No one on UConn men’s basketball’s roster has played in an NCAA Tournament game. UConn itself hasn’t played in a tournament in five years, which has been well documented the past couple of weeks.
The only people in the program who have been through this experience are the coaches – three of which have national championships under their belt.
Head coach Dan Hurley has made the NCAA Tournament twice, in 2017 and 2018 with Rhode Island. Assistant coach Tom Moore has been on two National Championship-winning staffs under head coach Jim Calhoun at UConn in 1999 and 2004. Assistant Kevin Freeman (1999) and Director of Player Development Taliek Brown (2004) were players on championship teams at UConn as well.
Hurley jokingly said he asked each of the three how to win a national championship during his press conference ahead of UConn’s game with Maryland Friday.
“I keep asking Taliek [Brown], Kevin [Freeman] and Tom Moore how to win a national championship,” Hurley said. “They haven’t told me anything yet that I could use yet, tangibly. I think Taliek said ‘Hall of Fame coach and like six first-round picks.’ Kevin has yet to respond.”
Since this is new territory for all of UConn’s players, having the tournament experience around them in the coaching staff has been incredibly important, according to redshirt junior guard R.J. Cole.
Cole said they can rely on the coaches to “weather the storm” or be there when they need clarification on something.
“They’ve been talking to us through what it was been like for them when they were in a tournament and what we should expect,” Cole said.
Cole sustained a minor concussion during UConn’s last game, a loss in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament to Creighton, but has been cleared to play by the medical staff, according to Hurley. He practiced with the team this week and will be available to play Saturday, barring any setbacks, Hurley said.
Star guard James Bouknight echoed Cole’s comments. The coaching staff has told him that this time of year “is a different animal” and isn’t like any normal regular-season game.
“This is literally win or go home,” Bouknight said.
The NCAA Tournament is going to be chock-full of teams UConn has never played or scouted before this week with Hurley as the head coach.
The Huskies are set to play No. 10 seeded Maryland Saturday, who run a small lineup that contains the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year in Darryl Morsell. The senior guard is likely going to be lined up against Bouknight on Saturday.
“He’s a very good defender,” Bouknight said. “He plays physical. He likes to talk a lot. So I just gotta keep my head and execute the game plan and let the game come to me not trying to force it.”
Bouknight said the coaching staff been preaching to him to stay within his game and to stay away from playing hero ball like UConn has often relied on him to do at the onset of the season.
UConn’s matchup against Maryland is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. on Saturday at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana. It will be televised on CBS.