The 2023-2024 college basketball season is just around the corner and the University of Connecticut is proud to be the only school in the country to feature both their men’s and women’s teams in the top 10 of the national rankings. The UConn men’s basketball team brought home their fifth national championship in program history last season and begin this year ranked sixth in the national poll. The women’s team look to finally have Paige Bueckers and the rest of their talent-stacked roster healthy for the duration of the season as they chase their 12th banner and begin the season ranked second in the nation. With both teams amongst the top of the national rankings, Daily Campus correspondents CJ Dexter and Gavin Friedman debate which roster is built to go deeper in the 2023-2024 college basketball season.
UConn fans will forever remember the contributions that former Huskies Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson Jr. made in 2023 to help Connectciut bring home their fifth title in program history. With that being said, the reigning champs go into the 2023-2024 college basketball season with an arguably even better roster then last year. Head coach Dan Hurley has constructed an almost perfect roster that includes size, three-level scoring, elite shooting and suffocating defense.
Connecticut welcomes back point guard Tristen Newton who started 38 games for the Huskies, led the team with 4.7 assists per game while averaging 10 points and shooting 37% from beyond the arc. The sophmore tandem of Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban are back and expected to take on an even larger role after their impressive freshman seasons. Clingan, who was just named as a Preseason Third Team All-American, was one of the best big men in the country coming off the bench last season and now looks to emerge as superstar with Sanogo’s departure to the NBA. Karaban started 38 games last season and was one of the more coniststant players in the starting five. The 6-8 forward from Southborough, Massachusetts averaged 9.7 points on 48% shooting from the field and shot an excellent 40% from beyond the arc.
In addition to those returning, Dan Hurley welcomes the fourth-ranked recruiting class in the nation, highlighted by five star recruit Stephon Castle and three other four star recruits. A McDonald’s All-American out of high school, Castle (No. 12 in the ESPN100) is a 6-6 point guard who is disruptive on the defensive end and scores well in ball screen opportunities and isolation. Solomon Ball (No. 33 in ESPN100) is a 6’3” guard with a 6’10” wingspan who can explode to the rim and shoot beyond the arc at an elite level. Forwards Jayden Ross (No. 84 in ESPN100), Jaylin Stewart (No. 95 in ESPN100) and Youssouf Singare (No. 135 in 247) round out the rest of the highly anticipated recruiting class. UConn also welcomes in former Rutgers shooting guard Cam Spencer who shot a blistering 44% from three-point range last season and scored 13 points per game.
The sixth-ranked Huskies go into 2023 with a roster built on size, elite athleticism, three level scoring and great defense as they aim to bring home banner number six.
While both teams should have successful seasons this year, it looks like the women’s basketball team is more capable of being successful in the regular season and they should be able to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament after a disappointing loss to Ohio State in the Sweet 16 last season. Last year, they had to deal with numerous injuries to some of their best players including Azzi Fudd, Ice Brady and former player of the year Paige Bueckers. All three of them look to be healthy and ready to go for the start of the regular season. The Huskies will also see the return of several big contributors from last season, including Aaliyah Edwards, Nika Mühl, Caroline Ducharme and Aubrey Griffin. If they are able to remain healthy, Bueckers, Fudd and Edwards could be the best trio in the nation.
Head coach Geno Auriemma was able to bring in several freshmen that will be able to make an impact alongside the returning members that they already have. We will see the debuts of KK Arnold (No. 6 in ESPNW100), Ashlynn Shade (No. 15 in ESPNW100) and Qadence Samuels (No. 41 in ESPNW100). All of them will have an opportunity to make an impact at the start of the season. 2022 five star recruit Brady will also make her debut this season after missing all of last year with a knee injury. The strong freshman class, along with the returning players, will make this team one of the best in the nation.
There is no doubt that it is National Championship or bust for Auriemma’s squad. While both teams are capable of playing deep into the tournament, I think the versatility of elite scoring options and overall depth gives the men’s team a better chance of going deep in the tournament. Players like Clingan, Karaban, Newton, Castle, Spencer and Ball are all threats to average 10+ points per game this season. In addition to finding a way to contain every single one of those players, opposing teams will have trouble making shots with consistency against the freakish athelticsim and size that Connecticut has on the defensive side of the ball. An important trend that bodes well for the Huskies is that every national champion since 2002 has placed in the KenPom top 40 in offense and KenPom top 22 in defense. The Huskies are one of three teams in the country to be in the top 10 in both KenPom offensive efficiency (No. 9) and defensive efficiency (No. 4).
While the men’s basketball team certainly has a lot going for them, there is one concern I have that I feel gives the women the edge. Hurley’s team lost several big playmakers from last year’s team including Sanogo, Hawkins and Jackson Jr. While they do have a strong recruiting class that will look to fill those voids, I feel more confident with the women because they have more players with experience in the program. Hurley’s squad will be more dependent on strong performances from their freshmen while Auriemma will be more capable of relying on his more experienced players. Edwards, Bueckers, Fudd and Griffin are more than capable of scoring upwards of 10 points per game and players like Edwards and Griffin will be dominant under the net. Auriemma’s team is able to beat opponents in just about every way possible and they have a deep roster with a good mix of experienced playmakers and talented freshmen that will lead them to a strong performance in the NCAA tournament in March.