The 2016-17 UConn men’s basketball will see game action for the first time this weekend when they host New Haven in an exhibition game Sunday afternoon at the XL Center in Hartford. The game is the first of two exhibition contests the Huskies will play before their season opener against Wagner on Nov. 11 at Gampel Pavilion.
“We’re just excited about this season, it’s right around the corner. We got a goal in mind, and that’s winning a national championship,” said freshman guard Alterique Gilbert after practice last week.
A host of preseason media polls and selections have been released recently, with UConn receiving considerable accolades. At American Athletic Conference media day, the Huskies were voted to finish second behind Cincinnati, while Gilbert was selected as the Preseason Rookie of the Year. Returning sophomore Jalen Adams, who was named to the preseason All-Conference Second Team, received that same rookie honor last season.
As for national polls, UConn was ranked No. 16 in the USA Today Preseason Coaches’ Poll, which was released on Oct. 20. The Huskies were ranked No. 24 in the same poll last year, and No. 15 the year before, when they were coming off a national championship.
UConn head coach Kevin Ollie seemed to disagree with the lofty ranking.
“We’re not to that level yet,” Ollie said of the team’s placement at No. 16. “So hopefully, we can continue to work. I don’t get caught up in preseason things, I just want to work each and every day and be the best chemistry team we can possibly be.”
The Huskies have been working, as they continue to prepare for a season in which they will incorporate five freshmen, along with transfer Terry Larrier. Ollie is still working to find the right mixture of players that will see the court, as he admitted that he doesn’t have a definitive starting lineup yet.
“It’s changing each and every day,” Ollie said of his plans for the starting lineup.
It’s unclear how much size Ollie will put on the court at any given time, including at tip-off, as the Huskies have quite a few players that could conceivably slide up and down and play other positions. Senior guard Rodney Purvis, who will likely start and could play minutes at a forward position, talked about the team’s collective versatility.
“We don’t have no positions, I don’t think,” Purvis said. “Once we get in the flow of the game, and the coach gets to throwing different lineups out there, your position doesn’t really matter. He has guys assigned to do different things.”
One crucial factor will be how much playing time the five freshmen will receive early in the season, and how quickly they find roles. UConn has a few gaps to fill after key players from last year’s roster departed, and freshmen like Gilbert and forward Juwan Durham should be called upon early and often.
“We need them to get better, and they don’t know what to expect, they just trying to get better each and every day, and hopefully we have some veteran leadership in here that can step up, and kind of guide them through the difficulties of preseason, and get them ready for exhibition games,” Ollie said of the freshmen.
Gilbert talked about the bond between the five freshmen. The five are himself, Durham, forwards Vance Jackson and Mamadou Diarra and guard Christian Vital.
“The freshman, we do everything together,” Gilbert said. “We’re around each other, just about, most of the day.”
Fans will get their first look at this year’s Huskies when they take the floor against New Haven at the XL Center Sunday in Hartford. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.