On Saturday, the UConn men’s basketball team notched their fourth loss in their last five tries and things feel like they’re starting to spiral. The guards aren’t playing with enough control, the forwards haven’t been rebounding well and altogether there just hasn’t been a ton of energy surrounding the team. As a result, they’ve dropped all the way down to No. 15 in the latest AP Poll, a far cry from the No. 2 ranking they boasted in late December prior to the Xavier loss.
There are a number of factors that one could point to as to why this is the case. Many will say that it’s because the Huskies don’t have one solid point guard as they had in prior years. I’ll point to something else: the performance of graduate transfer Joey Calcaterra, the catalyst for the team’s success.
When things are going well for Connecticut, it seems like Calcaterra is always at the heart of it. When things aren’t, he is nowhere to be found. Looking at the past four losses, the guard has averaged three points per game on 4-14 shooting from deep, or 29%. If you take away the final two minutes of the St. John’s loss where the Huskies were down by double figures, he’s averaging 1.5 points on 2-12 from three (17%).
In the games the Huskies have won, he’s scored eight points per game. And his three point shooting has been great in those games too. He’s hit on 23 out of his 47 tries from beyond the arc, good for 48.9%. The difference in these figures is remarkable, as he’s a completely different player in wins.
As a graduate student leader, the team feeds off Calcaterra’s energy and swagger. He comes off the bench, scores and gets the team amped up, which helps the team’s excitement level. Not to mention the crowd also loves him. That excitement has been missing the past five games. Even though the team won against Creighton, he still wasn’t himself, not recording a point. As the team’s taken the floor recently, Calcaterra has failed to provide the energy that made the Huskies a top two team in the country earlier this year.
To be a great team, you need to have a great shooter. For the past few seasons, Tyler Polley had been the player in the role, but he never seemed to be aggressive enough to truly be that guy. He shot 40% his junior year, but regressed from there as the team tried to rely on him in the sixth-man sparkplug role. For the first 14 games, Calcaterra was that guy. His aforementioned shooting splits were what took the Huskies over the top. He was able to take over games and stretch five point leads to 20 in a blink of an eye.
UConn Twitter’s NoEscalators gave what is the best assessment of UConn basketball this season that I can think of, writing, “The cool thing about this UConn team is they’ll play mildly frustrating grind it out basketball for 35 minutes and in the other 5 they’ll either go nuclear level hot and win, or they’ll lose. And since you don’t know when the 5 minutes are, everyone is mad all the time.”
The bottom line is that Calcaterra has been the catalyst for those nuclear-level five minutes. He’s also been the player behind them not going nuclear. Good shooting covers up a lot of issues in basketball and when players see their teammate’s shots going in, it helps their confidence too. This season has been far from perfect and even the first 14 games weren’t without their flaws. But the biggest difference that we’ve seen is the team’s newfound horrendous three point shooting that starts with Calcaterra.
The Huskies have a long way to go before anyone can make any legitimate assessments of how this season will turn out. There’s still more than half of the Big East conference slate to play and more opportunities in March. The first step in getting back on track to championship No. 5 though? That begins with Joey Calcaterra.