A national champion coach.
Two highly touted graduate students.
Two dynamic freshmen.
The returning conference Defensive Player of the Year.
“Hot Rod,” D-Ham and more returning talent.
For them, the long offseason is over. The UConn men’s basketball season will kick off their season Friday night at Gampel Pavilion against Maine. Tip off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
The Huskies went 2-0 in their exhibition games, defeating University of Tampa and University of New Haven.
In both games, coach Kevin Ollie implanted the same starting lineup; Amida Brimah, Shonn Miller, Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis and Sterling Gibbs. Although he would not confirm, it is overwhelmingly likely that this will be the starting five that take the floor against Maine.
“(Finding the right rotation) is a continued work in progress. Everyone has their role, but I don’t want them to get locked into those roles because they can change,” Ollie said. “Someone could get hot, could be playing great defense. We definitely have roles set, but it comes down to who’s playing at a ‘Level Five’ then we go from there.”
UConn is coming off an appearance in the NIT in 2014-15. In the American Athletic Conference preseason poll, the Huskies were selected to finish second. Freshman guard Jalen Adams was named the league's Preseason Rookie of the Year, while Hamilton, Brimah and Gibbs were chosen for Preseason All-Conference teams.
“Every player wants to go out in that first game and play well to start that momentum,” Ollie said.
UConn is No. 20 in the AP Top 25 poll and is No. 24 in the USA Today poll.
Maine is coming into the season after posting a 3-27 record in 2014-15. The Black Bears have a young squad, with two sophomores and a freshman in the projected starting lineup. They do return their leading scorer, Kevin Little (12.5 ppg) and top rebounders, Till Gloger and Marko Pirovic (4.8 rpg).
“They’ve got some real good players,” Ollie said. “They run a lot of dribble-drive so we’ve got to be down in our stance and defend for 30 seconds and end the possession with a defensive rebound.”
Expect Maine to struggle with the size and depth of UConn’s frontcourt. The Black Bears don’t have a player listed at taller than 6’7,” so rebounding could be an issue in this game.
This will be the 100th meeting between UConn and Maine, with the Huskies holding an 83-16 advantage. Maine’s last victory against UConn came in 1978.
Senior forward Phil Nolan, who missed most of the second half against New Haven with an apparent ankle injury, practiced on Thursday and is expected to dress for the game but his role was not defined.
The mood around this team has been tremendously positive and expectations are high.
“This team can be very good,” Gibbs said. “We’re a talented group. It’s different being with a whole new group. We have two new starters, two freshmen playing a big role. This team can be really good. As long as we buy in to what coach is saying, we’re going to be good.”
Basketball season is back. Although Maine is not quite the biggest challenge UConn will face, the goal remains the same.
“I just want to win,” Ollie said. “It’s what I’ve been saying. I want us to compete on both sides of the court, share the basketball, but ultimately I want to win. No matter how we get there, I want to win.”