James Bouknight is the most talented player on UConn’s men’s basketball team. There is no question about that. But with the future first-rounder being sidelined with an elbow injury for the past month and a half, the Huskies have had to look elsewhere to find their offensive rhythm. Players like Tyrese Martin and R.J. Cole showed great leadership in the star guard’s absence, but with Bouknight returning Tuesday against Providence, the team is finally healthy and looking to make a push toward the NCAA Tournament. In this week’s roundtable, The DC Sports Section will be giving our takes as to who the Huskies’ second best player will be now that their offensive leader is back on the court.
This team is unique because behind Bouknight, it’s really just a bunch of solid players who know their roles. But I do think the clear second option is Martin. Martin, a transfer from Rhode Island, is just a guy who does everything well. He’s sort of a “jack of all trades, master of none” if you will. Averaging 12.5 points per game, he has a solid jump shot, and he’s knocking down threes at an impressive 45 percent clip this season. He can move well without the ball and finish in the paint. He is an extremely good rebounder on both ends of the floor (averages 7.4 per game), and he’s a good defender as well with 19 steals and five blocks this season. The worst part of his game is probably free throw shooting — just 65 percent from the line — but despite that, he’s still a guy that can get you 15 points and eight rebounds every game. That’s a huge boost for a second option. If the Huskies make a run in March, Martin will be a key reason why.
When a team has many choices for who their next best player is, that’s a good thing. You know how Bouknight dropped 18 against Providence? Well, Cole is my pick here because of his incredible skill from anywhere on the court, averaging 37 percent per game in both 3-point shots and field goals overall. I won’t get into his numbers too much, but he had a career day against Xavier with a 24-point performance. Alongside others such as Tyler Polley, he has been an excellent depth player –and now starter, really, in the absence of Bouknight at guard. His 12.2 points per game are phenomenal and his 4.3 assists per game are showing balance. The Howard transfer and redshirt junior has talent and veteranship that can help Rashool Diggins and Corey Hawkins next year, which is going to make the backcourt lethal for years to come.
Associate Sports Editor
A lot of these responses are about who will help Bouk on the offensive end, but nobody is paying attention to the heart and soul of what makes UConn, UConn: their lockdown defense. None of which would be possible without the help of big man Isaiah Whaley. Not only does The Wrench lead the Big East in blocks per game (2.9), but his presence and length alone forces opponents to look elsewhere in their offense. Speaking of, Whaley has done an excellent job of improving his offensive touch, adding eight points per game. But his expanded range as of late will only open more lanes for Bouk to drive inside and work his magic. He may not drop 20 a game or hit a clutch 3-pointer, but Whaley’s paint dominance on both ends of the floor are crucial to UConn’s success and the reason he’s now their second best player behind Bouknight.
With this UConn basketball team this year, I’ve really enjoyed watching Martin play. For me, I think he’s an obvious second option for the Huskies. What sticks out to me is how valuable of a scoring option Martin truly is. At 12.5 ppg, Martin can be counted on to score –and score efficiently at that. At an insane 45 percent from the 3-point line, he’s an essential option at the end of a game, when the Huskies may need a clutch shot if Bouknight is defended well. As a junior, Martin has improved from the defensive end as well at 1.4 steals per game. He provides valuable veteran leadership and is such a valuable option to UConn this year. He is looking like a key player for this team that can be counted on in important games, especially during the NCAA tournament.
While it won’t be a popular opinion, and eyebrows most certainly will be raised, I believe that Adama Sanogo is the second best player on this UConn team. Sanogo only averages about 15.5 minutes per game, but in that limited time period, he is able to make his presence felt in the paint, scoring on anyone with ease. He averages eight points a game, but each of those eight points can either shift the momentum in the Huskies’ favor, or continue positive spells on offense. Furthermore, his 6-foot-9 frame means he is guaranteed to out-rebound players on both sides of the court, averaging 6.4 boards per game. Finally, his ability to use the pick-and-roll allows him to create space for star players, such as point guard Bouknight, as opposing defenders have to respect his scoring ability. This, in turn, creates space in the lane for UConn’s playmakers.