Huge Statement Win for UConn Men’s Basketball

Coming into the Battle for Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas, the UConn Men’s basketball team had not faced a true challenge. They were 4-0 and had looked like a strong team early, but without a real measuring stick to determine of they are for real or just beating up on lesser talent. The Battle for Atlantis tournament field is stacked and there are tough opponents to face at every corner. After just one game in the tournament, UConn has a statement win and have put the basketball world on high alert that they are for real and can hang with the big dogs.

Let me start by saying that the #22 UConn vs #19 Auburn game was one of the best I have seen in a long time. When not playing UConn, Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers are an energetic, fun team to watch. They like to get out in transition and have the ability to score in bunches, both inside and out. They are tenacious on defense and matched up well with the tough, hard-nosed UConn team that has begun to find some scoring. Both teams are well coached and have some young talent they hope will develop into stars. This game was chock-full of scoring runs, lead changes, momentum shifts, big shots, big defensive stops, and clutch plays.

It seemed like UConn had several chances to put the game away in regulation and both OTs, but Auburn kept fighting back and making clutch play after clutch play. Auburn’s full-court press forced several mistakes and turnovers from UConn and led to some quick point swings when the Tigers desperately needed them. Freshman Jabari Smith had a slow first half, but had some huge shots in the 2nd half and OTs on his way to 22pts on the night. The most impressive Tiger was K.D. Johnson, who seemed to be everywhere on offense and defense on his way to a strong 27pt performance with 5 big steals. When he wasn’t collecting a steal, he was pressing UConn into bad passes and tougher shots.

For UConn, Adama Sanogo was an absolute beast. He finished with 30pts, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks, but the most amazing sign of improvement in his game was his ability to play with 4 fouls for a long time without fouling out. Sanogo picked up his 4th foul with 7:13 left in the 2nd half and was able to play solid defense, although a bit more passive, and be a strong offensive presence for the remainder of regulation and 2 OTs. His ability to stay on the floor was huge for the Huskies and played a major factor in the win. RJ Cole and Tyler Polley added 24pts each and freshman Jordan Hawkins had 16pts in 15 minutes. He had a tough turnover that ultimately led to a 2nd OT, but overall had a strong game and showed some promise with his ability to score in bunches.

It’s only 1 game and there is no time to celebrate with a noon Thanksgiving day matchup with Michigan State less than 24 hours later, but it’s a significant W to take the Huskies to 5-0. They are already building their resume with a top 25 win and can continue to pad that in this early season with another win or two in paradise. As the younger players improve and the team begins to gel, the Huskies will continue to get better and hopefully have many more big wins this season.

Adama Sanogo: The Reason UConn Will Make a Deep Run

There are a lot of things to be excited for with the UConn men’s basketball season opener just around the corner. Despite losing James Bouknight to the NBA, the Huskies return a strong roster and welcome 4 top-100 ranked freshman. The roster consists of potentially the deepest talent in recent history at UConn and with that, high expectations. They were picked to finish 2nd in the Big East behind perennial powerhouse Villanova and are beginning the season in the top-25 for the first time in 5 years at #24. This year will certainly be interesting and the team’s ceiling is quite high, but I believe the most important x-factor for the Huskies in 2021-2022 is Adama Sanogo.

Last season as a freshman, Sanogo showed flashes of strength. He grew into his own throughout the season and finished 4 of the final 5 games of the season, including the postseason, with double-digit points and grabbed his first career double-double with 10 rebounds against Georgetown. He had issues getting into foul trouble which limited his minutes at times, but when he was on the floor he had an impact. Overall, Sanogo shot 55.4% from the field, but in 2 games in the Big East Tournament he was much more efficient, shooting 66.7% from the field. In games UConn went on to win, Sanogo shot at a higher percentage from the field (+2.6%) and a higher rebound-per-game average (+0.75/game).

The sample size wasn’t huge considering it was one season and an odd one at that with COVID issues, but Sanogo passed the eye-test. His big, strong 6’9″ 240lb wide frame allows him to bang around down low for the Huskies and take up space in the paint. His strength makes up for his slightly undersized height down-low and that gives him the edge to play at the 5-spot this year. With the addition of experience and more time being trained by Dan Hurley, Sanogo has the potential to grow into playing a crucial big-man role for the Huskies in 2021 and beyond and early indications are really strong. According to reports, Sanogo dropped 22 pts on 8-13 shooting in a closed door scrimmage against Harvard recently and along with RJ Cole, is getting a lot of buzz for his offensive prowess as we approach the season.

With a potentially weaker offensive backcourt for the Huskies, at least to start the season, the frontcourt for the Huskies may need to carry some more scoring weight and they have the talent to do that. Along with Sanogo, Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley return for a 5th year and Akok Akok returns to try and redeem himself in his junior season after a tough last few years with injuries. The four in the frontcourt rotation are all athletic and 6’9″, so they provide a bit of length and flexibility. The other 2 frontcourt players on the roster are sophomore Richie Springs (also 6’9″) and freshman Samson Johnson, who comes in as the tallest of the group at 6’10”, but will likely have trouble getting playing time unless there are some injuries or he lights the world on fire.

If Sanogo can progress at the speed we hope and show more consistency (and less silly fouls), he can become a major factor in UConn’s success this season. I believe that if the Huskies are to make a deep run into the tournament this season, Adama Sanogo will be a big reason why.