With just over three weeks until the Big East tournament, the No. 20 UConn men’s basketball team remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma. You need Benoit Blanc to help find the missing No. 2-ranked team in the country from November and December. There have been sightings— like the frantic 17-point second-half comeback against Xavier, the dismantling of Marquette and going toe-to-toe with red-hot Creighton in Omaha. But those spurts are still a far cry from the relentless unit that tore through Alabama, Iowa State and Oklahoma State—all teams that look like tough tournament outs right now.
Maybe we don’t need Benoit Blanc, seeing as how he’s not a real person. But Evan Miya is a real person, and his database is a cornucopia of college basketball nuggets. Spending a week stumbling around aimlessly with Evan Miya’s lineup feature has yielded a few theories that could unlock UConn’s dominant former self.
The Dream of Nahiem
Consider a lineup of Tristen Newton, Jordan Hawkins, Nahiem Alleyne, Andre Jackson, and Adama Sanogo. It’s only played 46 possessions, but has an Adjusted Team Efficiency Margin (ATEM) of 57. For context, the starting lineup that swaps Karaban with Alleyne has 443 possessions and an ATEM of 17.4. A four-man lineup of Newton-Alleyne-Hawkins-Jackson has logged 67 possessions and an ATEM of 68.4.
This is all a long-winded way of saying instead of Alleyne coming in for Jordan Hawkins or Andre Jackson, it would be interesting to see him be the first off the bench for Karaban. This was a laughable notion three weeks ago when the Virginia Tech transfer looked like a Nerdluck stole his talent. But Alleyne has rounded into form since DePaul on Jan. 31, averaging 6.5 points and shooting 33 percent from downtown in 21 minutes per game.
Remember, Alleyne started the first six games of the season when Jackson was recovering from the broken thumb. He shot the ball well against the cupcakes, it was just a poor Phil Knight Invitational — coinciding with the Joey Calcaterra breakout party — when his minutes started sliding. Calcaterra and Diarra combined offered the type of shooting and defense that Alleyne was supposed to provide. But with those two exceeding expectations early, and Alleyne on a brutal cold streak, it’s no surprise he fell out of favor.
Fast forward to now, and Calcaterra and Diarra are demonstrating the inconsistency that many had expected. Sure enough, Alleyne has slowly earned his minutes back. A lineup like this can help him —and UConn — complete the turnaround.
An in-form Alleyne helps unlock the ‘4-out 1-in’ lineup that Hurley envisioned back in preseason, where four ball-handling perimeter players are capable of switching on defense and stretching the floor on offense. Karaban has been a revelation with his cutting, timely offensive rebounds, and shooting. He might be a six-time Big East Freshman of the Week, but he’s dead last in Defensive Bayesian Performance Rating at 0.37 — even worse than Calcaterra’s 0.81.
In a small-ball lineup featuring Alleyne, and not Karaban, Jackson can guard at the 4 in most cases, offering some of the cutting and offensive glass prowess Karaban provided. This would also potentially pair Karaban with Donovan Clingan more, whose rim protection could help mask defensive limitations.
The caveat here is that this doesn’t mean planting Karaban on the bench and giving his starters minutes to Alleyne. But the analytics are clearly saying something that the eye test —Alleyne’s improved play — affirms. It’s certainly worthy of further experimentation as a counterpunch, maybe to protect a lead late or to slow a Bryce Hopkins-type that’s abusing Karaban down low.
It shows how insane UConn’s 14-0 start was that the Huskies were climbing the rankings in late 2022, even as a double-digit ACC scorer for three years couldn’t hit the broadside of the barn. It’s ironic that the one player who could help UConn back to its early-season form is the guy who contributed the least to that dominance.
The Holy Trinity
One of Evan Miya’s cooler features is the keys to victory section. This looks back starting with the 2018-19 season for Dan Hurley. The three key metrics for the Huskies are assists, 3-point percentage and turnovers.
When UConn holds its opponent to 11 assists or fewer, converts on 33.2 percent or more of its outside shots and turns the ball over 12 times or less, it’s 27-2 and wins by an average of 18.6 points. When the Huskies accomplish two of these goals, they are 40-17 and win by an average of 10.4 points. However, when they do none of these things, they are 0-10, with an average margin of defeat of 7.2 points. Such losses include Jan. 11, 2023 against Marquette, while UConn only met the target in turnovers during its NCAA Tournament loss to New Mexico State last March.
Against Seton Hall, the Pirates only had nine assists, while UConn shot 39 percent from the field. But 18 turnovers will never get it done.