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Four takeaways from UConn men’s basketball’s open practice

Jordan Hawkins looks to have taken his game to another level this offseason.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

With the season less than a week away, the UConn men's basketball team hosted an open practice for fans and media to get their first look at the team in some game action. The team played three 10-minute periods, mixing players on lineups throughout. No score was kept, but Hearst CT’s Dave Borges had the closest thing to a box score from the night.

Note: to decipher this box score, the format is player name, field goals made, free throws made/attempted, then total points. For example, Donovan Clingan had three field goals and made his only free throw for seven points.

There was a bit more to gleam from the scrimmage than just the points, though. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest takeaways from the Huskies’ final public tuneup before they start the season.

The starting point guard job is still up for grabs

There still really isn't a clear winner in the starting point guard sweepstakes, as transfers Tristen Newton and Hassan Diarra are still duking it out. Newton may have outscored Diarra on Wednesday, but Diarra was relentless on defense, disrupting passing lanes and providing stingy on ball defense.

Diarra also showed enough skills running the offense, and took a few threes but did not make any. The two went head to head the entire night, never playing on the same lineup, and if I had to pick, I think Diarra has a slight edge to start Monday night against Stonehill.

Jordan Hawkins has elevated his game

Based on how Dan Hurley talked about Hawkins in the offseason, it seemed clear that he believed the sophomore could be a key player on the team this season. Hawkins showcased that improvement early and often in the scrimmage, hitting a barrage of threes and scoring 23 points across the 30-minute scrimmage.

While his shooting stroke remains smooth as ever, the biggest improvement in his game may be his confidence — he had no qualms about pulling up from just about anywhere on the court to get his shot off, even in transition. Hawkins shot just 33.3 percent from deep last season, but his mechanics always looked better than that and he seems poised to improve on that number and serve as a key scorer at multiple levels for UConn this season.

3-point shooting improvements

UConn wasn’t a bad 3-point shooting team last year, ranking 81st nationally last season per KenPom, but those shots were normally spread across three players in RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin and Tyler Polley. With all three gone and Hurley stressing the importance of playing four out to give Adama Sanogo room to operate down low, the Huskies sure seem to have reloaded with quality shooters.

As mentioned, Hawkins was lights out from deep, and Virginia Tech transfer Nahiem Alleyne hit a few impressive deep balls, some catch and shoot chances and another off the dribble early on. Alex Karaban didn’t convert any threes, but demonstrated a smooth stroke and has been widely regarded as one of the team’s top deep threats. Even Sanogo, who attempted one three all season last year, hit one of two attempts from deep, opening the door for him to expand his game and possibly play alongside freshman big Donovan Clingan for short spurts.

Hawkins and Alleyne could easily shoot at a high 30 percent clip from deep this year, and it’s possible Karaban could do. Unlike with last year’s team, it’s possible that all three of those players could be on the floor together at the same time for significant stretches and not sacrifice any size or rebounding ability, which should help reduce double teams on Sanogo.

Alleyne also appears to be more than just a shooter — he was aggressive on hard close outs from defenders to blow by them and get to the hoop, usually trying to dunk with authority.

Frontcourt versatility

Samson Johnson and Karaban are still battling it out to start alongside Sanogo at the four spot, and each brings a unique skillset that Hurley may mix and match to ride hot hands or tailor to certain matchups. Johnson, who just seems to be bigger and taller than last season, brings incredible athleticism with the ability to crash the boards hard and use his length to alter shots. Karaban is more skilled offensively, and isn’t afraid to put the ball on the floor to attack bigs and try to get to the rim. He’s improved athletically, but is more limited defensively than Johnson, who can easily guard multiple positions.

Either player could play along Sanogo, as could Clingan for stretches, who showcased his superb passing skills out of the post and high post. Apostolous Roumoglou, one of UConn’s foreign imports, saw a ton of playing time as the 10th man in the scrimmage, and missed a few 3-point attempts but looked comfortable with the pace of play. He played significantly more than big man Richie Springs, and it’s not out of the question that Roumoglou sneaks in some minutes outside of garbage time early on against some of the Huskies’ lesser opponents.