What started out as an incredible season for UConn is increasingly turning sour, as the Huskies dropped their third-straight game Wednesday with a gut-wrenching loss to Seton Hall in Newark. The Huskies, without head coach Dan Hurley and associate head coach Kimani Young, led for all but six seconds in the game and by as much as 17 in the first half, but couldn’t pull out the win. Here are some of the key takeaways from UConn’s fifth loss in six games.
Is it time to panic?
Dan Madigan: UConn has now lost five of their last six, including three-straight losses after handling Creighton at home. It has been a swift and ugly fall from the top for a team that was once No. 2 in the AP Poll. Outside of the first half of the Seton Hall game, they haven’t really played like the team that started 14-0 in nearly a month. Has the magic worn off?
I don’t think I am smashing the panic button yet, but my hand is right over the top of it, ready to fire at any moment. The Huskies are still No. 6 in the country per KenPom, top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and still have arguably the best player (Adama Sanogo) and freshmen duo (Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban) in the conference. They just lost on the road with out their head coach and associate head coach to a solid team in a Big East conference where schools not named Georgetown have won 85 percent of their home games. This is a tough conference, and an unexpectedly awful stretch for UConn. Any shot at a regular season Big East title is toast, but I’m optimistic this team can still turn it around to contend for the Big East tournament title and make noise in March.
Big East teams (not named Georgetown) are a combined 90-16 at home this year.— Big East Bar Room (@BigEastBarroom) January 19, 2023
That’s an 85% home winning percentage. For a conference.
That being said, a home loss at Butler would change pretty much everything. UConn needs to win on Sunday badly to get some mojo back.
Shawn McGrath: I’m not panicking, because this is about where I thought the team would be at this point back in September, but I have written the first 14 games of the season off as a hot stretch by a team that is going to be just above the last four in for the NCAA Tournament. They looked awesome and a true national title contender, even with Samson Johnson, who was an opening day starter, missing from the lineup. It was amazing to watch. But it seems like that team was playing above their heads. Not to say that the wins over Alabama and Iowa State were lucky, because they definitely outplayed each team, but it seems as though the Huskies weren’t playing at a sustainable level.
It would be great for me to be wrong and see UConn rebound and earn a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament. Creighton and Villanova are the only two tough road games left, while the Huskies haven’t played DePaul yet. Even writing off the away contests with the Bluejays and Wildcats, UConn could still definitely finish 7-4. That’s good for 11-9 in the Big East and 22-9 overall, which is definitely enough for a single-digit NCAA Tournament seed. But right now, I’m just not confident in their ability to win against Marquette, Xavier, Seton Hall and Providence, even at home. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team crashes out and finishes 4-7, below .500 in league play.
These guys aren’t who we thought they were after they weren’t who we thought they were
Ryan Goodman: I think this is appropriate to say given how the season has gone. Tearing up multiple top 10-15 teams on neutral sites in the beginning of the year and rising to a No. 2 ranking, the Huskies were playing out of their mind during this stretch, with multiple guys playing maybe slightly above a sustainable level. Joey Calcaterra was above 55 percent from beyond the arc, Newton started 5-5 against Oregon from deep and Andre Jackson held a likely first-team All-American player to 5-15 from the floor (although I don’t believe that one is really a fluke). Hurley had a full nine guys making legitimate contributions nightin and night out (for the most part). The bench was outscoring the starters, at times. The defense was a hive mind with guys rotating on cue and keeping fouls relatively low.
Point is, they may have been punching a bit above their weight class. There was a legitimate point in time when I thought UConn was probably the best team in the country, as I know a number of Husky fans did as well. After the Butler game on the road when they cruised to a simple 22-point victory against an eight-point spread, they genuinely appeared to have virtually no weaknesses. They were 12-0, No. 2 in the nation, No. 1 in KenPom and had just beaten four top-50 KenPom by double digits, holding them to an average of 59 points. No one expected them to be doing that. They were not who we thought they were. The Huskies were much, much better. Except maybe they aren’t.
I think most UConn fans believed this was a top-25 team coming into the year and they were blowing expectations out of the water, with stellar play on both sides of the ball. They’ve now come crashing back to earth and I think a big takeaway here is that with how night and day this season has been over the first two months, UConn is somewhere squarely in the middle. They are not as bad as they have played over their last two games. They are also not as good as they played during the Phil Knight Invitational. UConn is a top-25, NCAA tournament team and it’s time we adjusted expectations back to where we had them at the beginning of the year. The Huskies can definitely still win the Big East tournament, maybe even the regular season title if they can figure a lot out in a little amount of time, but we all need to collectively come back to earth.
The bench is officially a weak spot
Madigan: I think we’ve refrained from hitting this on every post-loss takeaways article just to keep things fresh but it’s time to address the elephant in the room; the bench play has fallen off a cliff. Nahiem Alleyne has scored three total points in January. Hassan Diarra has brought some energy defensively but hampers the offense due to his limited skillset. Joey Calcaterra struggles defensively and is shooting 26.9 percent from 3-point range in Big East play. Donovan Clingan largely gets a pass here, but his propensity for fouls has made it hard for him to play as much as he probably should.
The Huskies still rank above average in bench minutes per game, but outside of Clingan, that almost certainly has to change. Either the starters need to play more, reducing the bench’s total minutes, or UConn needs one of the three bench guards to reemerge as a reliable option on both ends. The Huskies’ bench, once a strength earlier this season, is now arguably their biggest flaw.
McGrath: I’m going to go a little farther and say that those outside of Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson, Adama Sanogo and sometimes Alex Karaban need to figure it out. Jackson isn’t a tremendous offensive player and that’s ok because of all the other things he brings, such as his tenacity rebounding and on the defensive end. Sanogo and Hawkins are all-conference performers offensively and especially in Sanogo’s case, he provides solid defense. Karaban is a liability on he rest of the roster has been brutal offensively and not good enough defensively. When there’s more than one offensive liability on the floor at time, it makes it that much harder for Sanogo, Hawkins and Karaban to make their shots. The team was working well in the nonconference and need to rediscover that, as soon as possible.
Poor shot selection
Madigan: UConn took too many deep threes early in the shot clock against the Pirates. While the Huskies shot it well at the Rock (39.1 percent from three), those deep, NBA-distance threes were even contested at times and not a smart shot. UConn is definitely settling for threes when the guards fail to penetrate, and while they have enough shooters to stretch the floor, the likes of Tristen Newton and Jordan Hawkins need to work on getting back into the lane, which should open up perimeter shots for everyone later on. Hawkins did this with some success in his 31-point game against St. John’s, and it needs to be a bigger part of the offense going forward.