UConn is utterly terrifying again
Also: Braden Smith grows up, Louisville coughs it up, Virginia comes back to Earth, and UCLA nearly holds back the flood
This is going to sound a little weird, but: UConn still feels like UConn. Indeed, it is remarkable how much UConn still feels like UConn.
The Huskies, as you might have heard, are the defending national champions. They suffered the attrition national champions often do. They lost All-American-level big man Adama Sanogo. They lost hot-shooting combo guard Jordan Hawkins to the NBA. They lost versatile, attacking wing Andre Jackson to the NBA. They lost 44.6 percent 3-point shooter Joey Calcaterra. They lost useful senior Naheim Alleyne. They lost, more or less, an entire five of national title-level players. They lost more than most programs ever have to begin with.
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And look at Dan Hurley’s team now. Is this group just as good as it was in 2022-23? If not, it’s not far off. Turns out, the Huskies were so deep last year that losing a whole rotation’s worth of elite talent wasn’t remotely difficult for Hurley and his staff to overcome.
Alex Karaban was just a freshman, after all; as a sophomore, he’s already one of the best wings in the country. Center Donovan Clingan was meant to assume the Sanogo-level starring role, but, oh, fun fact: Clingan is still splitting his minutes with another elite center, junior Samson Johnson, who spent two years never playing but as it turns out is absolutely electric around the rim. Go figure.
Former Loyola (Maryland) and Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer has fit in perfectly as a perimeter shooter with vision and feel. (On Monday night, he threw one no-look pass that elicited an involuntary yelp in the Brennan household; I briefly woke up a baby sleeping on an entirely different floor. Probably my favorite pass of the season so far.) Hassan Diarra is off to an incredible start. Tristan Newton, the key perimeter holdover from last season, looks even better than he did as the starting point guard for a dominant national champ; he is playing the best basketball of his life and he’s not even shooting the ball all that well. The Huskies are still throwing in a ton of dudes, happily sharing minutes and going deep into the bench, and freshman star Stephon Castle is not yet healthy. Hurley and his staff are still running the same brilliant, diverse, unpredictable range of sets, churning the same extremely efficient offensive gears. Hurley is still being Hurley, still talking about how good he thinks his team can be.
And that’s the thing that really counts: The vibe is the same. Last year’s Huskies — early in the season and then late, bookending with dominance that weird string of midseason Big East losses that threw people (including many UConn fans!) off the scent — didn’t just play well and beat you. They destroyed you.
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