No. 5 UConn men’s basketball has been one of the big revelations this season. The Huskies jumped from being unranked in the preseason to the top five by the first December AP Poll. After winning their home games against weak competition by a wide margin, Dan Hurley’s team stepped up in a neutral environment and took three games in the Phil Knight Invitational.
A hostile environment against a top-50 team was the final frontier. UConn passed the test with flying colors, taking a 21-point win over Florida on Wednesday night. The heights for this team seem unlimited.
A Complete Team
Aman Kidwai: One of the toughest things about putting a full roster and rotation together at the college level is that high school seniors don’t come to UConn to be a backup. When you’re a 17-year-old four-star recruit who’s been told you’re the best every day of your life, all you can think about is starting immediately and going to the NBA after a year or two.
But transfer guards from San Diego absolutely are willing to come to UConn for a reserve role, and that’s exactly what Joey Calcaterra has done. He’s always giving UConn great minutes off the bench. Alex Karaban has brought an incredible element to the team as a freshman, which has also raised this Husky team’s floor, and Andre Jackson is content being in a leadership role that does not involve being the primary ballhandler or scorer.
Hassan Diarra and Nahiem Alleyne had no points off the bench despite logging significant minutes but both play important roles, as does Tristen Newton, who was the only scorer at ECU but is now one of many available options that the Huskies have. He was not great against Florida but has had plenty of strong performances and remains good at getting to the free-throw line.
In this game, Sanogo and Hawkins led the way along with Donovan Clingan, but UConn can beat teams in a lot of different ways.
This team is filled with guys who know their roles and get after it. This has been truly incredible to see.
Ryan Goodman: Last night I genuinely thought multiple times throughout the game, ‘We aren’t playing that well,’ but the game was never in doubt. On the road. Against a top-50 KenPom team. UConn led wire to wire and after they went up 10 early in the first half not once did I think the game was in reach for the Gators at any point, because it wasn’t.
This is a testament to the roster Dan Hurley has constructed and how well they work together as a unit. While it wasn’t pretty offensively for stretches, UConn is so adept at playing team defense that it didn’t matter. There were numerous times when a Florida guard beat his man off the dribble but UConn always had a man right there to stop him, whether it was Clingan or Sanogo wiping shots off the glass, or Jackson and Karaban stepping in to pick up. Everyone knows their assignments and executes and communicates with one another when there is a lapse.
On the offensive end, even if it’s an off-game for some (Alleyne and Diarra combined for zero points on three shots and Newton had turnovers), Clingan and Calcaterra will step in to produce 27 off the bench and allow the Huskies to cruise. Hurley has so many options at his disposal, it’s remarkable.
Kidwai: UConn’s margins of victory help us confirm a few things: none of these wins are flukes, this team has the willpower to finish games and not mess around with a lead, and the Huskies are one of the best teams in the country.
Florida is no slouch. Neither was Iowa State. Alabama may be a legit top-15 team. UConn had no issue taking down any of them. The defense is so excellent and consistent, and unlike previous years, the Huskies have lots of viable scorers.
There aren’t many mature, well-put-together teams in college hoops these days. The way UConn is comfortably beating solid opponents suggests this is one of those teams. This bodes well for its future.
Jordan Hawkins—not just a shooter
Patrick Martin: We know Hawkins has the sweetest-looking shot in a Husky uniform since Shabazz Napier. But when he was hoisting up double-digit 3-point attempts earlier in the year, he was at risk of being labeled more of a one-dimensional gunner than a complete player.
In the last two games though, we’ve seen a player that could rocket up draft boards in a hurry. The shooting percentages are a thing of beauty, but it’s also the little things he’s nailing. It’s how he comes off screens with barely an inch of separation between the screener. It’s him turning the ball over and sprinting back to poke the ball away on the fast break. It’s the deflections and diving for loose balls. It’s getting run off the 3-point line and responding by calmly taking two dribbles in and settling for a comfortable midrange shot.
His points are coming within UConn’s offense. He’s making the right reads and taking what the defense gives him. He’s probably leading the team in charges taken. When your teammates see your “shooter” getting his hands dirty, it has a top-down effect on the roster. He has 13 assists to 10 turnovers this year, a marked improvement from the 14 assists to 26 turnovers his freshman year. We knew the points would increase with more minutes. But Hawkins becoming a complete player this soon is one of many reasons this is becoming a dream season. And for Jordan, his well-roundedness this year has crystallized his role in the NBA as a prototypical ‘3-and-D’ guy.
Clingan continues to dominate in limited minutes
Goodman: The freshman big was at it again last night, gobbling up offensive boards, throwing down lobs and making life difficult for anyone that came near the rim. He finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks in only 19 minutes, continuing to prove that he is one of the most efficient players in college basketball.
Per @collegebb_ref, Donovan Clingan is the only player in the country to have more than 90 points (94), 60 rebounds (65), and 20 blocks (21) all while averaging less than 20 minutes per game.— tcf15 (@tcf_15) December 8, 2022
Going up against another Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award candidate and first-team All-SEC player in Colin Castleton, Clingan helped hold the super senior to a 4-14 performance. Sanogo was the one primarily matched up with Castleton on the night, but when Clingan came in, the buckets did not get any easier. He is now the No. 11-ranked freshman in the country in Evan Miya’s rankings that measure impact. Clingan is hands down the best backup big in the country and it’s almost unfair having him come in to spell Sanogo.