UConn will officially cap off its 2023 season Monday night in Storrs as the Huskies send banner No. 5 into the rafters prior to tip-off against Northern Arizona.
While Dan Hurley and the Huskies have a handful of players back from the team that cut down the nets in Houston, this year’s team wants to close the book on last year and get focused on Game No. 1 and its goal of repeating as champs, something that hasn't been done since Billy Donovan's Florida Gators did so in 2006 and 2007.
“We’ve tried to minimize our role in tomorrow night as much as possible,” Hurley said of the team's participation in the ceremony. “I don't want to sound ignorant or ungrateful but the last thing any of us are thinking about is the banner. That’s for the fans, the family, and the players from last year's team. This a whole new team.”
TV: FS1 for whip-around Big East coverage; Fox Sports App for the full game
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -25.5, over/under 132
KenPom Predicted Score: No. 6 UConn 81, Northern Arizona 58 | 98 percent win probability
Note: Doors will open at 5:00 p.m., with the banner ceremony beginning at 6:00 p.m.
What to watch for
Russo gets his ring
Northern Arizona assistant coach Tim Russo will be in the building to receive his 2023 championship rings and see the Huskies raise banner No. 5.
Russo, who served as a graduate assistant with UConn, joined the Lumberjacks this offseason. Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, the famous NYC sports-radio voice and Tim’s father, is also expected to be in attendance on Monday night.
“Tim added to the culture and is just a really hard worker,” Hurley said. “He did a great job of everything we asked of him. He’s really well-liked and well-respected here.”
The frontcourt rotation
Donovan Clingan’s preseason foot injury gave Husky fans a scare, but he’s returned to practice and appears to be ready to play in the season opener.
Samson Johnson could see a little bit more playing time with Clingan recovering. The junior center battled injuries all last season and ended up playing just 47 minutes on the year but people have high hopes for a breakthrough.
Now an upperclassman, Johnson reportedly has shined in the team’s secret scrimmages and has an opportunity to be a standout player as the backup big man.
“Samson has been maybe the most productive player in the closed scrimmage work,” Hurley said.
Going forward, Johnson will need to show that he can avoid foul trouble and impact the game defensively and on the glass. Freshman Youssouf Singare is also lurking further down the bench but could also see more playing time if Clingan’s minutes are being watched.
Clingan should start, but it’s unclear how much he’ll play. Tristen Newton seems to think the sophomore is more than ready to go ahead of what is expected to be a breakout season as he plays major minutes after backing up Adama Sanogo last season.
“He’s looking great. He looks like he never got hurt. He’s out there moving and jumping higher than ever,” Newton said of Clingan.
The new guys
In addition to the freshmen, Cam Spencer arrives from Rutgers and promises to fill some key needs on the team, including shooting. He hit 43 percent from behind the arc last year and was tied for the team lead in scoring with 13.2 points per game for former Husky Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights.
Spencer brings a competitive spirit and veteran leadership to a team looking to fill the void left by the departures of Andre Jackson, Adama Sanogo, and Jordan Hawkins.
All five members of UConn’s highly touted recruiting class should see action Monday night. All eyes will be on Castle, the five-star recruit and likely starter, while Solo Ball, Jaylin Stewart, Jayden Ross, and Singare look to carve out reserve roles.
“We’ve managed the good freshmen and they’ve contributed a lot. And the ones that aren’t ready either wait their turn or leave,” Hurley said. “Really talented players get more leeway than guys with less ability and we just manage it game to game.”
30.7 - NAU lost its top two scorers from last season — Jalen Cone and Xavier Fuller — to the transfer portal after the duo combined to average 30.7 points a game. Their leading returning scorer is Carson Towt at 9.9 points per game; he should be one of NAU’s top options Monday night.
9.3 - Points per game for Karaban last year, where he also shot 40.2 percent from three and grabbed 4.5 rebounds per game. The Southborough, Massachusetts native is looking to step into a leadership role and also take the “sophomore leap” this year. He’ll have to do a little bit more of everything but he was such a reliable player as a freshman, everyone in Storrs believes he can do it. Reports are he’s working hard, improved his shot, and gotten stronger in hopes of becoming a sturdier defender.
33.4 - Points per game scored by Hawkins and Sanogo last year. The Huskies will be looking to lots of different names and also for a person to be the team’s go-to scorer. Newton and Karaban are candidates, but many across the roster will have to step up their scoring game this year for UConn to have a good season.
11 - This is the first of 11 non-conference games on the UConn schedule and one of three non-con games at Gampel Pavilion before the 20-game Big East slate. The Huskies aren’t in Gampel again until November 27th.
12 - NAU won 12 games last year. Despite a ninth-place finish in the league, the Lumberjacks made the Big Sky conference tournament championship game, losing to Montana State.