the Huskies, but UConn really needs Adama Sanogo back. The Huskies can’t seem to hang against stronger competition without him.

The sophomore forward’s start to the season had the makings of a breakout campaign, averaging 15.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He needs to pick up right where he left off and stay healthy all year for this UConn team to be a factor in the Big East.

Where’s the depth?

Patrick Martin: Throughout the offseason, Hurley trumpeted the team’s depth in both the frontcourt and backcourt. Well, UConn’s bench scored a whopping four points last night; one Polley trey and one Hawkins free throw. Polley’s struggles are coming at a bad time, and Jalen Gaffney has six turnovers in the last two games, which is inexcusable for a backup guard.

Is Rahsool Diggins supposedly so lost on defense that he can’t get more time? RJ Cole looked gassed at the end of the game because he’s charged with facilitating and creating. Tyrese Martin was grinding out a wrist injury. Isaiah Whaley made some uncharacteristic mental mistakes at the end.

When your best players are that gassed at the end of the game, you get a type of comeback performance that falls short. When UConn was at its woeful worst, why not empty the bench and see what they can do? What’s five to eight minutes of some Samson Johnson, Akok, Diggins, and Hawkins when you’re down 15? If the answer to all of this is that the kids aren’t ready for anything more than spot minutes, then we have an entirely different conversation on our hands.

Aman: This team might be missing another reliable ballhandler alongside Cole. Diggins hasn’t played much at all while Gaffney has been decently productive but inconsistent. His turnovers put Hurley in a tough spot; they had to keep Cole out there for 35 minutes against Providence, which is not ideal. Gaffney and Diggins need to get better to spell Cole and I’d also like to see more of Hawkins out there given his scoring ability.

Bring Back the Quick Hook

Martin: A trademark from the Jim Calhoun coaching manual, I’d love to see the return of the rapid subsitution. If the Huskies’ depth is supposedly a game-changer, would it be so bad to yank Gaffney after a few of those turnovers and throw Diggins into the fire? It would at least send a message that mistakes get you a seat on the bench.

The same logic can be applied to any position. If you have depth, you should have an ongoing competition for playing time. Martin, Cole, and Whaley should not have to play 40 minutes every night out.

It is admittedly a tricky line to toe between letting players play through mistakes and pulling them when they’re ineffective. But if everyone’s hook is the same, the opportunities should even out. Running different combinations and 10 players out there was one of the most anticipated storylines for UConn this season, and so far that has not been the case.

Let Akok cook

Martin: Perhaps the more obvious example of the head-scratching substitution patterns is Akok Akok. The junior was disruptive on the defense end in the first half, but was glued to the bench in the second. He’s an incomplete player on offense at this point, but is he really dragging this offensive juggernaut down so much that he can’t get more playing time? In a game where UConn needed a shot in the arm, why not go to the crowd-favorite sparkplug, who happens to be one of the best shot-blockers in the country?

You can argue that matchups and game script dictated Polley’s shooting for floor spacing, or that Noah Horchler on the perimeter dragged Akok away from the paint. But nothing was going right for the Huskies for a long time, you can’t tell me that Akok would have made it any worse.

Madigan: I truly don’t understand why Akok isn’t playing during crunch time and playing sparingly in general. He’s a defensive disruptor and has hit enough from three this season to provide some spacing and confidence on offense. I understand players like Polley have more experience, but given the way Polley is shooting should have Hurley looking at other options. If Akok is still recovering and easing back into a big workload, that’s fine, but if not, giving him more minutes, especially late, would immediately make this team better on both ends.