UConn kicked off the Dan Hurley era with a 96-64 win over Southern Connecticut State University on Friday night, and while the UConn offense put up the most points since dropping 100 against Queens N.Y. last year, there is still a lot of work to be done before they kick off their season against Morehead State on Nov. 8. Here are the five key takeaways from the exhibition:
1) The offense has picked up the pace—big time
Fast break points and transition offense were some of the two biggest struggles the Huskies’ offense has faced over the last two declining seasons. It’s clear that Dan Hurley has worked hard to get those two things back up to snuff—and it showed. UConn had 13 steals, 21 points off turnovers and 45 fast break points. The Huskies shot 49.2 percent from the floor and went 8-for-18 from 3-point range for a percentage of 44.4—for comparison, the Huskies shot more than 45 percent from beyond the arc just three times last season.
“They’re going to play an up-tempo game, be physical; the team’s going to be in your face,” SCSU coach and former UConn great Scott Burrell said. “Lots of movement on offense… I mean, they’re not that big, but they’re gonna be tough players, 6-6, 6-7 guys that can do a lot of things and make teams change for them.”
Though SCSU is a DII team and the final numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s clear that the Huskies’ offense is quicker, better and more efficient than it has been in a while. Head coach Dan Hurley said that UConn is just going to focus on being the hardest playing team on the court.
“We’ve gotta be scrappy, we’ve gotta be gritty, we gotta have an edge to us,” Hurley said.
2) …But the defense still has work to do
It took UConn just over 15 minutes to notch an offensive rebound, and it came at the hands of Kwintin Williams, who had come into the game for the first time mere moments before grabbing that board. The Huskies finished with just six offensive rebounds out of their total 37.
“We gave up too many 3s in the first half, just kind of hesitated when we were in close-out situations,” Hurley said. “I thought the rebounding was scary bad at times, and then I just think the ball didn’t move the way it needed to move at times… we’ve obviously got stuff to work on, but it’s just good to get one under our belt and avoid having a nightmare of a night in these exhibition games.”
The Owls took advantage of UConn getting used to a new defensive scheme; SCSU took 15 3-pointers in the first half and sunk seven of them. The Huskies’ defense still has a lot of holes, as they gave up 26 3-point attempts total, though Southern only ended up making seven of them. They were able to get into the paint with ease and spread the floor against the Huskies and took away their ability to crash the boards.
3) The frontcourt is going to be a year-long project
The headlines of the summer and fall were about Eric Cobb’s slimmed-down figure and his desire to make the most of his last chance with UConn. Naturally, there was quite a bit of hype surrounding Cobb coming into the night, with many people expecting either a breakout performance or anything better than last year. And, well… nothing is really much different. Cobb is quicker, yes, but he only scored four points and grabbed six rebounds in 17 minutes. Josh Carlton, the other true big man on the roster standing at 6-foot-10, posted slightly better stats: nine points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes. He could have very easily shot perfect from the floor, but his finishing skills still need work.
“Josh Carlton was brutal in the first half of the game,” Hurley said. “Just like, his activity level and the way he was responding to his first half struggle is like something that was super encouraging. There were things that went on there in that game that we can really build on.”
4) Brendan Adams is going to be a key player
If you heard that someone with the last name Adams led the Huskies in scoring, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise. But when you learn that it’s freshman Brendan Adams who scored a team-best 17 points and not Jalen, who didn’t even start Friday’s game, it might be a bit more surprising. Jalen was close behind Brendan with 16 points, but Brendan was a bit more efficient in his shot selection, sinking five of the eight shots he took, including going 3-for-5 from 3-point range and 4-for-5 from the foul line. Brendan was the biggest question mark going into Friday’s game, seeing as he had never played a collegiate game before, but he showed he can remain calm, play the game the right way and potentially be a real contributor this year.
“Just taking the right shots and taking what the defense gives me,” Adams said of his success. “Not forcing anything, just taking the open shots and the right ones and making plays.”
5) Dan Hurley is the boss around here
Jalen Adams played 21 minutes in Friday’s game, but he was not in the starting lineup and did not check in until seven minutes had gone by. Hurley has made it clear that he is a no-nonsense guy and expects each of his players to give 100 percent effort 100 percent of the time. While it was never made clear exactly what Jalen was in hot water for, he was confident that he wouldn’t let it happen again.
“I just gotta do the right thing and fall in love with the process,” Adams said. “There’s no shortcuts to success, so I just gotta buy in 100 percent to the coaching staff’s game plan and I’m sure things will work out for me.”
Hurley said he wouldn’t be doing his job as a coach if he didn’t hold his players to the best standards possible. UConn lacked discipline last year, but Hurley is going to get rid of the mentality that it’s okay to perform five days out of the week instead of all seven.
“This is a guy that I wouldn’t be doing my job, when you’ve got his ability, if I didn’t hold him to the absolute highest possible standard every single day,” Hurley said. “From here on forward, we’re accepting nothing less than him performing day in and day out like great players do, like elite players do.”