Ryan Boatright said he didn't come back to play in the NIT.
He kept true to his word this year, though not the way he wanted.
UConn fans got an early preview of the 2015-16 Huskies in the NIT first round in a 68-61 loss to Arizona State. Boatright, the leading scorer for the Huskies and an All-Everything guard, sat on the bench in street clothes with a shoulder injury.
The Huskies looked good at times, predictably, and also struggled at times, predictably. The Huskies' season came to an end with a 68-61 loss.
UConn followed up a national title with a 20-15 campaign that featured a host of close losses, five by 12 points or less, and an incredible ability to go long stretches struggling on offense and trail big before rallying.
The Huskies, in their last three games, Tulsa, SMU and Arizona State, had double digit deficits. UConn came back in each of those games and had a chance to win.
But the root issues of why the Huskies had those kind of deficits, and halftime deficits for more than half their games this season, remain. UConn was 20-15 overall and only 10-8 in conference, the AAC, a conference that it will have to run up a big record in to make the NCAA tournament in recent years. UConn could do no wrong last season enroute to the national title.
This year? They could do no right.
It started with consecutive one-point losses in November to Texas and Yale. The Huskies were 4-4 at Gampel, and lost six games total in the state this season.
UConn trailed by as many as 16 against Arizona State before tying the game with under three minutes to go.
"It was kind of our whole season and the inconsistencies that we have," head coach Kevin Ollie said via Dave Borges of the Register. You don't want to go out with the season ending like this in front of your home crowd, but we'll be back next year and we're going to work hard."
Rodney Purvis scored 19 points on Wednesday, Daniel Hamilton 16 and the two look capable of stepping into a starring role. The rest of the roster? Where will the points come in the future?
That's something that is unknown now as they lose Boatright, who averaged 17.5 points per game on a team that averaged only 64.1 ppg. UConn scored under 60 points in 11 of their 15 losses this year.
Offense remains the biggest question mark going into next season. without Boatirght, the Huskies can finally move away from the ball-dominant guard play they've had since Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier and Boatright played. The last five years, the Huskies have relied heavily on big-time scoring and playmaking guard. That has led to a lot of stalling on offense and an either make and you win, or miss and you lose aspect to the game.
Purvis and Hamilton are classic off guards and wings and having an offense that is predicated more on movement and passing should help. Purvis finally looked like the player expected late in the season. Purvis, finished up the season with 18, 13, 17, 11, 29 and 19 point games. He finished the year averaging 11.6 ppg.
Hamilton's a future star and averaged 10.9 ppg., and while his shooting waned late, averaged 7.6 rpg. and 3.8 apg.
After that? It's a mystery.
Amida Brimah, one of the top shotblockers in the nation, struggled against nearly any team with size or strength. He could only muster 4.4 rebounder per game and while he set a school record with a 67.4 percent shooting, was an unreliable scorer and finisher. Brimah wasn't a great positional defender and his offense remains raw. The Huskies, when Brimah isn't getting lob dunks, had very little inside presence.
There remains a revolving door at power forward Kentan Facey started the season, but ran out of gas and effectiveness in January. Rakim Lubin is big, and played hard, but wasn't brought in here to be a high-rebound, high-usage starter. Phil Nolan played his best game of his career in the NIT, with eight points, but he shot only 46.9 percent from the floor and averaged 1.5 ppg and 1.9 rpg. in 15 minutes of action. The Huskies have one recruit, Norwalk's Steve Enoch at 6-8, but he isn't considered a ready-made scoring big.
On the perimeter, Terrence Samuel is a defense first change of pace guard, but shot 38.7 percent from the floor in 20 minutes a game and averaged only 3.6 points. Samuel, a guard, has yet to hit a 3-pointer in his career 0-18, and it's inconceivable that he can play major minutes next year unable to be a threat. Sam Cassell Jr. only appeared in 18 games before getting hurt but after a hot preseason stopped making shots. He's a combo guard who shot only 27.6 percent from the floor.
Omar Calhoun's struggles remain a mystery. Calhoun averaged 11 ppg. as a freshman, but had a lost year as a sophomore after having offseason hip surgery. He looked primed for a bounce back year, but except for some flashes, score 5.5 ppg. on 37.8 percent shooting and 34.2 from 3. Calhoun is a 3=three-point threat, but that slashing and scoring game that he had when he arrived at UConn has disappeared the last two years. That's three sub 40 percent shooting guards out of four returning.
The Huskies bring in highly-sought after point guard Jalen Adams out of Brewester Academy, but can the Huskies rely on a freshman to score and run the team?
There is also the ugly business of players leaving program. UConn, if no one leaves, has 11 players for next season. That's two players short of the roster max with few high-level recruits in play. Ollie intimated on Wednesday that there could be some defections.
"Whoever’s coming back, they’re gonna understand that we have a mission in mind," Ollie told reporters postgame. "We’re gonna take the guys that want to be here, that are gonna fulfill that mission going forward.”
Ollie is going to sit with the players in the coming days and evaluate where they are. UConn has won two national championships in the last four years, but the future is unsure. If any more players leave, who replaces them?
The team the Huskies left the floor with on Wednesday could be very different than the one that takes the floor in November.
Let's hope that whatever they look like, the team hit the gym to shoot in the offseason.
|#10||Sam Cassell Jr.||18||2||15.1||3.9||27.6||1.3||0.9||0.5||0.0|