The UConn men’s basketball team has had an absolutely horrendous start to the 2016-17 season, with back-to-back home losses to Wagner and Northeastern, respectively. But one win against our biggest rivals in the largest market in America has me very hopeful for the rest of this season.
There are obvious reasons to think otherwise, most notable our already horrible resume against weak opponents and our inability to put up points at a high rate. And of course, two of our best players in Terry Larrier and Alterique Gilbert are out for the season.
I understand that those are legitimate concerns for a team like the Huskies with a great deal of youth and not much scoring potential. Despite all that, the win against Syracuse is a big deal that could fuel a great run for the rest of the non-conference schedule. The will to comeback from a double-digit deficit against the Orange at Madison Square Garden on Monday night proved that the men’s team still has a lot of fight left in them. Of course, Syracuse missed tons of shots, but the Huskies’ defense was incredible for a long stretch in the second half of the rivalry game. That level of defense is the stuff that UConn fans have seen in many a March on the way to a title.
Now I’m not saying this team is going to win a championship this year, or even next year. Realistically, that probably won’t happen with a few loaded teams at the top such as Duke, Kansas and Villanova. That said, the Huskies do have the potential to come together and still win a lot of games on their defense alone if they continue to play like this.
Offensively, Jalen Adams is an absolute monster and can score in a number of ways. He will surely be the team’s leading scorer come the end of the season. But he can’t do it alone. Senior Rodney Purvis proved that someone else can shoulder the load on Monday night with a fantastic second half performance. Purvis tallied 21 points on the game and has shown that he has the potential to be a big time scoring option in the past, so hopefully the Syracuse game is a sign of his shot coming back to life in the months to come.
The Huskies have some scoring potential in their sizeable frontcourt as well. In limited minutes Monday night, freshman Juwan Durham showed that he can break a zone from the high post, while Kentan Facey came up with seven points, along with some big rebounds for UConn, which has been starved of a rebounding presence all season. Combine that with senior Amida Brimah’s shot-blocking ability and bench depth from Steven Enoch and the Huskies have themselves a group that can scare some teams on both ends of the court.
Even if the team may not be the most talented or most experienced, perhaps the team’s greatest hope for the season comes from the energy the guys bring each and every day. Even through the losses, the Huskies’ roster is filled with high-motor players that play for each other. That energy starts at the top with head coach Kevin Ollie and is found in every player in blue and white uniform. Those are the types of teams that have won championships for UConn in the past.
Purvis, in particular, gives off a lot of energy with every big play the team makes. His screams after a big dunk or claps after a big three get the rest of the team into the game and gets the fans into the game and that is huge for a team that needs that energy and effort advantage if it is going to win big games, just like it did against Syracuse.
Watching the comeback win against the Orange really reinvigorated my hope for the men’s basketball team this season. Despite the obvious flaws that need to be worked on, the pieces are there and there’s still a lot of potential to make the season special. It’s a long road ahead, but as UConn fans very well know, anything can happen come March. We’re just going to have to wait and see.