Updated: Oct 31
As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just about one month from now - and to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year.
In case you missed it, we've already previewed the Memphis Tigers, then hit the Illinois Fighting Illini, Wyoming Cowboys, Xavier Musketeers, Michigan State Spartans, Alabama Crimson Tide, Arizona Wildcats and San Diego State Aztecs. We also covered Dayton, a Top 25 team at A-10 Media Days
Today, we look at the UConn Huskies, where a combination of some key returnees and newfound talent in the portal has UConn fans once against excited heading into the 2022-2023 season.
How it went down in 2021-2022
From start to finish, the UConn Huskies certainly had one of the more interesting seasons of anyone in college basketball.
Entering the 2021-2022 season, the Huskies had limited expectations. The program was coming off its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2016, but after losing star guard James Bouknight, it seemed as though many seemed to be low on the Huskies. Despite a core of returning veterans from the previous year's NCAA Tournament team (all who had gained valuable experience thanks to Bouknight's injury) the Huskies were ranked No. 24 in the first AP Poll of the season, on the fringes of the Top 25.
Almost immediately, the Huskies proved the voters wrong.
UConn started with four straight dominant wins against mid-major competition, before heading to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis. There, they put the nation on notice, by playing what might have ended up as the game of the year in college basketball against Auburn. The Huskies held on to beat the Tigers 115-109 in a double-overtime thriller on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
It would go down as Auburn's only loss for the next two months, as Bruce Pearl's club ascended to No. 1 in the polls in January.
Unfortunately for UConn, they never really were the same after that game, as a slew of injuries and ailments that started, literally in the seconds following the Auburn win, slowed them down for most of November and December.
It all began as the Huskies were walking off the court after that Auburn win, and forward Isaiah Whaley - who'd played 44 minutes in that thriller - fainted from exhaustion. Thankfully he was fine, but he missed the next game as a precaution, and it started a string of injuries that slowed down the Huskies for weeks on end.
Tyrese Martin - a 6'6 wing who ended up as an NBA Draft pick - missed four games with an injured wrist. Adama Sanogo, an eventual All-Big East first team big man missed four games as well. Later in the year, Jordan Hawkins, a dynamic and skilled freshman was ruled out for a time with a concussion.
The up-and-down nature of the Huskies lineup availability, mixed in with a Covid pause (remember those?) never really allowed UConn to re-establish the highs of the early season.
Now to be clear, there certainly were high moments and marquee players worth mentioning.
RJ Cole, a 5'11 fifth-year senior, emerged as an emotional leader and All-Big East guard, after averaging 16 points and a little over four assists per game. More importantly, he became a steadying force through the Huskies injury woes of the middle of the season. There was also a five-game win streak in mid-January, and another five-game win streak in February, highlighted by an emotional home win against Villanova, in which Dan Hurley was ejected (for obscure history buffs, it would go down as Jay Wright's final ever Big East loss).
Unfortunately, though, a March that began with major expectations ended somewhat in disappointment. The Huskies fell in a hotly contested Big East Tournament semifinal to those same Villanova Wildcats a week later (no shame in that), before getting upset by No. 12 seed New Mexico State in the NCAA Tournament.
Still, after back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids for the first time since 2011 and 2012, the Huskies program is absolutely on an upward trajectory entering 2022-2023.
One that comes, after a wild, whirlwind off-season.
Key Returnees: Adama Sanogo, Andre Jackson, Jordan Hawkins, Samson Johnson, Richie Springs
Key Losses: RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin, Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley, Jalen Gaffney, Rashool Diggins, Corey Floyd Jr.
Key Transfers: Tristen Newton (East Carolina), Nahiem Alleyne (Virginia Tech), Hassan Diarra (Texas A&M), Joey Calcaterra (San Diego)
Key Recruits: Donovan Clingan, Alex Karaban, Yarin Hasson, Apostolos Roumoglou
National Title Odds via Betfred Sportsbook:
There really is no way to put it: It really was a tale of two off-seasons for the UConn Huskies.
One of concern and angst in early April, which made way to excitement and promise when the dust settled.
Still, it wasn't all hunky dory to start.
First, there were professional decisions from Cole and Martin, two key veteran cogs from a season prior. Each had the opportunity to play an extra year of college ball thanks to the Covid waiver, and both decided against it. Martin's decision wasn't that big of a surprise, and it turned out to be the right one, as he was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks. Cole, whose NBA upside was limited decided to go too, putting an end to the career of a pair of players who were instrumental in re-elevating the Huskies into a national program, capable of playing with anyone.
Then there was transfer season, and well, it started unkindly for the Huskies. Two veterans who struggled see the court elected to leave, with forward Akok Akok ending up at Georgetown, and guard Jalen Gaffney at Florida Atlantic.
What no one saw coming was two high-profile freshmen electing to leave as well. Rahsool Diggins was believed to be the heir apparent at point guard to Cole yet elected to leave anyway, ending up at UMass. Then, in a move that frustrated many around the program, Corey Floyd Jr., a freshman who came to UConn for the 2021-2022 season with the intention to redshirt decided to leave as well.
For a coach like Hurley who prides himself on building programs from the ground up, the latter two moves were shocking.
