When the Big East’s all-conference teams were announced Sunday, the UConn men’s basketball team had plenty of representation. Both RJ Cole and Adama Sanogo received first team All-Big East honors, while Jordan Hawkins made the conference’s All-Freshman team.
However, out of the 15 players selected for first team, second team or honorable mention, senior guard Tyrese Martin wasn’t one of them.
The Allentown, Pennsylvania native established himself as the reliable third offensive option on the Huskies, who ended the season third in the Big East. Martin finished the regular season averaging 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while leading all starters with a 43.9% 3-point shooting percentage. Even as a guard, Martin posted double-digit rebound totals in seven games. including a 19-point, 16-rebound double-double in the regular-season finale against DePaul.
Martin’s omission frustrated many of his teammates, but maybe none more than Cole.
“We’ll see what he does in the tournament,” Cole told Gavin Keefe of the New London Day. “I’m sure he’s upset by it. I’m upset by it.”
Big man Isaiah Whaley showed his frustration on Twitter, predicting a big Big East Tournament for the snubbed senior.
While individual accolades aren’t everything, Martin has surely shown enough and been a big enough contributor on both sides of the ball for this year’s UConn team to earn some well-deserved recognition. With the chance to make all-conference gone, Martin can put his stamp on this season and avenge last year’s tournament struggles with a dominant weekend at Madison Square Garden.
After scoring 14 points to help UConn blow past DePaul in the last year’s quarterfinals, Martin struggled against Creighton, scoring just two points in the Huskies’ semifinal loss. This year, he’ll open the Big East Tournament against either a Seton Hall team that he reached double figures against in both matchups or a lowly Georgetown team that he dominated less than two weeks ago, posting nine points and 14 rebounds with four assists.
If the Huskies advance, another showdown with Villanova looms, with the Wildcats looking for revenge after falling to UConn at the XL Center on Feb. 22. Martin added nine points and nine rebounds in that win, and is shooting 50% from deep against Nova this season.
Whether he scores in double figures, rips down 10-plus boards or plays lockdown defense, Martin will be the key to the Huskies’ postseason success. As teams focus on shutting down Cole or double-team Sanogo in the post, he will be relied upon to score for the Huskies late in the clock or out in transition. While he’s shot the three sparingly in his last three games with just five attempts, he will need to continue to knock down perimeter shots at a high rate to keep the post open for Sanogo and to take pressure off of Cole.
As an emotional player, Martin likely didn’t need the all-conference snub to try and rise to the occasion in March. But head coach Dan Hurley told Martin that he still has a chance to add to his UConn legacy with a strong Big East Tournament run — one that could end with Most Outstanding Player or an All-Tournament team spot if Martin can play at his best.
“It’s hard to get on an all-conference team here,” Hurley told Hearst media’s Dave Borges. “I think everyone knows how good of a player Tyrese has been this year. I imagine a number of coaches thought he was an all-conference player and some didn’t. He’s got an unbelievable career ahead of him in basketball...if you don’t like being left off [all-conference], go get MVP or All-Tournament.”