As basketball season begins, it’s always good to get some predictions out there before the season officially starts. Our basketball beat writers answered some questions on what they’re looking forward to most this season. Associate Sports Editor Tyler Keating and Associate Managing Editor Stephanie Sheehan take a look at the men’s team, while Sports Editor Dan Madigan and staff writer Matt Kren will be covering the women’s team.
Which player leads the men/women in scoring?
Tyler Keating: Point guard Jalen Adams flashed his potential at the end of last season, and he should carry that momentum into this new season as the team’s best player. Adams proved in a bevy of difficult conference games last season that he is an elite finisher in the paint, and he has enough credibility as a jump shooter to qualify as a threat. Also, he made 44 of his 51 free throws attempts last season, and has proved in exhibition play this year that he will be living at the line.
Stephanie Sheehan: Redshirt sophomore Terry Larrier has been lighting up the floor in his first few exhibition games as a Husky. He has proven to be a great all-around player so far, especially when it comes to finding the basket. He has complete control when he handles the ball and can find the backboard, in addition to having a nice jumper; he’s scored a total of 27 points through two exhibition games. He can handle himself very well and I believe he will come to form as a regular starter, especially with the Huskies competing against a relatively easy schedule.
Dan Madigan: Kia Nurse was the Preseason Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference for a reason. Nurse will shoulder a lot of the scoring load this season for the Huskies and should do so easily after a summer in Rio with Team Canada. Nurse can shoot it well enough from deep and handle contact in the paint to wear down opponents, and will certainly be one of UConn’s best offensive weapons this season.
Matt Kren: Katie Lou Samuelson, the six-foot three sophomore, is an elite scorer who showed her scoring prowess last season when she averaged 11points per game. Samuelson hit a team best 74 threes last year, despite the fact she only started 22 games and played 23.5 minutes per game. With the big three leaving to the WNBA, Samuelson will have the green light all season and a have legitimate chance to average 20 points a game as her role on and off the court will only continue to expand this season.
Who has a shot to be this year’s biggest surprise?
Keating: Freshman forward Vance Jackson comes to UConn with the reputation of a fearsome three-point shooter, and has already begun to show why. If the Huskies are struggling to find long range shooting from the core members of their rotation, Jackson will play, and he will play a lot. Besides his shooting stroke, he has the length and size to be a legitimate presence both defensively and on the boards. If he’s shooting well, he will be a crucial player to the team’s overall success.
Sheehan: Steven Enoch did not get a lot of playing time last year, but he is very much the biggest x-factor for this team. Even though the Huskies added the presence of big men with Jackson and Mamadou Diarra, Enoch has the potential to be the biggest of them all. Enoch has made leaps and bounds from last year’s performance, providing solid baseline defense and showing the ability to move around defenders in the paint with the ball. With defense at the forefront of UConn’s problems, Enoch could be the one that propels the Huskies from good to great.
Madigan: Napheesa Collier is an extremely underrated player and could really break out this season for the Huskies. Collier has a similar skillset to former Husky Morgan Tuck in that she can score in a multitude of ways. She has no problem driving to the basket and can also hold her own with a solid array of post moves down low. Not to mention, she’s a lockdown defender who has shown a knack for steals, blocks and rebounds on both ends.
Kren: Natalie Butler who is already a Husky favorite is poised to have a breakout season this year after only playing 12 minutes a game last year. In the 27 games she appeared in, Butler shot just under 56 percent and was able to pull down four rebounds a game. With increased minutes, shots and opportunities on the court this season look for Butler to flourish and to be a valuable member of UConn’s second unit.
What’s your prediction for this season?
Keating: The preseason rankings that the men’s team has received are too high, but I think that by the end of the season UConn will find themselves in the twenties as far as national rankings go. I don’t think they will win the regular season conference title, as Cincinnati will probably grind its way to more wins and the Huskies are certainly going to blow a few, but they should finish at No. 2 in the American and claim a seed around that 8-to-10 range. Because this is UConn, we say “anything can happen in the NCAA tournament” every year, but truthfully I can’t imagine this team going farther than the Sweet Sixteen. I’ll say they make it to the Round of 32 and lose there.
Sheehan: I have a strange mix of high hopes and low expectations for this team. On one hand, their proliferation of young talent is something that UConn hasn’t seen in a little while, and there is a solid mix of veteran presence and rookies. That being said, inexperience is the downfall of many teams. I feel as though the team has excellent chemistry and their confidence will only rise as the season goes on. However, the real test will be playing Cincinnati and their performance in the conference tournament. I really can’t jump to any conclusions about the NCAA tournament yet, because everything can change in an instant and that’s still four months away. I think they have the potential to win the conference championship again, but that’s only if everything goes exactly according to plan, and there’s a solid chance that they will hit some hurdles that may be too high for this team to clear right now.
Madigan: Things are not as clear cut as last year. The women are far from a lock to win an unprecedented fifth-straight national championship, but anything is possible with young but talented group of players and one of the best coaches of all time in Geno Auriemma. I think UConn almost certainly reaches the Elite Eight this season and has a good chance of making the Final Four. Any farther than that is not likely.
Kren: The AP has UConn at No. 3 right now in the rankings despite them losing Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson. There will be a void of points, rebounds and assists that will be hard to fill but Nurse, Samuelson and Williams so far look poised to step up and lead the team into March. Although UConn will lose multiple games in the first two months, I would be shocked if they do not make it into the final four and are not either the third or fourth favorite to cut down the nets for a fifth straight time.
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.