As a Junior at the University of Connecticut, I have not been spoiled with men’s basketball success like some of the previous classes. For perspective, if I had walked on campus just 7 years earlier, in the fall of 2010, I would have witnessed the final triumphs of the Jim Calhoun era, including the 2011 and 2014 National Titles. Although Kevin Ollie was the ones cutting down the nets in Arlington for the 2014 title, it was truly Calhoun’s bunch that won. There is a lot of legitimacy to the claim Kevin Ollie is the worst coach to ever win an NCAABB Championship, especially with what he did to the program. (Scroll to the bottom for gambling preview)
The first signs of regression were the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The team was talented, but did not live up to expectations. Ryan Boatwright finished with the best year of his UConn career, leading the team in scoring. Rodney Purvis and freshman Daniel Hamilton had decent years as well; but the offense struggled all season, finishing 263rd in points per game. The ‘15 and ‘16 teams were supposed to be serious AAC competitors, if not front runners, but poor play and coaching led to one short tournament appearance.
Long gone were the days of Jim Calhoun’s top 50 recruits. Kevin Ollie struggled to bring in the big names needed to win. Below average recruiting proved to be the Achilles heel. The 2017 team finished below .500 for the first time since 1987. Jalen Adams was the lone bright spot, leading the team in points in his much-improved sophomore campaign. Ollie was officially on the hot seat entering a pivotal 2018 season. Defense had not been an issue during his coaching span, finishing top 50 in points allowed per game each year. That was no longer the case. The physical and tough play style from the Big East days was gone. Husky fans were not used to seeing this former hard-nosed team put up lackluster defensive performances. A 14-18 record made the firing of Kevin Ollie inevitable. The move to the AAC and Ollie’s underwhelming coaching tenure left UConn nation disappointed and frustrated.
Dan Hurley. The Carpenter.
Shout out the MOT
Dan Hurley comes from basketball royalty. His father is considered one of the greatest high school basketball coaches of all time. He led St. Anthony’s to 28 state championships in 39 years in basketball hotbed New Jersey. Dan’s brother, Bobby Hurley is the current head coach at Arizona State, and had plenty of early success with the program. Our man, Dan Hurley transformed the University of Rhode Island when he took over in 2013. URI went from a horrid program, to a top 25 team that made two tournaments in a row. Hurley was a hero in Kingston, RI, but a new opportunity presented itself just one state over.
The firing of Kevin Ollie meant a prestigious coaching job had opened. Dan Hurley was instantly linked to the job, and it made perfect sense. While Hurley and URI were a perfect fit, the Rams will always be a mid-major. UConn has championship pedigree, and the assets to support it. A breath of fresh air blew through a regularly windy Storrs, as Dan Hurley’s fiery coaching and aggressive teams gave UConn basketball life. The Huskies started off shooting the lights out of the building and knocked off a ranked Syracuse team in Madison Square Garden. The rest of the season saw defensive improvements, but nothing special on the court as the team finished 16-17. Although the record doesn’t show much improvement, Hurley was able to bring in a top 50 recruiting class, and a return to the Big East was inevitable.
Over the past three years at UConn, this is the very first time in which Basketball games are exciting; we’re putting out a competitive product every single night. Hurley’s recruiting class is contributing as Freshman James Bouknight is putting up 20 a night and throwing down highlight reel dunks. Jalen Gaffney is starting to gain confidence and become a consistent contributor. Veteran leader Christian Vital has been the Huskies most consistent offensive player. Big men Josh Carlton and Isaiah Whaley are streaky, inconsistent players. The teams biggest flaw has been the lack of an offensive closer. Their tenacity has pushed games against great teams to the wire, but scoring has been a struggle, especially early in the season. Losing Akok Akok has been costly and I am looking forward to his potential return. The team currently sits at the 17-12 mark and I can ensure you no one in the AAC wants the Huskies in the tournament.
#21 Houston vs. UConn +2 (133.5)
Top 5 biggest game during my time at UConn. That’s kinda sad but it’s true so I am fired up regardless. This is the first time in March a Husky game has had tournament implications. That sounds like a stretch considering we are 7thin the AAC but let me go on. According to advanced metric Kenpom rankings UConn is #50 in the country. Joe Lunardi’s bracketology has NC State (55), Richmond (48), URI (64), and Mississippi State (51) as his first 4 out. This means from a statistical and analytical standpoint we are just as good, if not better than the bubble. Unfortunately, close losses to tournament teams hurt our eye test and are leaving UConn off the bubble. A win tonight would be the exactly quality win the Huskies need to be in the discussion for an at-large bid. Beating Houston, followed by a deep run in the AAC tournament, and I guarantee you Joe Lunardi, and more importantly, the committee will take a long and hard look at UConn’s resume.
With all that being said I expect Gampel Pavilion and the Huskies to be fired up all night. UConn has tons of momentum coming off three straight wins and I expect a hard fought, close game. Houston grabs offensive rebounds better than just about anyone, so controlling the glass has to be Hurley’s biggest coaching point. I see value in taking the points with UConn and I will be throwing a 2-unit bet on the spread. The moneyline is around +110 and I will also be taking some small action on this (It will be a parlay builder for tonight). I also like the over and since I will be in attendance tonight, and am no coward, I am absolutely going to be taking o133.5.
Huge night for Husky nation! Potentially the biggest game I have seen as a UConn student. Let’s get loud tonight Gampel. Go Huskies!
As always watch me officially lose money on ActionNetwork app @jglashow.