Back in 2011, the UConn men’s basketball team was much different than the roster looks today. There was no Dan Hurley. There was no Adama Sanogo, Andre Jackson Jr. or Jordan Hawkins. Instead, you had the legendary Jim Calhoun coaching and future NBA guards Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier donning the blue and white. However, while rosters and coaches may look different today, there’s at least one similarity.
The blazing battlegrounds of Houston, Texas.
It’s all on the line for the Huskies and as Calhoun told this team before they headed to the Lone Star State, they have the opportunity to elevate themselves into one of the program’s most legendary squads. They’re going to have to compete in an arena where the passion is as fiery as a rocket, which is fitting due to NRG Stadium’s proximity to the historical Astrodome venue. To add a cherry on top, the Huskies flew to Houston in style via the New England Patriots private jet, who have won quite a few championships of their own.
However, winning the next two games in this tournament is a lot easier said than done as proven by the hectic nature of play thus far. Despite the talent that this roster possesses and the margin of victory that’s been accomplished, there’s two more tough teams to defeat before any trophies are hoisted in Storrs and that first team is Miami, led by a coach who’s given a past UConn team their own share of problems.
Jim Larrañaga, then the coach of George Mason, pulled off an incredible upset win over UConn, 86-84, as he overcame a No. 1 seeded Connecticut squad headlined by Rudy Gay. In 2023, Larrañaga now looks to defeat UConn again with a different team, the Miami Hurricanes, and he certainly has the talent to do so. It’s allowed him to grab wins over No. 12 Drake, No. 4 Indiana, a huge victory over No. 1 Houston and his most recent win over No. 2 Texas.
What immediately sticks out to anyone who watches this team is their backcourt with plenty of talent that has given opposing defenses some difficult covers. It’s a big reason why they have the fifth highest-ranked offense in college basketball and why they’ve gotten so far in the tournament. You have Isaiah Wong, the ACC Player of the Year, who can kill you with some difficult shots at the rim while also hitting his shots beyond the arc. At an average of 16.2 points per game this season on 44.7% shooting from the field, expect him to be an incredibly tough cover for UConn. Of course, you can’t forget Nijel Pack, a dangerous shooter from 3-point range at 40.2% on the season.
In the frontcourt, you have two more talented players in Jordan Miller and Norchad Omier. With the Hurricanes’ center, the Huskies are going to have to defend a guy who can finish through tough contact and who is also coming into this one averaging a double-double. Miller is another player who relies on most of his buckets near the basket and could give more problems from UConn regarding their inside presence.
That should give even more reason why the key to a UConn win and a ticket to the National Championship is their size. When you’ve got a big body in Sanogo at 6 feet, 9 inches along with a 7-foot-2-inch giant in Donovan Clingan coming right after him, that’s going to cause problems for anyone, especially for a Miami team whose two primary frontcourt pieces sit at 6-foot-7-inches each. To neutralize a player of Wong’s caliber, they have a counterattack in Jackson, who’s been excellent for the Huskies on that side of the basketball.
The size difference will certainly carry to the offensive side of the court as well. While Connecticut will carry the weapon of Hawkins as a shooter to come off screens for quality looks along with Jackson to survey the court for potential scoring options, Sanogo is going to be able to get the job done in the paint, using his size and strength to grab much-needed buckets for the Huskies. That’s all without mentioning players like Alex Karaban, who’s been vital for spacing the court as signified by his 38.9% shooting on attempted 3-pointers during this UConn tournament run.
With these factors and the many impressive storylines, it’s easily looking like it’s going to be a show. Larrañaga vs. UConn. Tristen Newton is returning home at a time where his team will need his best with his family in the stands to cheer him on. But, the most important story will be whether the Huskies grab banner no. 5. Considering what happened last time UConn was in Houston for a Final Four matchup, it’s safe to say that they’re only hoping for history to repeat itself.