UConn men’s basketball's title defense starts Monday night, as the Huskies welcome Northern Arizona to Gampel Pavilion to kick off the 2023-24 season. Here at The UConn Blog and through our newsletter, The UConn Fast Break, we have put together a ton of quality content ahead of the start of the season. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up-to-date all season long!
In this year’s roundtable, our staff writers make some predictions about the upcoming season. Feel free to share your own thoughts, predictions and hot takes in the comments!
Impact newcomer (freshmen or transfers)
Patrick Martin: Cam Spencer, aka Cammy Crabcakes aka Cradlin’ Cam (I will make one of those stick, promise.) Gradey Dick was not the best shooter in college basketball, Jordan Hawkins was. Joey Calcaterra led the Big East in three-point percentage. If Dan Hurley doesn’t go into the portal for a guy who shot 43 percent from beyond the arc last year, it would have had a disastrous domino effect on UConn’s spacing this year. The fact he’s a well-rounded playmaker, veteran presence, and heady system defender is icing on the cake.
Dan Madigan: I feel like Stephon Castle is coming to Storrs with the most hype around him since Andre Drummond came over a decade ago. Castle is widely projected as a one-and-done lottery pick, something that hasn't really been too common at UConn. He may not have the keys to the offense right away, but I’m excited to see how he looks early on and how he evolves over the course of the season. I wouldn't be shocked one bit if he becomes the next great UConn guard on the way to joining Donovan Clingan as a lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
Shawn McGrath: I’ll go off the beaten path a little bit and choose Youssouf Singare. UConn was able to run a platoon at center last season, with Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan taking up almost every non-garbage time minute at the five spot. Alex Karaban isn’t someone who can play at center, which makes frontcourt depth crucial. Behind Clingan, there’s just Samson Johnson, in his third year with the program, and Singare. When Clingan needs a breather or gets into foul trouble, one or both of those players are going to need to step up, or else the Huskies will spend a decent amount of time playing small ball.
Ryan Goodman: Going to go the easy route and take Castle here. His blend of size and skill at the point guard position is just so intriguing. He and Newton (and Spencer) could be the best backcourt in the conference. I know a lot of very early mocks have him as a top-10 pick and if he really is that good he should have a tremendous impact right off the bat. I can’t wait to see if the hype is warranted.
Martin: Scoring is tough because I expect UConn to be well-rounded, with its starting five all hovering around 10-12 points per game. I’ll go with Clingan because he’ll get the easiest looks. Rebounds, a sleeper: Alex Karaban, in the same way Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman pulled down 8.3 per game with all the attention on Kalkbrenner. Assists: Tristen Newton and Stephon Castle TIED, the same way he and Andre Jackson were last year at 4.7.
Madigan: Newton has proven he can score at all three levels and I think he will have the ball in his hands more than people expect, so he’s my pick to be the scoring leader. Clingan will lead in rebounds, and Castle will lead the team in assists.
McGrath: Cam Spencer will be able to let it fly from deep and should rack up some points that way, making him a dark horse. Patrick is right, there is not a clear alpha scorer on this roster and a bunch of different players could carry the load on a given night. I agree with Madigan as far as Clingan, but Newton is my assist pick. He’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot and he’s only gotten better as a facilitator.
Goodman: For scoring, I’ll take Newton. He picks up where he left off in the title game and leads the team in points at around 15-to-16 per game. This is tough because UConn should be incredibly balanced with at least four players in the 10-to-15 point range, but I think Newton comes out on top. Give me Castle for assists. If his court vision is for real, he should lead in that category. Clingan will easily lead in rebounds (and blocks) if he stays healthy.
Martin: Gotta go with the big guy. Big Don makes the leap.
Madigan: I don't think Alex Karaban will necessarily be the best on this team at any one thing, but his ability to be a jack-of-all-trades was so crucial to UConn’s title run last season. I think he takes another step forward as a defender and continues to be a knockdown spot-up shooter.
McGrath: There are certain positions that are just more important than others. An ace starting pitcher in baseball, a big-time goaltender in hockey or a star quarterback are worth their weight in gold. Point guard is the closest thing that basketball has to that. If Tristen Newton can do his thing, the Huskies will be in good shape. There are a bunch of players that can fit here. Jaylin Stewart’s ability to score might drive him to be a dark horse here.
Goodman: UConn doesn’t win a championship last year without Donovan Clingan. The fact that they were able to stay as efficient (and sometimes even improve) when Clingan subbed in for Sanogo was the biggest cheat code in the college game last year. I think he is ultimately the most impactful in terms of whether or not UConn can reach its ceiling again.
