It’s been a roller-coaster ride for the UConn men’s basketball team this season. After starting out dry, they went on to win seven of 10 games in conference before dropping their last four to force them into playing a first-round game in the American Athletic Conference tournament. With their first regular-season losing record since Jim Calhoun’s first year as head coach, we asked our men’s basketball beat writers if the UConn men have one more run in them.
Stephanie Sheehan, Associate Managing Editor: I think if this year’s team has proven anything, it’s that they have the capacity to go on runs when it matters. Sure, they’re on a four-game losing streak, but Jalen Adams has been injured and Rodney Purvis has not been playing well like he had been when they were winning. Home court advantage is obviously huge, but the Huskies are apt to using that to their advantage, and they more than anybody have experience with resetting themselves and coming into the conference tournament with a new mindset. Once Vance Jackson comes back and they have their starting five back intact, getting past USF won’t be a problem with four days of practice under their belt in their own state.
Tyler Keating, Associate Sports Editor: I’m with you there. UConn will get past USF, because almost any basketball team with a working pulse can get past USF. Doubly so when you’re playing on your home floor, as the Huskies will be this weekend in Hartford. I’m dubious, however, that they will get any farther than that. Beat USF and they run into Houston on Friday. The Cougars aren’t world beaters, but they are more than capable of topping a UConn team dealing with an injury to its best player, Adams. Adams sat out in December when Houston easily handled the Huskies in Hartford, and hobbled as he looked Sunday against Cincinnati, I can’t imagine he makes enough of a difference to push UConn past a noticeably superior team. With all of the injuries this season, the Huskies just don’t have the ammunition to knock off any of the American’s top three teams.
Sheehan: It’s not impossible to imagine a swift enough recovery for Adams to make a big impact. Even so, I think it’s been made clear this team lives and dies with Purvis, who only shot 3-for-8 in their latest Houston disaster. I admit, a lot hinges on things going right, but as hard as it is to believe, that’s not an unimaginable scenario. Nobody even thought UConn would get more than four conference wins, much less win nine and put up a serious fight against SMU not too long ago. There’s a very real chance that, in the wake of his last basketball games and being fortunate enough to play them at home, Purvis could break out again and make a real difference. Adams and Jackson have enough time to rest, and the defense is more than capable of keeping good teams at bay. The odds are certainly stacked against them, but putting up a fight and getting past Houston could be the right push the Huskies need to get the wheels rolling again.
Keating: I can see it happen. I can see Adams leading with his steadying hand on offense, while Purvis staves off the end of his UConn career with an American Tournament performance not unlike the one he had two years in this very same building. But I don’t think it will realistically happen. This team is too banged up, and at times during Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati, they looked like maybe, just maybe, like they wanted this miserable season to be over. The Huskies couldn’t make a jump shot, and that isn’t a lack of effort – but being killed on the offensive boards is. As Kevin Ollie said after the game, “You need to want to rebound.” That wasn’t the case on many possessions Sunday, and despite ripping off a nice run there before this four-game losing streak, that may be the case this weekend. Houston is a better team, and should be hungrier, because an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is legitimately within their reach should they play well this weekend. This time, I think UConn will stay down.