After a tough couple of losses to top-ten opponents in Maui, the Arizona Wildcats got back on track with a win against Georgia Southern. Now though, they face another challenge, as they head to Hartford to face Dan Hurley’s Connecticut Huskies on Sunday.
UConn is 6-1 this year, including a win over Syracuse. Its lone loss was to Iowa. KenPom ranks the Huskies as the No. 87 team in the country this season.
Before the game, we talked to Daniel Connolly of The UConn Blog to get more info about the Huskies.
Here’s our Q&A.
How excited is the UConn fanbase for Dan Hurley taking over the program?
There’s no quantifiable answer for how excited the fanbase is. Before last season even ended, people were watching URI and hoping we got Hurley. Once that officially happened, it’s been fantastic. He’s been great as a coach and has turned close to the same team that went 14-18 last season into a team that has started the year 6-1 and beat Syracuse at MSG.
At the same time, he’s also been fantastic off the court, more than I think we expected. There’s a lot of comparisons to Jim Calhoun because of the fire and energy, but they’re pretty different personalties (and that’s not a knock on either). Hurley has more wit and is definitely dad-jokey at times. He’s also incredible animated on the sidelines and is pretty much a walking gif machine. There were always some people that weren’t sold on Ollie, even in the immediate aftermath of the national title. Calhoun had some detractors. Maybe it’s because it’s still so early, but I really haven’t heard anyone that doesn’t totally love Hurley. We’re really happy he’s our coach and he genuinely seems like the type of coach that wants to retire at UConn.
What’s caused the Huskies to fall from grace since the 2014 National Title?
There were a lot of things that you can point to. The tournament ban in 2012-13, retirement of Calhoun and disintegration of the Big East pretty much torched recruiting for 3 straight seasons. But once Kevin Ollie became established, he recruited really well and brought in a top-10 class in 2016.
The biggest issue seemed to be a lack of player development. From 2015 and on, pretty much every player on the roster left as the same player they came in as or only improved marginally. I don’t think there’s really anybody you can point to and say they reached their full potential or were on their way to doing so. Guys like Rodney Purvis, Amida Brimah, even Jalen Adams who’s still on the roster had plenty of talent and the coaching staff didn’t really tap into their potential well enough.
And more personally, a lot of people have said that Ollie was just different after his divorce, so that was likely a factor in there too.
Who’s an impact player to watch during the game?
Jalen Adams is the obvious answer. He’s UConn’s best player and has really bought into Hurley. The fewest amount of points he’s scored this season is 16 and he can kill teams by shooting, on the dribble or by driving to the rim. Adams feels like he’s due for a big, 30+ point game soon.
At the same time, the great thing about this team is that there’s any number of players that can have a major impact in any given game. Center Josh Carlton dominated in the first two games but didn’t do anything in the 2k Classic in New York. But against Syracuse, Eric Cobb exploded for a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Guard Christian Vital dropped 17 points in the first 10 minutes against UMass Lowell. There’s 12 healthy scholarship players right now and really 10 of them could have a big game on any given night.
What scares you about facing Arizona?
Even if it is supposed to be a “down” year, Arizona is still one of those top names in college basketball. It feels like every year they’re in contention for a national title and are among one of the top teams in the country. It’s exciting when UConn gets to play one of these name brand teams, especially since we’re relegated to the American Conference. In the same vein, even if the Wildcats aren’t as good as they normally are, they’re always tough to beat and will rise up for a big game like this one. I’m not really sure what to expect out of Arizona, which is makes me nervous.
What is your score prediction for the game?
Ticket sales have been good for the game, so I expect the crowd at the XL Center in Hartford to be big and loud. UConn’s only real test that they had time to prepare for this season was Syracuse and the Huskies dominated the Orange. The defense was pretty bad against UMass Lowell but I think it will be better on Sunday. I like UConn winning this one, 84-77.