It takes a long time to build trust, but only an instant to break it.
This is what the UConn men’s basketball team does. They rope you in, give you a glimmer of hope that things might be getting better, and then suddenly revert back to form.
It’s fair to say that the team may not be all that talented—after all, Kevin Ollie had to scramble to fill scholarship spots after the sudden departure of three would-be starters, and David Onuorah and Antwoine Anderson aren’t exactly prized possessions. It’s also fair to say that the absence of Alterique Gilbert has severely impacted the diversity of UConn’s scoring, seeing as only three players can really put up significant numbers game after game.
But it goes beyond that. UConn isn’t really so talent diminished that it would make them this sloppy. No, their problems are the silly things, the things that you can’t look up or find on stat sheets. They lack motivation. They lack consistency. Often times, they lack basic execution. At some point, these things can’t fall solely on the players.
The sole job of a coach is to guide the team, to get them to reach their potential and figure out how to play the five best players on the court and have them play smoothly. Coaches call the plays. Coaches don’t continue to tolerate the same mistakes over and over. Coaches keep their players’ heads in the game. Ollie does all of these things poorly.
It’s bad enough when three players transfer and one decommits (though that was mostly outside of Ollie’s control). Things only get worse when your star player sits out the opening game because he crashes his scooter. And rock bottom? When Eric Cobb is suspended indefinitely for an exchange of words between him and Ollie. Or maybe rock bottom is giving up over 100 points to Arkansas in the PK80 Tournament that started out so well.
Sure, UConn has won the most NCAA Championships in the past two decades. But that has little to do with Ollie—all the players were Jim Calhoun’s, and the supporting coaching staff was Calhoun’s. All of the Calhoun-era influence is gone now. This is all Ollie. This is what it looks like.
If yesterday’s game against Memphis is any indication, this team cannot function in uncomfortable situations. Terry Larrier sat out due to headaches, and the scoring took a blow—the biggest blow of the season, in fact, as the Huskies scored a season-low 49 points. They are susceptible to making objectively bad teams look good (see: East Carolina, Monmouth, Coppin State, Columbia). They let games get out of control (see: Arkansas, Michigan State, Memphis). They can’t execute in crunch-time (see: Wichita State, Arizona).
It’s not hard to look at the stats and see that UConn doesn’t have good offense: 238 turnovers as opposed to 172 assists. Thirteen turnovers per game to 9.6 assists per game, which is the second worst number in the entire country. Forty-percent shooting from the floor. Thirty-percent shooting from three. A 130 KenPom ranking. Ollie isn’t exactly known for his crafty offensive schemes and his in-bounds plays.
Sure, they played well against UCF and Tulane, and it was fun to see what this team could potentially look like if things were going well. Larrier being sidelined was admittedly a burden that was hard to overcome. But it felt like UConn wasn’t really trying; like they already mentally forfeited. That’s probably not the case, but there have been some blowouts this year where it’s felt like nobody was really trying. Last night’s game was one of them.
And that’s part of the problem. They were building a good momentum. They were playing well. I don’t believe that Larrier sitting for one game would suddenly throw the entire team out of whack, but it does show the depth that is lacking. Anderson played 39 minutes and didn’t make one of his six shot attempts. Josh Carlton—yes, Josh Carlton—led the team in scoring with 15. It was hard to watch.
The program has steeply declined in the last two years, but the Huskies are so fresh off a national championship that there’s no widespread panic outside of the UConn fanbase. This will start to change soon. And if the coaches aren’t held accountable, it may soon slide past the point of no return.