Nika Mühl has been at the heart of the UConn women basketball team’s effort and energy since she stepped onto campus her freshman year. Whether it’s diving for loose balls or locking up the opposing team’s best player, Mühl is a player the Huskies can count on to bring her A-game every single day.
“When Nika’s locked in, she sets the tone for everything,” said sophomore Caroline Ducharme. “That sets the tone for our mindset. She’s able to distribute and score.”
This year, with star point guard Paige Bueckers out, all of a sudden Mühl sits atop the depth chart with little to no competition. Stats alone, the reigning Defensive POTY may not seem like the person who will shine, but with the mix of her leadership skills and immense hustle, Mühl is in for a career year.
“I don’t know that you can be an exceptionally good team without a player like Nika,” coach Geno Auriemma said back in March. This year, the legend added to his praise, noting that Mühl has stood out so far as one of the two biggest team leaders so far, alongside grad student Dorka Juhasz.
It’s not hard to imagine how Mühl could take the next step either. 63% of the points from last year’s team are off the roster, which leaves a large chunk open for her to fill in. On her very low volume of 3.5 shots per game, Mühl hit on 43% of her attempts, which isn’t too exciting one way or another.
It will likely help that she will be playing a considerable amount of minutes with players who will garner much more defensive attention than her, namely Ducharme and Azzi Fudd. Having better offensive weapons around — especially Fudd — will help Mühl, who won’t need to improve her clip from deep, but has reportedly has become a better passer this offseason.
Success for Mühl could look like a lot of different things. It could encompass hitting her shots, but taking more. It could be averaging north of five assists per game, up from her 2.6 assists last year. It wouldn’t be difficult to do both — there’s plenty of room for everyone to progress this year.
The important thing is that Mühl is capable. Looking at her form, maintaining her 34% mark on long distance shots feels reasonable, even at a higher volume. As mentioned, it’s unlikely that the opposition will be looking for her as UConn’s main offensive weapon. Although they won’t sag on her, she’ll likely never draw the opposing team’s best defender.
Mühl also should benefit more than she has previously from steals that create fastbreak opportunities. Especially against weaker Big East opponents, there’s no reason Mühl shouldn’t be capitalizing on errors in transition. Her one issue is that she defers to her teammates a little too much on the break, but at the end of the day, points are points.
In the half-court, the point guard really needs to increase her aggression. As good as making the extra pass is, Mühl frequently passes up open shots of her own that she’s perfectly capable of making. She may not be a Ducharme or Fudd, but there isn’t a reason why she should be taking just 2.2 threes per game.
She also needs to be a bit more aggressive inside. Yes, Mühl isn’t going to be the most dangerous in the paint, but it wouldn’t hurt anyone to have her do a bit more driving to draw defenders away from the team’s shooters.
Mühl is always going to be the defensive enforcer on the team. There’s no taking her away from that role. But if she gets more involved offensively, that could be what takes this team to the next level and takes them to their ceiling — whatever that may be in this Bueckers-less campaign.