Basketball season is right around the corner here in Storrs, so this week, we are debating whether the men’s or women’s team has more to prove this upcoming season.
This season, the UConn basketball team with more to prove is the men’s team. Last season began well for the Huskies, winning against rival Syracuse at Madison Square Garden in November. Even hard-fought losses to Arizona and Florida State were considered positives as the program attempted to rebuild. However, things quickly spiraled out of control. A disappointing showing against Villanova before New Years resulted in the team limping into conference play. Although expectations for first-year coach Dan Hurley were not too high, the team still underperformed. The team dropped four of the first five conference games and finished the season in ninth place, posting a record of 6-12. As the conference tournament loomed, relentless believers such as myself reminded ourselves of the team’s tendency to shine in the postseason. A brutal 84-45 loss to Houston capped off another miserable season. There were far too many negatives to let the season end quietly. For a fanbase that accepts nothing but the best, last year was anything but welcomed, setting the stage for what many hope to be a resurgence by the team. Expectations for this season are not for them to dominate what will be a very solid conference, but to at the very least compete and show signs of progress.
The men’s team absolutely has a lot to prove after three straight sub-.500 seasons. However, I don’t think they have more to prove than the women’s team this year. The reason being we really don’t know what to expect from them. There’s no reference point. The last time the men’s team was really good, most of the current players were still in middle school. However, for the women, every time they put that UConn uniform on, there’s an expectation of greatness. Maybe that’s unfair, but it comes with the territory after 11 titles and 19 Final Four appearances since 1995. This team has more to prove than any recent UConn women’s basketball team, because I think for the first time, people are starting to question the end of the dynasty. The combination of not being able to win the big games the past three seasons (all Final Four defeats) and the departure of last year’s two top players (Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson) has people a little reluctant to tag them as championship favorites like they’ve been in the past. In a recent preseason poll, UConn was seventh, which is very low for a Geno Auriemma-led team. This team needs to prove that they are still worthy of being the class of women’s college basketball.
In any other year, the women’s team would have more to live up to. But this year is different for the men’s program. The returning pieces, new additions and having Hurley back for his second season have fans hopeful. This year’s team is balanced and many players are expected to contribute, regardless of their experience. James Bouknight, Jalen Gaffney and Akok Akok are great additions, not only for the future but right now as well. Christian Vital and Altrique Gilbert will be expected to carry much of the load along with big man Josh Carlton. Players that failed to get consistent playing time such as Brendan Adams and Isaiah Whaley will have the opportunity to contribute and earn minutes. This season is important the team, but also the program as a whole. Hurley has been able to bring in great talent despite facing self-imposed sanctions and playing in the less-than-ideal American Conference. Next year marks the reunion of UConn basketball with the Big East Conference. With a fresh start on the horizon, the team needs to show signs of improvement. This will not only benefit the team on the court next year, but might also attract sought-after recruits who can help the team in the future.
This season is very important for the men’s team but more so as a building block for what’s coming next year with the move back to the Big East. For the women’s team though, this season is important for right now. UConn women’s basketball always has a win-now attitude, and they must continue to win now. Players will have to make big jumps this year to ensure that the Huskies will still be in the running for a National Championship. Crystal Dangerfield is the lone senior returning starter on the team this season, so she will have to be the true leader of this team. Megan Walker may be the most important player for the team this year. We’ve seen what she can do when she gets going on both ends of the floor, but she’ll have to be consistently great this season. Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa have to make big leaps for their sophomore season as well. There are a lot of variables at play for the team this year, and for the first time in a while, UConn looks very vulnerable. That is why the women’s team has more to prove in this upcoming season.
Danny Barletta is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @dbars_12.
Matt Severino is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @matt_seve.