The Huskies are well-rested and healthy at the perfect time.
At its core, the Big East Tournament is four straight days of do-or-die basketball. Teams either have their season on the line, are playing for seeding in the NCAA tournament, or some weird combination of both for a team on the bubble.
Either way, depth can be the difference between getting a confetti shower on the floor of Madison Square Garden or a long bus ride home.
UConn men’s basketball has the luxury of depth. It’s a program with eight to ten starter-caliber players. And now, for the first time in a while, head coach Dan Hurley says the team is fully healthy as well.
“This is the healthiest we’ve been,” Hurley said. “The extra day off that we earned helped recharge these guys.”
Depth allows a program to work through things when a player has an off night. It also gives a head coach options to rest their players and keep them fresh. For the Huskies, who would need to win three games in three days to claim the conference crown, that extra depth could make all the difference.
In UConn’s 98-82 win over Georgetown on Saturday, none of UConn’s players eclipsed the 30-minute mark and six players scored in the double figures. Very few teams can compete with that kind of depth.
UConn has had seven players play in 40% of total minutes or more this season, according to KenPom.
Especially considering the injuries that have hit Big East programs in the past few weeks – with Villanova’s Collin Gillespie and Xavier’s Nate Johnson going down – UConn is positioned to take advantage of its deep roster.
As a result, pundits have started to notice UConn and have pushed the Huskies up their leaderboards. The entire CBS men’s college basketball crew picked UConn as their tournament winner.
“We have a lot more fans than we did two weeks ago, in terms of people on TV, the talking heads on different shows, which is fine,” Hurley said. “It should excite our players even more that the buzz is back with our program.”
There are a few things standing in UConn’s way. Two come in the form of the two teams ranked above them: Creighton, who the Huskies would play in the semifinals should each team get there, and Villanova, who UConn would play in the title game if each team gets there. The last is experience, as Hurley mentioned in his pre-tournament press conference.
Nationally, UConn ranks No. 160 in KenPom in terms of average years of experience. It’s a program with three seniors and four juniors, none of whom have ever played in an NCAA tournament game. The other half of the rotation has never played in a conference tournament game due to last year’s COVID-19 shutdown, meaning James Bouknight, Jalen Gaffney, and Akok Akok have no postseason experience. Freshmen Andre Jackson and Adama Sanogo are true freshmen, so they have never felt the pressure of having the season on the line before at the collegiate level.
This is a UConn team that has soared past the success of the first two years under Hurley. The third-year UConn head coach said that his message to the team this week was to be proud of how big of a step they’ve already taken as a program, but “let’s take an even bigger step.”
Hurley also said UConn was the first team to arrive at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. UConn fans will know if the program has taken another step back to national prominence if they’re the last to leave.