UConn’s star big man is enjoying a breakout sophomore campaign, but he hasn’t been on the court for all of UConn’s games thus far due to injury
As a somewhat raw prospect out of The Patrick School in New Jersey, Adama Sanogo was viewed by most as a project, someone who would take one or two years to develop into a consistent and solid post player at a high-major program.
After his first two games in a UConn uniform, it was very evident that Sanogo was well ahead of where most thought he would be development-wise, putting up 16 points and nine rebounds in just 28 minutes. He showcased an array of post moves and nimble feet that haven’t been utilized by a UConn big since Alex Orihaki, possibly even before that. Sanogo finished his freshman season with a lot of promise, putting up 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in just 17 minutes per game.
Flash forward to the 2021-22 season. The Huskies got off to a blazing start to begin the season and Sanogo was a major reason why. With a 5-1 record and scoring 96.6 points per game, it seemed that the question marks surrounding the offense without Bouknight coming into the season were already answered. Sanogo appeared to take the All-Big East first and second team snubs to heart, putting up dominant performance after dominant performance to the tune of 18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. His early season surge was highlighted by a 30 point, six rebound performance in a double overtime win against No. 19 Auburn that put Sanogo squarely on the national stage and in the conversation with some of college basketball’s elite.
All good things don’t last forever though, as Sanogo suffered an abdominal strain in an ugly win against Maryland Eastern Shore and UConn suffered a couple more losses. It wasn’t just Sanogo who was bitten by the injury bug, though. Tyrese Martin suffered a wrist injury and missed three games. Not having UConn’s go-to post scorer and best pure rebounder in the game obviously hurt them on both ends of the floor. Here we will break down how UConn has fared with and without their frontcourt leader.
The very raw numbers
Judging by the raw numbers, UConn is better in nearly every statistical category when Sanogo plays. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, as he has been an anchor on both ends of the floor this season and has seemed to serve as the offensive focal point for significant stretches.
The sample size of games with Sanogo is much bigger than without, and the team also largely played much inferior competition on average when he was in the lineup. Starting out playing four quad-four opponents will definitely inflate the stats to some extent, and while the level of competition was likely a little bit higher in the games the Sanogo missed, it’s still evident that he’s a critical piece to the Huskies’ success this season.. Regardless, the UConn men were a much different team without their star big man.
The offense is completely centered around Sanogo when he is on the court. This isn’t to mean that he is some point-forward floor general a la Cameron Krutwig from Illinois Chicago last season who looks to get his teammates involved more than score himself.
All season, it has been evident that when Sanogo catches the ball within 10-15 feet of the hoop, it is virtually a guarantee that it will be put up on the backboard. This isn’t a knock on Sanogo’s ability whatsoever, since this is his greatest strength. Feeding him in any sort of post position has proven to be UConn’s most effective offense this season. He is shooting 55% from the floor, tops on the roster, on slightly above 11 field goal attempts, which ranks second.
His defensive impact cannot be overstated as well, ranking second on the team with 1.7 blocks per game, behind the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year in Isiah Whaley. While he isn’t the same type of dynamic shot blocker like Whaley or Akok Akok, Sanogo has shown much-improved footwork this season, allowing for better positioning and less foul-trouble, which was his biggest issue as a freshman.
If Sanogo is fully healthy and starting the game, Hurley loves to get his big man early touches in almost every contest, which have led to quick buckets a lot of the time. In the Central Connecticut game, the first game of the season, Sanogo was 4-4 with eight points in the first four minutes. Against Coppin State he was 2-4 with four points within the game’s first three minutes. In the game against No. 19 Auburn, Sanogo went right at former five-star center Walker Kessler, scoring UConn’s first 10 points on 5-6 shooting.
Sanogo started off 0-3 against Michigan State just about four minutes in, but the plan remained the same. Get the big man established early and often, and force the defensive to either double team or pull over added help which opens up opportunities for other players.
When Sanogo is on the court, UConn’s shot quality is much greater than when he is off. Judging by the shot charts of the games, UConn takes a higher percentage of shots inside the paint when Sanogo is on the court, leading to a higher conversion rate and more overall points scored. This is also evident by their 45.5% field goal percentage when Sanogo is in the lineup vs. 38.7% when he is out.
Again, UConn largely played much better teams on average without Sanogo, with three quad one games. With how effective Sanogo is inside and how much the shot chart changes when he is on the floor, this is still significant. Sanogo also proved he can compete with the best of the best by leading UConn in scoring in back to back games against top 25 teams in Auburn and Michigan State. He is to go-to guy on offense and the shot selection completely changes without him.
Further supporting the shot quality argument is the fact that UConn took over 20 3-pointers in all four games that Sanogo missed, something they only did three out of the first seven games to start the season. Their conversion rate from deep also decreased without Sanogo, dropping over 10 whole percentage points. Sanogo doesn’t have a direct impact on that drop off, (0-1 from three on the year), but it’s the impact he has on the floor spacing, acting like a magnet in the paint. Sanogo draws so much attention to himself in the paint, which allows the UConn guards to get better looks from downtown, especially on offensive rebounds.
Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a glaringly obvious part of the game that UConn improved in without Sanogo. The turnovers decreased slightly, which is likely in part due to Sanogo’s knack for giving the ball away at times – he coughs up the ball at the highest rate on the team with 2.7 per night. This is definitely an aspect of Sanogo’s game that needs significant improvement. Being stronger with the ball and also knowing when to pass out of the post are acquired skills, and ones that Sanogo hopefully picks up as he continues to mature this season and beyond.