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Know Your Big East Opponent: UConn

Dan Hurley’s Huskies figure to be duking it out at the top of the Big East again this season.

New Mexico State v UConn
Hurley, having been rashly challenged, proceeds to slaughter his opponent in a barking contest.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Danny Hurley came to UConn at the perfect time. The Huskies rid themselves of Kevin Ollie after he proved he couldn’t do anything well without Shabazz Napier on his team, and in stepped Hurley. The turnaround was not immediate. In his first season the Huskies only managed a 16-17 record, but 2020 saw UConn jump into tournament contention. The team was not great by any means, but they got hot right before the world came to an end, and, most importantly, beat UC in OT and let them know about it. Hurley’s teams at UConn have improved each season, and the return to the Big East has put them back on the national stage.

UConn got its first “real” season back in the Big East after the covid season, and, perhaps worse, rotting the American Athletic Conference. The return was as exciting as everyone wanted it to be as the Huskies took home 3rd in the Big East regular season. The team proved they could punch with the big boys, beating Auburn in a double OT thriller in November, and beating Villanova late in Big East play. UConn ultimately finished 13-6 in the conference before losing a close one to Nova at MSG. Unfortunately, there was no incredible run in the NCAA Tournament either as the Huskies were unceremoniously dispatched by Teddy Allen and the guys behind him.

Key Departures

A few of the foundational pieces of the Danny Hurley UConn teams have departed in the offseason. RJ Cole transferred in, and ran the point exceptionally well in his two season stint. Cole never shied away from the big moments and hit many a big shot in his brief time with UConn. Defensive menace Isaiah Whaley also ran out of eligibility after a career where he blocked everything and generally terrorized opposition post players. Tyrese Martin followed Hurley from URI and turned in a brilliant senior season. Martin was a very physical perimeter player who also happened to shoot 43% from beyond the arc. Speaking of good shooters, Tyler Polley has also moved on. Polley wasn’t UConn’s go to guy, but he hit big shots when he needed to. His smooth pick and pop game would punish teams that didn’t keep an eye on him.

Looking Forward

While the Huskies have lost several important pieces, they’ve also retained and gained some quality players. Adama Sanogo is the first name on the list for most people who think of UConn, and for good reason. Sanogo is a beast, and not a shy one. He blocks and rebounds like a defensive anchor does, but also led the team in usage last season. His offensive numbers aren’t spectacular, and he doesn’t have much else in his bag other than bull-dozing opponents, but it’s worked well for him so far.

Andre Jackson also returns and his expected to take yet another jump in production this season. Perhaps the most impressive stat for Jackson is that he is a better defensive rebounder than Sanogo. He was a staggering 5th in the conference in DR% last season. Jackson also distributes the ball well, but does it for both teams, which sometimes angers his coach. Jackson’s biggest asset is his athleticism. He’s strong enough and bouncy enough to rebound, and quick and skilled enough to run the floor and throw down on whatever fool tries to jump with him.

Hurley has patched some the holes from last season in the transfer market. Tristen Newton is a ball dominant guard from the Eastern Carolina, and is definitely too good for the AAC. His shooting splits aren’t eye-popping but he was also the guy taking all the shots, so some are bound to miss. Newton also ranked 24th in the country in assist rate, and was top 500 in steal rate. Newton may not be the go to guy at UConn but he will fill the void left by RJ Cole nicely.

Hurley also added a couple guys that lost to X last season, and hopefully they aren’t holding too big a grudge about. Just business fellas. NIT Runner-Up Hassan Diarra joins the Huskies after a hit and miss year at Texas A&M. Diarra played his best ball as the Aggies put together a run that fell just short of an NCAA tournament berth. Diarra can do a little bit of everything on offense, but has not gotten many opportunities to show it. NIT Preseason Tip-Off 4th place finisher Nahiem Alleyne also joins the Huskies after a season where he shot basically the same from 3pt range as he did from inside the arc for Virginia Tech. Alleyne takes care of the ball well, shoots well from deep, and provides good free throw shooting to go with it.

The headline recruit for UConn is 4-star big man, Donovan Clingan. Clingan is a 7’1” center who brings the finesse Sanogo lacks. Clingan has been praised for his ability to pass out of the post, run the floor, and hit threes well for a big man.

The Verdict

UConn lost several pieces to a strong team, but have done well to reload. Sanogo and Jackson will be the Huskies two best players, and everyone in the league knows it. Newton could be the guy to step up and be that next option to take this team over the top. Diarra showed flashes of brilliance, and, with consistent play time, can prove to be an integral piece. Alleyne shoots well and will provide much needed space while Jackson slashes and Sanogo owns he paint. All of this points to UConn being up towards the top of the conference again this season. If the transfers and freshman can blend quickly, this team will challenge for a Big East title.