When CBS Sports reporter Jon Rothstein isn't tweeting out his own catchphrases, he can manage to string together some pretty meaningful insights due to having arguably the best access of anyone in college basketball. Rothstein stopped by Storrs to check in on Dan Hurley and the Huskies and tweeted out some of his biggest takeaways.
Jordan Hawkins and Alex Karaban were impressive
The buzz around Hawkins has built up considerably this offseason. After showing flashes of elite scoring ability as a true freshman last year, his season came to a stop after a concussion limited his playing time heading into tournament time. Based on Rothstein’s observations, he seems to have established himself as the Huskies’ best backcourt scorer — an impressive feat given the talent of transfers Tristen Newton and Nahiem Alleyne.
Jordan Hawkins is all of 6-6. Should go from 5.8 PPG to at least 15 PPG as a sophomore. And UConn needs it. Huskies' clear secondary scorer behind Adama Sanogo.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 12, 2022
There is a major difference between hitting shots in practice and in games, but it’s good to see that Karaban’s shooting is as advertised. While he’s a freshman this year, he’s been with the team since the middle of last season, so he should have enough experience to push for a rotation spot if his play justifies it. Based on scouting reports, Karaban should be an impact player offensively almost immediately due to his shooting stroke and solid footwork, but will need to show he can defend in the post to likely earn major minutes.
UConn freshman Alex Karaban is drilling shots here at practice. 6-7 F can really stretch the floor. Going to minimize double teams on Adama Sanogo.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 12, 2022
Four guard sets will be common
With Isaiah Whaley gone, Hurley stressed all offseason that he would like to play a four-out, one-in offense with big man Adama Sanogo anchoring the low post. To make it a reality, Hurley brought in transfers Newton, Alleyne and Hassan Diarra to help fill in backcourt depth after a slew of transfers and departures. With a new backcourt in tow and anchored by Andre Jackson, Rothstein believes Jackson will play a Ben Simmons-style role on offense, serving as the team’s point forward and allowing scorers like Hawkins and Newton to work off the ball frequently.
Would not be shocked to see Dan Hurley use Andre Jackson in a "point forward" role in 4G lineups a la Ben Simmons. 6-6 junior should be one of the better utility players in all of college basketball.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 12, 2022
Rothstein also had high praise for two of UConn’s top transfers, Diarra and Alleyne, for their play on defense and offense respectively. Diarra’s reputation as a stingy defender seems to be carrying over to Storrs, where he can likely take on a lot of the assignments that Tyrese Martin handled last season. Offensively, Alleyne should be one of the team’s best shooters and looks to be as advertised so far.
Impressed with Hassan Diarra (Texas A&M) defensively and Nahiem Alleyne (Virginia Tech) offensively. Both will mesh in UConn's 4G sets. Diarra will see plenty of time on opposing PGs.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 12, 2022
Shooting has improved, but will defense suffer?
UConn was not a bad 3-point shooting team last season — the Huskies shot 35.2 percent from deep, which ranked 81st nationally per KenPom — but 60 percent of those attempts came from players like Martin, RJ Cole and Tyler Polley, who have since graduated. With so much of the team’s best shooting gone, Hurley needed to replace them and did so primarily through the portal, landing Alleyne (38.7 percent career from three) and Joey Calcaterra (35.7 percent).
Alleyne alone should be able to be a legitimate 3-point threat all season, but the Huskies should also have contributions from Hawkins (33 percent last season) and Karaban, who can give UConn a bigger look while still stretching the floor on offense. Jackson and Sanogo, who were not exactly 3-point threats last season, have continued to develop their shots and it’s possible to see more attempts from that duo as well to give opposing defenses new looks.
UConn as a whole, is a significantly better shooting team than it was last season.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 12, 2022
The question is, how good will the Huskies be defensively and on the glass? https://t.co/wqhQtvOLrP
The defensive concerns Rothstein mentions are definitely very real, as Martin and Whaley certainly set the tone for the team on the defensive end last year. But with Diarra and an improved Hawkins — who made significant strides defensively before being hurt last season — alongside one of the best perimeter defenders in the country in Jackson, there’s optimism that UConn’s defense should remain stout. Losing Whaley in the post is a major blow, but Rothstein seemed to be impressed with sophomore Samson Johnson. Johnson looked lost for stretches during his time on the floor, but did showcase impressive shot-blocking abilities and could pair nicely with Sanogo in the paint.
From a rebounding perspective, Martin was maybe the greatest rebounding guard to ever come to UConn — an impressive feat given the rebounding numbers put up by the likes of Christian Vital, Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker. But with Jackson and Sanogo back, it's hard to see rebounding being a major pain point for this year’s team. Johnson also showed flashes of being a quality rebounder in limited minutes last season, but if it does become a problem, it could be the easiest way for 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan to earn quality minutes.
Rothstein’s predicted starting five
Early prediction on UConn's 22-23 starting five:— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 12, 2022
Tristen Newton, Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson, Samson Johnson, Adama Sanogo