The UConn men’s basketball team has had a disappointing season, but two bright spots are the debut seasons of freshmen Vance Jackson and Christian Vital. Both players have been forced into significant roles due to injury troubles, and both have made important contributions. Our sports editors debated the question: which freshman has been more impactful, Jackson or Vital?
Dan Madigan: Jackson’s freshman year has certainly been more up and down than Vital’s, but Jackson’s high points this year have been clearly more impressive. After struggling from 3-point range for the early part of his season, he has lived up to the hype as a knockdown shooter as of late, shooting 50 percent (19-38) from downtown during conference play. He now leads the team in 3-point percentage at 38 percent, a lone bright spot on an otherwise mediocre at best shooting team. Not to mention, Jackson’s size and quickness allow him to defend a variety of positions, a major benefit for a UConn team with an extremely short bench.
Tyler Keating: Jackson has certainly improved immensely over the course of this season and, here in American play, has hit 3-pointers with the consistency we were promised. Vital has been impactful right from the start, even before the season-ending injury to guard Alterique Gilbert thrust him into the No. 3 guard role. With the shooting struggles of senior Rodney Purvis, Vital has been the steadiest UConn ball-handler not named Jalen Adams, which is especially impressive considering the expectations for him entering the season compared to his fellow freshmen. He’s a tenacious defender and a generally smart offensive decision maker, although he’s definitely taken his fair share of questionable shots. He’s even taken to scoring the ball when it’s absolutely necessary, leading the team in scoring twice this season.
Madigan: Vital has definitely been serviceable in filling in Gilbert as best as possible, and his ability to handle the ball effectively has been a huge deal, but Jackson is no slouch either. Like Vital, Jackson has led the Huskies in scoring twice, but he has also led UConn in assists twice, something Vital has done once. For a team with an offense that looks anemic at times, having a well-rounded offensive player like Jackson contribute in a variety of ways as a freshman is something to look forward to, and shows why he is really is more than just a shooter. Not to mention, Jackson was named American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Week for two weeks in a row in January, a testament to his growth this season and recognition for strong performances against Temple, Georgetown and SMU.
Keating: Vital hasn’t racked up the assists quite as well as could, but he has found a way to contribute in other ways. He pulled down 10 rebounds in a win over Tulane. He’s the team leader in free throw percentage at 82 percent. He doesn’t have the great 3-point shooting percentage that Jackson has, but he’s hit just three fewer 3-pointers on four more attempts. And his defense can’t really be quantified, but he passes the eye test as one of the team’s best individual defenders. With the way his minutes have fluctuated as Kevin Ollie chooses to play Adams and Purvis more and more, these are impressive feats. Not to mention, he secured the Huskies’ best win of the season with a pair of cold-blooded free throws to beat Syracuse at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 5. Both players have played well and both will continue to power UConn in future seasons, but Vital has had a slightly bigger impact this season.
Dan Madigan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @dmad1433.
Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering and men’s basketball. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @tylerskeating.