After getting through non-conference play undefeated, the UConn Huskies are 3-2 in the Big East and currently riding a two-game losing streak. The horror!
Some thoughts after the 11-point loss at Providence, the Huskies’ worst of the season.
Adama’s Next Steps
We all know what the Big East preseason player of the year can do on the block. We’ve seen him expand his range to beyond the arc. The next step in his evolution on offense is decision-making outside of the paint. Ed Cooley went with that 1-3-1 trap in the second half, and it successfully dragged Sanogo out of his spots to get the ball as a release valve. When he got it, he either just passed the ball back, or hesitated and missed the open man. He didn’t even look at the basket. Soft spots in those zones need to be attacked. Even in pick-and-rolls, he’s not a lob threat like Clingan, so spacing and execution has to be perfect.
It got to the point where he was almost unusable in the last 10 minutes. Coaches like Shaka Smart and Greg McDermott are going to do similar things to disrupt the tempo that makes Sanogo one of the best bigs in the country.
Hopefully, with some experience and coaching, he can whip those passes to the open man quicker, or develop a move that gets him downhill to the basket. The weakness for the Huskies this year is shotmaking when sets break down. Who can go get you a bucket? If teams have to respect Adama when he puts the ball on the floor more, all of UConn’s spacing opens up.
UConn put up 61 points, its lowest total of the season. They were held to under 61 points five times last year. On Wednesday, the Huskies shot 5-22 (22.7%) from three, hitting just one in the first half. In the Xavier game, over half their shots were from downtown. Against PC, the balance was much better, with 34% of their shots coming from three.
In the last two seasons, they’ve only shot a worse percentage once, and that was on the road vs. West Virginia (3-21, 14%). Here are some other ugly numbers from last year’s L’s:
Providence, Dec. 18, 2021—8-29, 27.5%
Creighton, Feb. 1, 2022—5-21, 23.8%
Creighton, March 2, 2022— 6-22, 27%
Last year’s team was a much worse shooting team than this year’s squad. This is all to say that maybe, just maybe, a regression to the mean was overdue. Providence is a Top-25-ish team and is 28-1 in its last 29 home games. Ed Cooley is a very good coach.
Yes, UConn’s warts on offense were exposed. Yes, Providence was the more physical team. Yes, UConn has to learn how to play its physical brand without fouling. Yea, the free throw discrepancy the last two games has been absurd. But sometimes, shots don’t fall.
This isn’t supposed to be easy
UConn’s schedule is truly a gauntlet right now. Looking at the KenPom/NET splits, Providence’s KenPom is up to 28 and its NET is 33. Xavier’s KenPom sits at 24 with a NET of 26, while Creighton’s split is 18, 28.
Marquette has the second-highest in the conference at 17/23. If the Huskies can right the ship at home vs. Creighton and steal one on the road against Marquette, a 3-2 stretch that started with a Villanova win (53 KenPom) is monumental. The Big East may not have the depth that the Big 12 has, but the league is rounding into form. UConn just so happened to play all four in a row, with 3⁄4 on the road.
Beyond a disaster, what remaining games on the schedule stand out as possible losses? At Creighton of course, but you have to like UConn’s chances in the home tilts vs. Xavier and Providence. Dan Hurley still has a very good team with upside to get better this season.
There’s a very good chance this loss becomes a lot more bearable as the season progresses, a lot like the first loss to Creighton last year.
Losing back-to-back games, including one to Providence, always stinks. It also stinks because of the contrast in how UConn looked compared to earlier in the year. UConn can look like crap but also be mired in an uncharacteristically difficult portion of their schedule. Both things can be true!
A rising tide lifts all boats
Ultimately, it is a very good thing that the Big East is finding itself! If UConn blew the doors off every team in the conference, that would be more of an indictment of the competition level than UConn’s superiority. Would you rather UConn slog through some rock fights in the Big East and be hardened by the challenge, or blitz the conference and face adversity for the first time in March?