The future for the UConn men’s basketball program is bright. I can say that with full confidence. How bright? Is a question that needs to be asked.
After back to back seasons rife with inconsistency, the expectations on the 2016-17 team must be tempered, if only for the sanity of all the UConn fans.
Following yet another 25 win season, the Huskies are undoubtedly in good shape moving forward. Between their returning players and a Top 10 recruiting class, next year’s roster looks to be the most talented coach Kevin Ollie has had during his tenure in Storrs.
Let’s take a look at some of the key returning figures. The Huskies are returning their top two leading scorers, Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton. Throw in Jalen Adams and Amida Brimah, UConn returns four of their six leading scorers. Those four look to make up the core of the starting lineup next season.
Hamilton’s return, which is not confirmed but highly likely, is paramount to the team’s success. He is, without question, the most productive player on the roster. Hamilton was one of just two players in America that had at least 450 points, 300 rebounds and 150 assists. The other? Consensus No. 1 pick Ben Simmons of LSU. Hamilton’s performance in the American Athletic Conference tournament and in UConn’s Round One victory over Colorado in the NCAA tournament was a reminder that he can easily be the best player on a championship caliber team.
The other breakout star of the postseason was the freshman guard Adams. His 62 foot buzzer beater against Cincinnati is already iconic but it was his all-around game that stood out. He started to look comfortable taking jump shots and was fairly unstoppable getting to the rim at times. This season was one of growth for Adams. Next year, the training wheels are off. He’ll have the ball in his hands a lot.
Purvis and Brimah will both be returning for their senior seasons. At this point, we should all know what to expect from the two of them. Purvis is a consistent scoring option and will surely always get his 11-14 points per game. He always plays hard and is the best perimeter defender on the roster.
As for Brimah, well, he just is who he is. He’s never going to develop into an Emeka Okafor type center and he’s not going to become the true impact defender that Hasheem Thabeet was. But that’s ok. Brimah is a very solid center. He’s a threat on both sides of the court just by standing out there. Having spent lots of time around the team these last two seasons, I also feel confident in saying he’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s their leader.
As I said before, Huskies have a top-10 recruiting class coming in, it’s a special group. ESPN, Rivals and Scout Hoops all have UConn firmly in the top-10 of incoming classes based on the four players that committed to the program.
ESPN graded Juwan Durham (PF), Alterique Gilbert (G), Vance Jackson (SF) and Mamadou Diarra (PF) all at 82 or higher. Throw in that transfer forward Terry Larrier will be eligible next season, the Huskies have five major pieces to integrate to the roster.
Gilbert and Durham have the highest grade, 89, of the incoming freshmen so it’s fair to assume they’re the furthest along and will get the most playing time. Larrier was ranked the 43rd best prospect in 2014 by ESPN and by all accounts was one of the most talented players on the roster this season.
However, Durham suffered major knee injuries following his signing. Nothing is official but signs are pointing that he will likely redshirt his freshman year.
Now, there is a problem with having a team this loaded. Ollie has yet to demonstrate he can find the optimal lineup and play his guys the right minutes. With as many as 12 players needing minutes year, the rotation could get sloppy.
Personally, I would love to see a shortened rotation of eight or nine players. On opening night, I expect the lineup to look like this: Brimah (C) Hamilton (F) Larrier (F) Purvis (G) and Adams (G) as the starters. I’m sure you could pencil that in right now. Kentan Facey and Steve Enoch will be the first big guys off the bench, at least early until Diarra develop. Gilbert should have no issue beating out Sam Cassell Jr as the first guard off the bench. The player that could get lost in the shuffle is Jackson, as he’s being blocked by two of the team’s better players.
Just looking at some of the names on this roster, plus with the new players coming in, it’s hard to not be excited for basketball. It’s too bad we have seven months until First Night.
Look for the Huskies to be a preseason top 20 team. I can see them being ranked as high as 15 in the early polls. As for the postseason, who knows. March is a crapshoot. But that’s when the Huskies come out to play.