Favorite matchup (best game on schedule)
Martin: Dec. 1, when the Huskies travel to Kansas. Time to put the ‘Best Conference in Basketball’ stakes up for grabs. Donovan Clingan is who Hunter Dickinson thinks he is when he looks in the mirror. Bill Self is a scumbag. Nick Timberlake watches from the bench as Cammy Crabcakes hits five threes. Twitter cues up the ‘I’ve made a huge mistake’ gif.
Madigan: There are actually so many great options this year, but I am pretty excited for the Huskies to take on North Carolina at Madison Square Garden in early December. Two historically great programs and current preseason top 20 teams facing off in the world's most famous arena for the Jimmy V Classic. That’s going to be a fun one.
McGrath: Partially for personal reasons, I’m excited for Seton Hall on Dec. 20. UConn might have hit rock bottom in this building a year ago before rising to take the national title. I’m sure it’ll feel good for Dan Hurley to come back to Newark and try to win one at Prudential Center right before Christmas.
Goodman: No doubt when UConn heads to the Phog for what will likely be a top-10 contest against preseason national title favorite Kansas. It’s undoubtedly the toughest environment and test that UConn will face this season and I’m stoked to see how this new-look Huskies team responds to the challenge. Donovan Clingan against Hunter Dickinson could be the matchup of the year.
Best UConn win
Martin: See above.
Madigan: Beating Gonzaga in Seattle. Not a true road game for UConn but that crowd will be overwhelmingly in favor of the Bulldogs. Hurley knows Mark Few and his team will be itching for revenge but I think the Huskies are too talented to let it happen.
McGrath: Winning in Lawerence can’t be counted upon, but if UConn can figure out a way to beat Kansas on the road, that’ll be the (regular season) win of the decade. As far as wins with reasonable expectations, the Huskies are surely going to win one of the three road games against the other Big East heavy-hitters in Creighton, Marquette and Xavier. I’ll go with whichever one that is.
Goodman: I think UConn gives the Jayhawks all they can handle on the road but ultimately lose in a nail-biter, so I’ll go with Creighton at Gampel on Jan. 17. The Huskies can beat North Carolina in Madison Square Garden and the Gonzaga in Seattle, but the Creighton game should be an electric matchup.
Big East finish/pick Big East champ
Martin: Depth issues and inconsistent defense effort rob UConn of a Big East regular season title. But the Huskies (finally) get a favorable draw and make it to the conference final, where a rabid crowd wills them over the hump vs. Marquette. Hurley adds one more infinity stone to his gauntlet.
Madigan: I really think it's a three-headed monster in the Big East this year with the Huskies, Marquette and Creighton. I think the Huskies finish second in the conference to Marquette in the regular season, but Creighton will win the Big East Tournament, taking down UConn in the semis before beating Marquette in the finals.
McGrath: It’s going to be whichever squad is able to be most consistent between the Huskies, Creighton and Marquette that will take home the regular season title. I would be surprised if another team outside of Xavier finishes in the top three. As far as the Big East Tournament, the semifinal finishes have to end sometime, right?
Goodman: Madigan is right, this conference will be run by UConn, Creighton, and Marquette, but I ultimately think the Golden Eagles snag the regular season title for the second consecutive year and the Huskies finish third. However, Dan Hurley finally gets his first Big East tournament title and UConn picks up some momentum heading into the Big Dance.
Martin: A Big East tournament title offsets a roller-coaster regular season and gifts UConn a 2-seed and Brooklyn setting, allowing the Huskies to make the Final Four. Facing Michigan State and 2009 redemption, Clingan picks up foul trouble and the magic runs out. Clingan and Castle are the first top-five picks since Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon.
Madigan: I think anything less than a 4-seed would be a massive disappointment for the talent on this roster, barring any major injuries. If the Huskies can get seeded in the East Region and end up in Brooklyn for the first weekend, I think it really boosts their chances of getting back to the Final Four with the East Regional taking place in Boston. I think the Huskies fall just short of a repeat but get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. The NCAA Tournament is incredibly chaotic and repeating is incredibly hard!
McGrath: Final Four or bust in the world’s most unpredictable tournament, where the discussion centers around who’s going to get upset first, is a strategy that will only leave one disappointed. UConn is talented enough to where a top-three seed and, if it falls properly, Brooklyn in the first weekend and Boston in the second is a reasonable expectation. However, a Final Four is beyond the middle 50 percent of outcomes for almost every team. Once the second weekend occurs, most of the upsets are done and all the teams are really good, with matchups becoming much more important. Bowing out in the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight is a perfectly fine follow-up to last season.
Goodman: As I mentioned above, the Huskies win the Big East tournament for the first time in Hurley’s tenure. Taking a 2-seed in the East Region, UConn makes another deep run on the backs of their star players - Clingan and Castle - all the way to the national championship game where they exact revenge on a Jayhawk team that bested them earlier in the year. A repeat title for the Huskies, who become the first team since Florida in 2006-07 to do so.