UConn men’s basketball is in the win column to start the year, earning an 85-54 victory over the Stonehill Skyhawks. Ranked No. 350 by KenPom pregame and playing in their first Division I game, the Huskies were expected to dominate physically and they did, with a sizable rebounding margin and impacts by nearly everyone on the defensive end.
While it is tough to learn a lot from a game with such a large talent disparity, our first look at the 2022-23 Huskies gave us some bits of knowledge.
Donavan Clingan, Alex Karaban will be valuable pieces
Shawn McGrath: Moving from the CIAC to the Big East was going to be a big transition and it was not clear how Clingan, the 7-foot-2 freshman, would handle the transition. While Stonehill is no Creighton, Clingan clearly looked like he belonged on the college stage on Monday.
He had three blocks in the first half and stepped in admirably for Samson Johnson, who was in early foul trouble and missed most of the first half. He scored nine points and added seven rebounds, three of which were offensive. He used his 7-foot-2 frame to be disruptive on both ends and was able to play alongside Adama Sanogo, which will be an intriguing combination to watch as the season rolls on.
Patrick Martin: Karaban is another player who appears to be as Hurley advertised. His cuts and reads out of the middle of the zone were very impressive for a freshman. Having a nose for the ball is a skill, and Karaban seems to always be around the offensive glass or getting deflections on defense. It’s a cliché, but those types of players are integral to a championship roster.
Dan Madigan: I was also pretty impressed with what Karaban brought on both ends. I don’t think he’s a lockdown defender but moved his feet well and positioned himself for easy rebounds. He definitely can stretch the floor, isn’t afraid to shoot and can even put the ball on the floor a little bit. He does well enough around the perimeter where I wouldn’t be surprised if Hurley uses him at the three with some combo of Sanogo/Johnson/Clingan in the frontcourt, especially against bigger lineups while Andre Jackson remains out.
Feeding the Post
Martin: Hurley seems keen on using the (hopefully) improved spacing by establishing Sanogo/Clingan deep in the paint. Very, very deep, like heels on the restricted area deep. If those two can seal effectively without fouling, there are going to be a lot of easy baskets at the rim, or at least foul shots. It was one game, but its also interesting they had the seals more towards the middle of the paint instead of a block, so as to give Sanogo the option to go left or right. That’s an interesting wrinkle to watch going forward. When that entry pass is open, its going to pull defenders in to hedge down and help, which in turn gives shooters space to operate on the wing.
Hassan Diarra, Lord of Vibes
Martin: We know it was Stonehill, but true to Hurley’s (and mine) preseason comments, Diarra was all over the court last night. It seemed like he hit the floor on every loose ball even if it wasn’t near him. He had active hands on defense and played within himself on offense. The jury’s out if he’s more effective as a starter or sixth man spark plug, but he’s going to win UConn some games this year purely off his hustle and toughness.
Ryan Goodman: Alleyne was my pick to be the biggest impact transfer but Diarra made me slightly question that selection with his performance tonight. We can’t jump to too many conclusions just yet but Diarra really was impacting the game in so many different ways. He even lead the team in assists with seven, which was four more than the next closest Husky. Diarra was also tied for second in rebounds (five) and steals (three), and shot a very efficient 5-for-9 from the floor. The former Aggie may just play a more important role that I originally thought.
Madigan: I just love Diarra’s game. Reminds me so much of some of UConn’s best guards during the old Big East days. He perfectly embodies what Hurley is looking to do, especially on the defensive end. He’s extremely long and quick and disrupts passing lanes and ballhandlers routinely. The offensive game definitely needs some work, and Stonehill is not the best competition, but I’m still pretty impressed with how he filled the stat sheet (11 points, seven assists, five boards, three steals) and a little surprised he didn’t get the starting nod over Tristen Newton. Wouldn’t be surprised if that changed as early as Friday.
Martin: Not really sure what to make of the 5-for-24 night from downtown, and not a single starter hitting a 3-pointer. Most of the misses were open looks, so for now, it could just be season-opener jitters. But, its not like UConn gets a knockdown shooter back when Andre Jackson returns. Jordan Hawkins’ unknown status puts a lot of pressure on Tristen Newton, Karaban, and Naheim Alleyne to connect from three.
Madigan: I’m not putting a lot of stock into this rough shooting night. It’s UConn’s first game of the season, playing in an arena much bigger than where they practice and haven’t seen in months. I’m willing to bet the combo of Alleyne, Hawkins and Newton don’t go scoreless in a game from the 3-point line for the rest of the season. I think between the likes of Alleyne, Hawkins and Karaban, the Huskies have three better shooters than almost anyone on last year’s roster and that at least two of that trio could shoot over 35 percent from deep.
Goodman: 5-24 from three does nothing to help ease any of the long-range shooting concerns coming into the season, but I don’t overreact to this poor shooting performance just yet. Hawkins went down early and only played nine minutes. It’s opening night with a new-look team. UConn was still able to cover the 30.5 spread against the Stonehill so they didn’t need these looks to fall, but going forward they will definitely need this number to drastically increase as their competition does. If anything, it’s definitely something to monitor moving forward. Look for Hawkins to bounce back in a major way next game if he is cleared.