Before the season starts, every fan looks ahead on the calendar for the biggest games of the year. Can they beat a hated rival? Beat a highly-ranked team? Win a tough road game to improve their NCAA tournament seeding? For many, and for the team itself, games like those are invaluable in preparing a team as best as possible for a potential championship run.
Those are not the games we will be previewing here. Below you can find information about UConn’s weakest opponents for this upcoming season.
Stonehill enters Division I play this season building on only a 15-12 record in Division II last season, and is projected to be one of the worst teams in the nation in 2022-23. Nonetheless, the Skyhawks are sure to come out motivated to make their D-I debut against a powerhouse like UConn, and can’t be overlooked.
Chris Kraus’ team doesn’t have much frontcourt depth, and won’t have the size to compete underneath with Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan, but will often be playing a four-out offense and hoping to stretch the floor. With the addition of Max Zegarowski (brother of former Creighton standout Marcus Zegarowski and Syracuse icon Michael Carter-Williams), who was one of Division II’s top outside shooters last year, they’ll hope to bury major-conference opponents with the three ball.
If players like Isaiah Burnett and Thatcher Stone can use their Division I experience to bring some much-needed punch to the table, they’ll have the potential to win more NEC games than many are predicting. An upset of a major opponent is highly unlikely, but a versatile, motion-based offense could frustrate many teams within the conference.
While the men’s basketball program at Boston University is far less dangerous than their hockey team, the two teams have one thing in common: experience. Transfers are ruling the landscape of college basketball at the moment, but the Terriers have been relatively unaffected.
That can only be good news for head coach Joe Jones, who may be on the hot seat, entering his 12th season with only a 187-157 record and no NCAA Tournament appearances. Jones surely has the trust of his players though, with three players using their COVID years to play a fifth season of college basketball.
Any success will start with wing Walter Whyte, who was allowed to cook on offense last year, but there’s uncertainty about whether he’ll step up his defensive game. Jones has said his name as the one who knocks down shots, but he’ll need to tread lightly and make sure there’s distribution—mostly in his chemistry with emerging point guard Ethan Brittain-Watts. Whyte can fly down-court, and RV-sized center Nevin Zink will also play an important role, but they’ll need someone to step up as a defensive leader, or the Terriers’ workloads will be stuffed to the gill again.
BU will likely be toward the top of the Patriot League standings, but it still has a long way to go before becoming a spoiler from the mid-major ranks. With five seniors in the projected starting lineup, Jones may have a make-or-break season on his hands.
Buffalo has remained one of the better teams in the Mid-American Conference the past three seasons, and though Jim Whitesell hasn’t brought the team back to the same heights as his predecessors Nate Oats and Bobby Hurley reached, he’s done well enough as coach of the Bulls to keep them in contention for a conference title. This year, though, might truly test his abilities.
The Bulls have lost their top seven minute-earners from last year, including all five starters, and their leading returner LaQuill Hardnett scored only 2.7 points per game last season. Suffice to say, Whitesell has a rebuild in front of him. Kanye Jones and Jo Smith bring some experience from high major play, transferring in from Boston College and Seton Hall, but the Bulls’ success may be entirely dependent on players who are question marks.
The biggest X-factor is Armoni Foster, a Division II All-American who has bulk on his 6-foot-4 frame and will be expected to have the ball in his hands frequently. Foster and Hardnett are the only two seniors on the team, and the hierarchy of who backs them will be in flux during the early parts of the season. In a bottom-heavy MAC landscape, this may mean Buffalo still has a chance to win the league outright, but they’ll need a lot of things to go correctly in order to win any of their three games against major-conference opponents.
The good news for Takayo Siddle and the Seahawks is that they’ll be building off a very successful season, one that finished with a 27-9 record and an appearance in the finals of the CAA Tournament. The bad news is the bulk of that team will be replaced this season.
I could keep writing in a good news, bad news format, but ultimately it’s just unlikely that UNC-Wilmington will reach the same level of play again. Their playing style, one marked by aggressive drives to the basket and perimeter disruption on defense, may be personnel-proof at the Colonial level, but is unlikely to work against a team like the Huskies.
Shykeim Phillips is the top player for the Seahawks, proving a scoring punch as their only returner to average double figures last year, and more importantly as their best defender. Despite his hustle, Phillips isn’t much of an outside shooter, which is where UNCW will need the most contributions from its incoming transfers. College of Charleston transfer Nick Farrar will likely be their top option from the arc, and former Milwaukee Panther Donovan Newby will help out, but if this team only has two proven shooters, it’s hard to see the pathway to upset victories.
In case you have any confusion between the two programs, Delaware is the one that made the NCAA Tournament as a 15-seed last season. Delaware State, the one UConn plays this season, is the team that didn’t beat a single Division I opponent last season.
In fairness, more went wrong with the Hornets season than just a bad roster, but it doesn’t look like their fortunes will change much this year. In his second season at the helm, Stan Waterman has stated he’ll be running different tactics than usual, which doesn’t bode well for this team improving their coherence and chemistry, two things the Hornets sorely lacked last year.
It’s hard to pinpoint a focal point among the players—point guard Martaz Robinson will have the ball in his hands a lot, but shot only 32.7 percent from the floor in 2021-22—with not much talent apparent on paper. Waterman could be the man who turns around the Delaware State program, after a long, successful stint as a high school coach, but that won’t be happening this season.
Long Island has had some success lately, going .500 or better in the NEC in each of the last seven seasons, but holding a preseason KenPom ranking of 339 is not the position any team wants to be in. That ranking seems valid too; outgoing coach Derek Kellogg was replaced by first-time head coach Rod Strickland late in the offseason, and Kellogg’s departure led to essentially the entire core of the team transferring out.
Strickland does have experience working with the development of young players, following stints with Kentucky and Memphis and assisting with the G League Ignite program, but with so little time working with the Sharks new roster, his skills as a coach might not make a dent this year. The backcourt of Tre Wood and UIC transfer Maurice Commander will be the team’s leaders as the oldest and most experienced players. Commander, unlike his teammates, has proven scoring ability at the D-I level.