Kevin Ollie once spoke of the Ferrari in his garage he couldn’t drive. No disrespect to Rodney Purvis, but Dan Hurley right now has his pick of Ferraris in the garage. The No. 5 UConn men’s basketball team goes nine deep, and nearly every one is capable of going off on a given night. But just how impactful has all of this depth been, and how important is it for the Huskies’ tournament prospects?
Our Large Native Son
It’s still amazing that the Huskies have been quietly growing the next Zach Edey in their own backyard.
Donovan Clingan has had better freshman year stats than Zach Edey, this year’s national player of the year frontrunner, so far this year. And doing it all while averaging 15 (!) minutes per game.
Clingan is also already miles ahead of Edey on the defensive end, where he’s surprisingly mobile in drop coverage and already an elite shot blocker. But another fun wrinkle is his effectiveness already as a screener. These “hand backs” seen below are made possible by two or three screens that effectively seal off an entire zone. You can have any UConn shooter flare off these for an open 3-pointer, or it opens up the entire paint for a rim-run, pull-up jumper, or drive-and-kick. And its all made possible by Clingan’s (and Sanogo’s) gravity.
Enjoy this while you can, Husky fans, because Clingan won’t be here for long.
Joey California is the best thing to come out of the west coast since Katie Lou Samuelson. Raise your hand if you thought Calcaterra would bring an occasional deep shot, but was going to be too one-dimensional to trust. I’ll type the rest of this section with one hand, because that’s all I thought he’d be. Being so wrong has never been this fun.
California leads Big East in 3-point percentage at an absurd clip of 58.1 percent. But he also has eight assists to one turnover since the Phil Knight Invitational, and has gotten to the line in eight of 10 games. If you run him off the 3-point line, he’s shown he’s not afraid to go by you and either draw contact or throw it to one of the tall Huskies. He’s also the first one to pick a teammate off the floor, chirp an opposing bench, or (attempt) to match Hurley’s courtside energy.
Don’t Forget About These Guys
Nahiem Alleyne and Hassan Diarra were both left at the station when the UConn hype train got rolling at the Phil Knight Invitational. Their analytics are brutal right now, with Bart Torvik BPMs both in the negatives. However, dig a little deeper and Diarra is second on the team to Andre Jackson in assist percentage, while his steals rate is tied for third. Alleyne has the second-best turnover rate among guards and an equally important steals rate.
All of this is to say there’s still a sizable role for each of them. If Diarra plays a little more under control and cuts down on turnovers, he is your Terrence Samuel type, a change-of-pace ball handler that defends at a high level.
Alleyne’s shooting percentages are all drastically lower than his career averages. He’s taking fewer shots of course, but even with reduced usage, those looks should eventually even out. And when they do, Hurley has another ‘three-and-D’ wing at his disposal.
Unleash the Pterodactyl
People forget UConn is doing all of this without a starter, too; it was Samson Johnson, not Alex Karaban, who got the nod alongside Adama Sanogo for the season opener versus Stonehill. Yes, Karaban was nursing an ankle injury and the two-time Big East freshman of the week has been a revelation thus far, but don’t sleep on what Johnson can bring.
Look no further than yesterday, when Karaban was whistled for two quick fouls in the first half. Imagine then trotting out Johnson, a 6-foot-10 ‘pterodactyl’ with game-changing length. There will be nights when Karaban’s shooting and feel are preferred, but there will also be games where his size and inexperience are exposed. Enter Johnson, who can crash the glass and alter shots at the rim.
Hurley alluded to this in last night’s press conference, but UConn coaching staff has so many levers it can pull depending on game script or matchup. When Johnson is healthy they can go big and long with him at the four, Sanogo or Clingan at the five, and your choice of switchy athletes in the backcourt. Is Villanova playing small ball? Andre Jackson and Karaban can play some power forward. Hoop-Explorer noted that UConn has not yet trotted out a lineup without one of Sanogo or Clingan. So if both are somehow in foul trouble, Johnson can slide over to center and the Huskies will still have length and switchability at all five positions.
Let’s Talk About Depth, Baby
Beyond the synergetic skillsets up and down this roster, bench players are getting valuable minutes in meaningful games. Unless you have a roster stocked with five-star players, depth gets you far in March, just ask Baylor in 2021.
A second unit of Diarra, Calcaterra, Alleyne, Johnson, and Clingan could probably win the American Athletic Conference. I’m only half-joking. Johnson coming back completes the 10-man rotation, and the excellent early-season minutes distribution has ensured everyone is getting proper big-game exposure. Not a single Husky averages more than 30 minutes per game. That’s a whole lot of wear and tear saved for a romp through March.