The Dan Hurley Era has begun in an uplifting fashion, with two convincing victories at Gampel to start the UConn men’s basketball season. On Thursday, however, the team will face undoubtedly its biggest test yet, taking on rival Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. Before that happens, the DC Sports staff debate what the ceiling is for the team this year in Hurley’s first season. In a wide-open AAC, can they compete for a conference championship? Will they crack the NCAA tournament? Will Josh Carlton dunk on Zion Williamson at the buzzer to win the national championship? Here’s what our writers have to say:
Matt Severino, Campus Correspondent
If the team can stay healthy and not lose anybody else to suspension, I believe the ceiling for this team is to compete for, if not win, what is an up for grabs conference crown and possibly crack the NCAA tournament. Leadership off the court is no longer a question. What will determine the success of the team is the on-court leadership. If Jalen Adams can fill the team’s need for senior leadership, I don’t think it is unreasonable to believe the Huskies will be competing come March.
Luke Swanson, Staff Writer
It’s a cop out, but Thursday’s game against Syracuse will let us know a whole lot about how high the Huskies can climb in the 2018-19 season. Boeheim returns almost everyone from his 2017-18 Sweet Sixteen team, so the Orange will be a good yardstick against which to measure how UConn plays against high-caliber competition.
If Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert can outplay Syracuse’s experienced, rangy guard duo of Tyus Battle and Frank Howard, if Josh Carlton and Eric Cobb can handle the 7’2” Paschal Chukwu in the paint and UConn comes out with a victory, you can expect big things out of the Huskies this season.
If they go on the court and lay an egg against a quality opponent, we’ll have to wait and see how the team develops in conference play this year against an underwhelming American.
Neil Simmons, Campus Correspondent
The Syracuse and Oregon/Iowa games will be huge for not only showing how UConn stacks up to other top programs, but also for announcing ourselves on the national stage. If UConn fails to capitalize on this opportunity, then it’ll be tough to get much support from the rankings. The early returns in non-conference play suggest that the American will not be very strong this year. If Dan Hurley can get the Huskies to reach their full potential, they should be able to finish top three in the conference and return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2016.
Story Salit, Campus Correspondent
Thursday night’s showdown with No. 15 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden will be an important early test for the Huskies, but they have looked like a new and improved squad through two games at Gampel. Dan Hurley has brought a new energy and passion that simply was not there last year for players or UConn fans. Coming into the season there was little doubt about the experience and talent of the backcourt consisting of Jalen Adams, Christian Vital and now-healthy Alterique Gilbert. The main questions centered around the frontcourt and the ability of new additions to contribute. So far, freshman guard Brendan Adams and graduate transfer guard Tarin Smith have shown explosive athleticism and scoring ability. Meanwhile, sophomore big Josh Carlton has surprisingly averaged 13 points and six rebounds through two games and has given the Huskies a presence in the paint they have sorely missed the last couple seasons. If the Huskies are able to ride the coattails of their backcourt, and continue to get contributions from Smith, Brendan Adams and Carlton, they could finish near the top of the American Conference and possibly even compete for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Amir Clato-Day, Campus Correspondent
Playing at their best, the Huskies are capable of winning the AAC tournament and making the March Madness, but a lot has to happen for that to occur. Alterique Gilbert will be a huge factor. He is clearly the most talented player on the team and if he can fill even half the role Kemba and Shabazz played on their respective UConn teams, they will go far. Both SMU and Wichita State do not look as strong as they had in previous years so the conference is wide open. I’d put Cincy and Houston ahead of UConn at the moment, but if the Huskies put up a strong performance against Syracuse tonight, I’ll have reason to change my mind. Tonight’s game will tell us a lot about this team and the expectations we should have for them for the rest of the season.