UConn men’s basketball will be in a transition period this offseason, more so than last year, when all major returners, save for James Bouknight, came back to Storrs for another go.
However, defensive wunderkind Isaiah Whaley and key bench player Tyler Polley exhausted their collegiate eligibility, while Tyrese Martin announced on Tuesday that he will enter the NBA Draft, rather than use his extra year given to athletes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, though RJ Cole has yet to announce whether he will use his final year of eligibility at all, let alone for UConn, he took part in Senior Day ceremonies and it seems unlikely he will return.
As a result, the Huskies have two scholarships remaining for the 2022-23 and will need to replace 60 percent of its starting lineup, should Cole depart.
GRID UPDATE— tcf15 (@tcf_15) March 23, 2022
Closing the book on the 2022 season and looking ahead. There are two open scholarships on the 2023 roster.
With Tyrese Martin going pro, RJ Cole's decision is up next. Does he go pro or will he return to UConn for one more year?
We shall see. pic.twitter.com/5vttwUffid
With two freshmen already signed and a redshirt freshman in Corey Floyd Jr., the Huskies will likely turn to the transfer portal for at least one more player and potentially two, as experience will be key to fill out remaining roles.
Ball Handling Guard
Cole was the almost exclusive point guard for UConn this season. The New Jersey native was the only Husky to start in all 33 games and led the team with 33.5 minutes per game. The only other point guard on the roster, rising senior Jalen Gaffney, has not been able to carve out a significant role for himself through three seasons in Storrs and averaged just 12.8 minutes per game in 2021-22 after spending 19 minutes on the floor per game in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
While Gaffney has shown flashes, he also has demonstrated that he is likely not the type of player who can play on the ball 30 minutes per night or more for an NCAA Tournament team, which could lead Dan Hurley to look elsewhere for his next floor general to relieve some pressure off of underclassmen Floyd and Rahsool Diggins.
It’s been a long time since UConn did not know who their point guard was going to be and with how important guards that can make plays with the ball in their hands are come tournament time, this will be an important pick-up for UConn, especially attracting a player that can play immediately.
Prospective names to watch:
Nelly Cummings (Colgate), Jaelin Llewellyn, (Princeton), Xavier Pinson (LSU)
Shooter with Size
While not as crucial as finding someone to handle point guard duties, UConn is going to be missing a lot of its outside shooting prowess next year. While Jordan Hawkins has the potential to replace Martin in the starting lineup and shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc, he is merely 6-foot-5, 190 pounds at the moment and is not the solid 6-foot-6, 215 pound Martin.
Andre Jackson will be back and will likely draw the tough defensive wing assignments, but finding a larger player to try and replace Martin and Polley’s production could be useful, as players who took more than two-thirds of the Huskies’ 3-point attempts will not be on the roster next season, should Cole not return.
UConn shot 35.2 percent from beyond the arc in 2021-22, which was No. 83 in the country. In particular, Martin and Polley would hit deep shots in transition when the offense was really humming, which helped build comebacks or put games away.
Deep threats also force defenses to choose between guarding Sanogo and the outside shot, which will give the rising junior more room to operate and activate the inside-out game that was crucial to the Huskies’ success this season.
Names to watch:
Drew Friberg (Princeton), Adam Thistlewood (Colorado State), Ethan Wright (Princeton)
I jest. (Mostly). It’s impossible to overstate what Whaley meant to the team this season and last, providing exceptional defense while being no slouch on the offensive end, completely remaking his game to complement Sanogo. UConn lacks an experienced power forward on the roster and in its current construction, would likely play a stretch four, perhaps playing a combination of Akok Akok, Jackson and incoming freshman Alex Karaban.
Akok can shoot it from outside at times and is a strong interior defender, but has gotten inconsistent minutes, partially due to injury, though he did fall out of the rotation at times this year. Jackson would be a small stretch four, at just 6-foot-6, and while he has the defensive and rebounding chops, would likely slot better on the wing. Karaban is 6-foot-8, but is just a freshman and is a bit of a tweener, according to his scouting reports, with below-average rim protection skills. He is likely to be out-physicaled against Big East competition at this stage.
Fellow underclassmen Samson Johnson and Donavan Clingan could factor in here as well, but Johnson got mostly garbage time minutes this season and Clingan will be making the jump from playing public high schools in Connecticut to Division I basketball. While all indications are the Bristol Central star will be able to make the jump, it is unwise to rely on a freshman to play significant minutes down low.
Names to Watch:
Jaiden Delaire (Stanford), Taylor Funk (St. Joseph’s), Antwan Walker (Rhode Island)