The UConn men’s basketball team saw their season come to a gloomy end when they lost to No. 1 overall seeded Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament—the first such loss under Kevin Ollie. This came just less than a week after winning their first-ever American Athletic Conference championship, which will largely be remembered by Jalen Adams’ 65-foot buzzer beater in the third overtime of the first round game against Cincinnati. The team has experienced ups and downs like this throughout the regular season, which prompts the question: did they exceed or fail to meet expectations?
Stephanie Sheehan: There’s no question that the team fell short of expectations. Going into the season, the Huskies were ranked No. 20 in the AP poll and easily had the potential to be a Final Four team. If we really want to get specific here, the underperformance of Amida Brimah both pre and post injury was one of the biggest contributing factors to the team’s regular season woes. He should be grabbing at least six rebounds per game, but instead he either gets all or nothing. As a whole, the team should have very easily swept conference play outside of SMU and maybe Cincinnati, but instead they suffered inexcusable losses against teams like Houston and Tulsa. Rodney Purvis was inconsistent, Daniel Hamilton drastically underperformed on the offensive side, and for all the hype that both Shonn Miller and Sterling Gibbs had as graduate transfers, only Miller played with consistency in the regular season. Not to mention that Ollie struggled with giving the right players the proper amount of minutes, as the team had so many options to go with that he had no idea who to choose and how to balance it.
Matt Fontaine: This season was not the greatest in UConn’s history, but I believe they overachieved in many areas. The Huskies were coming off a season where they lost Ryan Boatright, their leading scorer and outright leader, and had a small recruiting class coming into the season. The team had no clear player that they could take over the game, like Shabazz or Boatright. So, they all pulled their own weight in terms of scoring points throughout the game. Daniel Hamilton showed his progression as an all around player by increasing his rebounds per game to 8.9 and his assists per game to 4.7. Shonn Miller and Sterling Gibbs exceeded expectations because they are first time players on the team, just like freshman, and they haven’t developed the type of chemistry that the other seniors have. However, it looked like Miller was able to fill in a hole that was missing last year when DeAndre Daniels left two years ago for the NBA. Gibbs was able to take some of the pressure off of Jalen Adams who was coming in this season with the expectation that he would be the next great UConn point guard. While some might disagree, I felt like Ollie was put into a tough spot when it came to managing the amount of minutes each player got. Not many teams have multiple graduate transfers and players who have potential to be successful in the NBA.
Sheehan: I think it’s fair to cite chemistry as something that would give them some setbacks, but the fact of the matter is that Miller and Gibbs were not literally freshman. Having been a part of a collegiate basketball program for four years prior, they were the veteran presence and should have helped the team chemistry instead of being a liability to it. Put simply, this team had too much raw talent. They were inconsistent and hardly ever showed their potential against consistently competitive, ranked teams. The Hamilton we saw during the postseason should have been the Hamilton we were seeing in the regular season. Brimah was only able to perform against very poor teams. His two fouls in two minutes of playing time against Kansas was arguably the reason they lost. Gibbs only seemed to be effective from long range – he did a relatively poor job running the floor. Especially since the transfers were graduates, they should be held to the standard that they would lead the team chemistry wise. Anything short of that is falling below expectations, and unfortunately, the team could not find a successful way to play together. That’s as much on Ollie as a coach as it is for the players themselves. They have to do better.
Fontaine: While I agree that Miller and Gibbs should have had an easier time with the transition from their original schools to UConn, you are making a lot of sweeping generalizations. First, you said they didn’t do well against ranked opponents. While, yes, they were 1-3 against ranked opponents, they did keep it close in two of three losses. Against No. 10 Gonzaga they only lost by three and by 10 against No. 6 Maryland. Secondly, Hamilton in the postseason was impressive and in the regular season he did show us how dominant of a player he can be. Against CCSU he became just the 11th player in UConn’s history to have a triple-double in a game and led the team with 12 double doubles, which was tied for 56th in the nation. You then said that Brimah was only able to perform against very poor teams. Was he? Because during the win against No. 21 SMU he led the team in points (16), rebounds (eight), and blocks (five). I would say that was an exceptional performance against a team which could have made a deep run in the NCAA tournament if they were eligible. While you did make a lot of good points that show where the team underperformed, in my opinion they exceeded most of my expectations of them coming into the season.