The frustration of a few players leaving made way to the second part of the off-season though, where Hurley and his staff absolutely cleaned up in the portal in their own right. They added versatile guard Tristen Newton, who averaged 17 points, five assists and five rebound at East Carolina last year, and who Hurley believes is a future NBA player. Nahiem Alleyne came from Virginia Tech after hitting around 40 percent from three, while Hassan Diarra returned to the school, where his brother played for a short time after two years at Texas A&M.
The Huskies also added wing Joey Calcaterra (San Diego) who should provide scoring pop off the bench, with a pair of international players Yarin Hasson (Israel) and Apostolos Roumoglou (Greece) filling out the roster. Each is expected to play a small role this year and serve as building blocks for the future.
So, when you add the transfers and a few other freshmen with the returnees, all of a sudden, you have the makings of a team that all of a sudden has a chance to be really good in the Big East.
In terms of returnees, Sanogo is again, an All-Big East forward who averaged 15 points, 8.8 rebounds and just under two blocks per game is back. He doesn't get the recognition of a Drew Timme, Oscar Tshiebwe or Armando Bacot, but should have similar impact for this team.
So too should a pair of returnees who are dotting NBA Draft boards.
Point forward Andre Jackson is a player with NBA-level athleticism, who is slowly starting to put it together after averaging seven points and seven rebounds last year. He suffered a preseason injury but is expected back around Thanksgiving. Jordan Hawkins, a 6'5 sophomore has the potential to be a breakout player nationally. He scored 16 points in just 15 minutes in that Auburn thriller, showing unlimited upside throughout the season. Both Jackson and Hawkins have been projected as first rounders on various mock draft boards this off-season.
Finally, there are two other freshmen who should have impact, as 7'1 Donovan Clingan will provide depth in the front court, and Alex Karaban is a former Top 50 recruit who redshirted a season ago. The 6'8 forward has received rave reviews this summer, and should immediately be able to stretch the floor from the three or four spot.
Like last season, UConn will open the season with a slew of mid-major games before heading out West to take part in the premiere tournament of Thanksgiving Week. That would be the PK-85, which will be played in Portland, in honor of Nike founder Phil Knight's 85th birthday.
The Huskies actually have a near-identical bracket to when the PK-80 was played five years ago, as they open with a good Oregon team (which will have an obvious homecourt advantage), before playing either Michigan State or Alabama. Both teams enter the year expected to make the NCAA Tournament and should start the season ranked in the Top 25. In the final round, UConn could play any of three teams who made the Sweet 16 last season, depending on how the bracket breaks: North Carolina, Villanova or Iowa State
(Yes, UConn and Villanova could play in an "out of conference" game, as this bracket was announced and set when UConn was still in the AAC).
Once the Huskies return back East things don't get easier.
There is a home date with a solid Oklahoma State squad in the "Big East-Big 12 Battle" and a week later, UConn travels to Florida to face the new-look Gators under Todd Golden. Florida, like so many others on the schedule, appears to be an NCAA Tournament team on paper heading into the year.
Then, shortly before Christmas Big East play starts and it doesn't end until the season is over. The Huskies open on December 17th at Butler, facing Thad Matta in his first game as a Big East coach, at a school that he left nearly two decades ago. After Christmas is a brutal four-game stretch that includes the top two teams in the league (Villanova and Creighton) at home, during a time when students won't be on campus. There are also trips to an improved Xavier team and a Providence squad coming off a Big East regular season title.
A backloaded Big East schedule also includes a trip to Creighton in February and a game at Villanova to close out the regular season.
After sending six teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2022, the Big East should be just as good this year.
What to Expect in 2022-2023
While there might not be many familiar names to casual college basketball fans on this roster, if everything clicks, this team has a chance to be really good.
The key is, again, if it all clicks. Come to think of it, few teams have more "what if's" heading into the season than the Huskies do.
Just about the only thing we know for sure is that Sanogo will be a beast down low. When you average 18 and nine as a sophomore and come back, you can pretty much pencil him as one of college basketball's best frontcourt players.
But from there, it really is a question of what comes together and how quickly.
Here are some of the questions for UConn:
1. Will Newton be the point guard this team so desperately needs?
2. Can Jackson and Hawkins translate their NBA skill, into college production?
3. Can the other transfers, Alleyne and Diarra, translate what they do best (shooting and defense, respectively) at their new stops.
4. Finally, can either Karaban or Calcaterra (or both) stretch the floor as bigger wings?
While it might not happen overnight, you do have to think some of those things could click (including for Hawkins - watch out, he's one of my breakout players nationally).
If they do, UConn should once again spend most of the season in the Top 20.
With a chance to do real damage in the NCAA Tournament for the first time of the Dan Hurley era.
No. 30 - Memphis Tigers
No. 29 - Illinois Fighting Illini
No. 28 - Dayton Flyers
No. 27 - Wyoming Cowboys
No. 26 - Xavier Musketeers
No. 25 - Michigan State Spartans
No. 24 - Alabama Crimson Tide
No. 23 - Texas Tech Red Raiders
No. 22 - Arizona Wildcats
No. 21 - San Diego State Aztecs