Defending champs UConn sputtering due to glaring offensive deficiencies
UConn opened American Athletic Conference play on Wednesday with a 57-53 loss to Temple in overtime at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. In a vacuum, this is not a terrible result. Temple has won four consecutive games, including a 25-point rout of Big 12 contender Kansas earlier this month, and checks in at No. 58 in Ken Pomeroy’s team efficiency rankings. The Owls may prove to be one of the three or four best teams in the conference.
That’s hardly a consolation to a UConn team that has failed to meet expectations so far this season. At the turn of the new year, the Huskies are 6-5 with only one win against a team ranked in Kenpom’s top 100. In addition, UConn has dropped five of its last eight games, including one to Ivy League foe Yale at home at Gampel Pavilion. That’s well off the pace what most preseason forecasters envisioned; UConn was picked to win the AAC and ranked 17th in the preseason Associated Press Poll.
Which raises the question: What’s up with the Huskies?
The answer, as far as Wednesday’s loss is concerned, is simple. Ryan Boatright, the Huskies’ senior point guard and best player, was limited to only 17 minutes because of a reported thigh bruise. Had Boatright played in the second half, the Huskies may well have knocked off the Owls, and UConn’s outlook would seem less grim. But focusing on the most recent outcome glosses over the entire body of work, and besides, the Huskies haven’t looked great even when Boatright plays both halves.
UConn’s most glaring deficiencies lie on offense. The Huskies, quite simply, are not scoring at a clip befitting a top-tier team. Boatright has stepped into the lead point-producer role vacated by Shabazz Napier, and as of Wednesday night, the senior was averaging 19.2 points while using a team-high 28.9 percent of available possessions. Freshman and former top-20 recruit Daniel Hamilton is next on the usage ladder at 24.6 percent, but he’s posting an ugly 89.2 offensive rating, the lowest among teammates averaging at least 24 minutes per game.
Meanwhile, North Carolina State transfer Rodney Purvis had heated up entering Wednesday (he scored 21 and 14 points while shooting 87.5 and 57.1 percent, respectively, in wins over Columbia and Central Connecticut State), but has not made the impact many expected. Throughout last season, coach Kevin Ollie would refer to Purvis, who was sitting out in compliance with NCAA regulations, as a “Ferrari sitting in the garage that I can’t drive.”
Seven-foot center Amida Brimah and 6-foot-9 forward Kentan Facey are converting at an efficient clip inside the three-point arc -- Brimah ranks in the nation’s top 10 in effective and true shooting percentage, while Facey ranks 80 and 87th, respectively, in those categories -- but UConn is hitting only 30.2 percent of its long-range attempts, good for 277th in the country, and a considerable dip from last season (38.7 percent).
All told, the Huskies are scoring 1.03 points per possession this season, good for 99th in the country, and posting an effective field goal percentage of 50.2 (108th). On Wednesday, Hamilton scored 10 points and Brimah had 12 as the Huskies managed only 0.77 ppp.
"We keep saying we've got to turn things around," Purvis said Wednesday, according to the Hartford Courant, "but we keep letting opportunities slip through our hands, so our worries have to become action."
UConn has time to pull itself together before Selection Sunday. It may be a bit too early to start thinking about the so-called bubble, though UConn’s sketchy non-conference resume could come back to bite it come March. A discouraging start to conference play, with a game at Florida on tap, won’t ease Huskies’ fans nerves. Still, even though UConn has no signature wins to speak of and has not shown the capacity to beat good teams, it’d be silly to write it off completely.
Remember, the Huskies didn’t truly hit their stride last season until they stormed through the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed. As SI.com’s Seth Davis wrote in his Annual Stock Report on Monday, “This team has too much talent and is too well-coached to stay down for long.” That may be true, but UConn has not rode the momentum from last season’s national championship into a promising start.