In the past week, UConn men’s basketball has posted two very different results at Gampel Pavilion. Last Wednesday, the team suffered a 96-87 loss to Saint Joseph’s of the Atlantic 10 conference, a team the Huskies were favored to beat by 14 points. UConn quickly responded, however, with a 62-59 upset over No. 15 Florida on Sunday. That begs the question: Which game is more telling of how good this year’s team is?
Story Salit: I doubt that either of UConn’s performances this week will be entirely indicative of their overall quality this season, but I think the way UConn played against Florida will probably resemble a lot of their performances soon to come. Ever since Dan Hurley has taken over as head coach, the Huskies have generally shown far more energy, fight and defensive integrity than they did under Kevin Ollie. The defensive discipline was on display all game against Florida as the Huskies applied hounding ball pressure on the perimeter and consistently forced turnovers and uncomfortably long possessions for the Gators.
On the other hand, the offense was largely unimpressive Sunday, just as it has been for long stretches in many games the past couple years, including in the first half against St. Joe’s. Senior guards Alterique Gilbert and Christian Vital have proven capable of creating their own offense, but both are somewhat undersized and haven’t established themselves as consistent shooters. Josh Carlton can have an impact scoring in the post when he is not turning the ball over or clunking awkward shots off the backboard, while Tyler Polley has been a super steady 3-point shooter. Other than that, the Huskies offense is a bit of a mystery and not all that dependable.
UConn was not all that bad against St. Joe’s and were not necessarily that great against a clearly overrated Florida team, but I expect the team to be involved in more low-scoring affairs going forward like they were on Sunday.
Jorge Eckardt: Yes, the win against Florida was exhilarating. Beating an AP top-25 team like the Gators is a huge win for the resume, but do you know what’s a huge loss? Saint Joseph’s. SJU is 2-2 this season, with their two losses coming against Loyola-Chicago and Old Dominion and their only win besides the Huskies being Bradley. Not exactly the most stellar resume there for the Hawks. In the game, the Huskies just 34.9% from the field, which in case you weren’t able to infer already isn’t very good. At least they did better against Florida, right? Well, technically, yes, but no one is going to rationally argue that it was anything significant, shooting a measly 35.6%. The big difference here was that their 3-point efficiency went way down, dropping from a very good 48.3% against Saint Joe’s to a terrible 18.2% versus Florida. They were at least much better in the opener against lowly Sacred Heart right? Again — technically. They shot about 45.3% from the field, solid — but nothing special — and a bad 26.3% from three — very bad. Yes, it’s better than the other games, but against a team like Sacred Heart, they were supposed to dominate, and they didn’t. This team has completely lacked any offensive consistency, and until they do that, there shouldn’t be very many positive expectations for this team.
Story: I won’t argue that UConn’s offensive has sputtered through the first three games and seems a major concern as the team heads into the thick of its schedule. I will say, though, that there have been plenty of teams that play a similarly defensively-dependent style like UConn that have had success come March (Last year’s Oregon team comes to mind). Sure, the Huskies still allowed St. Joe’s to score 96 points, but the Hawks also were unconscious from deep in the first half even on contested 3-point jumpers. In the second half of the game, UConn showed tremendous fighting spirit and dialed up an unbelievably effective full court press defense that allowed them to cut a 27-point deficit all the way down to three.
Against Florida, the Huskies were even better defensively as they wreaked havoc on the perimeter and managed to more or less contain pre-season second team All-American pick Kerry Blackshear Jr.
If the Huskies continue to defend at a high level, they will be able to hang with the best teams they play against and will likely be in a lot of close games. All UConn needs is Gilbert, Vital or Carlton to establish themselves as a more consistent go-to scorer in moments when the team looks lost on offense and at the end of tight games. It’s still early in the season, and I expect one or more of them will step up as the season progresses.
Eckardt: Listen, the only reason that the Huskies’ defense looked as strong as it did on Sunday is because Florida — wait for it — STINKS. Yes, they were ranked No. 15 in the country heading into that game, but they were immediately dropped from the rankings following their loss and were the highest-ranked team to do so. Their offense is bad — like, really bad. Their 62.5 points per game rank at No. 309 in the country. I didn’t even know there were 309 DI schools, but apparently, there are 351 programs that participate in Division I men’s basketball. They fall right behind Howard and just beat out some school named SIUE, which after some research (and, believe me, it took some digging to find them), is a school by the name of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. As for UConn’s defense, well, they rank No. 262, and that’s after they got to face the putrid Florida offense. They’re right behind Nevada, tied with UIC (University of Illinois-Chicago) and Prebystarian College among others and just better Long Beach State. Yes, it’s early in the season, so these should be taken with a grain of salt, but the fact remains that they nearly gave up triple-digit points to Saint Joseph’s and had a poor showing versus Sacred Heart. The biggest reason the defense looked better against Florida is because the Gators are just as bad at offense as the Huskies are at defense. Couple that defense with an inefficient offensive attack like we saw against Saint Joe’s, and there will more ugly losses than upset wins.
Story Salit is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at email@example.com.