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Assessing whether Dan Hurley’s teams historically improve as the season progresses

UConn men’s basketball head coach Dan Hurley said his teams tend to play better late in the season, so we reviewed his coaching resume to determine the validity of his hypothesis.

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at Xavier Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

UConn men’s basketball will wrap up regular-season play this week with games against Seton Hall and Georgetown before heading to their home away from home at Madison Square Garden for their triumphant return to the Big East Tournament.

UConn (12-6, 9-6 Big East) has played well of late and is 3-1 since getting James Bouknight back from injury, with the only loss coming at the hands of powerhouse Villanova.

While speaking with media ahead of UConn’s contest against Seton Hall, head coach Dan Hurley said that his teams tend to play better at the end of the year so their recent surge comes as no surprise.

“I don’t think you can control how great of an offensive night you have, but my teams are usually better at the end of the year because we improve a lot during the year,” Hurley said.

To determine the validity of this statement, Coach Hurley’s winning seasons throughout his career were analyzed while considering a few variables, the most important being the turn in each season. This is the time in a team’s season where it’s obvious there was an increase or decrease in wins. His coaching resume reflects that not every one of his squads experienced this shift in success, so those seasons are going to be mostly removed from the discussion.

Since every season isn’t perfectly described by wins and losses, the next variables to consider are how many points his teams scored and surrendered in each game before and after the turn. We’re going to use these statistics to determine whether or not Hurley’s teams actually improved as the seasons progressed. How successful each team was in the postseason will also play a role in our assessment.

These measures do not account for increased chemistry outside of the scoring total, as Hurley’s teams may have looked better or more cohesive on the court as time went on. We’re most concerned with whether the teams widened their point differential after the perceived turn and how they performed record-wise.

Without further ado, here’s a season by season breakdown of Coach Hurley’s winning teams to help draw our conclusion:


Wagner 2011-12 (25-6)

In Hurley’s second season with the Wagner, he took a middling 13-17 team from the year before and turned it into a 25-6 team contending for the NEC tournament. This Seahawks squad undoubtedly improved toward the end of the season as well.

After starting their season 7-3, the Seahawks finished on a 17-3 run, including the postseason. They lost three games in the first month of the season, but only lost one game between Dec. 23 and Feb. 23.

Their three final losses came against LIU Brooklyn (who beat them twice that season), Central Connecticut, and Robert Morris in the second round of the NEC Tournament.

Despite moving into conference play, the team improved its point differential by 1.5 points per game after its loss to Lehigh on Dec. 10. While Wagner scored slightly less than it did to start the season, they held opponents to nearly four points less per game.

Was the 2011-12 Wagner team more successful later in the season? Yes.


URI 2014-15 (28-10)

In Hurley’s third year coaching in the A-10, there was no obvious turn in the season. The Rams mostly beat the teams they were ranked ahead of and lost to the ones ranked well above them.

In the final 10 games including the postseason, though, the Rhodies went just 6-4 after starting the season 17-6. Hurley’s highest-ranked team to date at that point lost in the second round of both the A-10 Tournament and the NIT.

Was the 2014-15 URI team more successful late? Not really, but hard to tell based on the variables in play.


URI 2015-16 (17-15)

After a solid season in 2014-15, Hurley’s Rams took a step back in 2015-16. They started the year off with a solid 10-5 record but then went just 7-10 from Jan. 10 onward.

Their point differential after this mark fell dramatically, from +8.1 points per game to just +1.6 per game. The team was worse offensively and defensively through the bulk of conference play, which is to be expected, but a 6.5-point swing is a bit drastic.

The Rams went 3-4 over their final seven games, including a five-point loss to UMass in the first round of the A-10 Tournament to end its season.

Was the 2015-16 URI team more successful late? No.


URI 2016-17 (25-10)

In what was debatably Hurley’s most successful season at URI, his team didn’t even have that great of a record. Games against tough non-conference opponents like Duke, Providence, and Houston hurt them in the loss column before the Rams largely cruised through conference play.

After going 10-6 overall and 2-2 to start its A-10 season, the Rams took off and finished on a 15-4 run. Having lost just two of their final 11 A-10 games, the Rams were primed to succeed in the conference tournament. URI fed off this momentum and stormed through the A-10 Tournament, winning each game by seven or more points.

They carried that success into the NCAA Tournament where, as an 11-seed, they beat Creighton by 12 in the first round and then narrowly lost to No. 9 Oregon by three in the second.

The 2017 team’s point differential dropped by two points after Jan. 12, when they began to win more frequently even in mostly conference and playoff games. The squad finished the year 9-1, with its only loss being to Oregon in the tournament.

Was the 2016-17 URI team more successful late? Absolutely.


URI 2017-18 (26-8)

In Hurley’s last season at Rhode Island, he led them to the final round of the A-10 Tournament and the second round of the NCAA Tournament, only to come up short in both contests.

Before that, though, the team went 5-3 to start their season. Then the Rams won 16 straight games and found themselves ranked No. 30 in KenPom on Feb. 13. Here came the turn, though, as URI finished the season 5-5 including a 30-point blowout loss to St. Joseph’s on Feb. 27.

After scoring an average of 77.3 points per game and allowed just 66.4 through their first 24 games, URI allowed 74.4 points per game and scored 72.7 the rest of the way. That’s a point differential swing of 12.6 points per game.

URI lost in the A-10 Tournament final to Davidson by just one point then got matched up against No. 9 Duke in the Big Dance where they were smoked by 25 points. The lack of postseason success wasn’t necessarily their fault, more just unlucky seeding.

Was the 2017-18 URI team more successful late? No.


UConn 2018-19 (16-17)

While this wasn’t a winning team, it was important to mention considering it was Hurley’s first year in Storrs. The short answer here is, no this team was not better late.

The Huskies started the year off 9-4 but then really struggled in conference play, finishing the year on a 7-13 run and losing in the second round of the American Athletic Conference Tournament (sorry if this opens any old scars).

Was the 2018-19 UConn team more successful late? No.


UConn 2019-20 (19-12)

The final team on this list, since the 2021 season has not ended just yet, will be last year’s UConn team.

This season was one of the more difficult ones to quantify, especially with no postseason to go off of. UConn started its season fairly hot, going 9-3 with narrow losses to Xavier and Indiana, but then faltered midseason. UConn went 2-6 in January and started off conference play by going 2-5.

From Jan. 29 on, however, it was a much different team. This was one of just two Hurley teams we looked at to widen its margin of victory late in the season, from +5.6 points per game to +6.2 points per game.

The Huskies also won each of its last five games to end the regular season before the postseason was cut short.

Was the 2019-20 UConn team more successful late? Yes.


Conclusion

After combing through the numbers and schedules of each of Hurley’s most successful teams, the answer to the question of whether his teams historically improve late in the season is unclear. There were teams that flipped the switch later on in the year, but he also had some teams fall off at the end as well.

Of Hurley’s seven winning teams, just two of them widened their average margin of victory after their season turned and only three of the seven were clearly more successful late in the season. These figures indicate that Hurley wasn’t entirely accurate in saying his teams get better toward the end of the season. Of course, the games later in the season are nearly always conference and playoff games so that margin is expected to get a bit smaller, but as we mentioned previously there are some cases where they cratered.

Coach Hurley’s current UConn team has been playing much better since the reintroduction of James Bouknight and looks NCAA Tournament-bound as long as they can avoid a drastic collapse. So, in the case of this season, it’s safe to say that they have gotten better as time has gone by. However, the Huskies were also really good before he got hurt so we’ll have to see how everything shakes out in March before drawing a conclusion about the 2020-21 team.