UConn Reloads in the Transfer Portal

The abrupt and early end to the 2021-2022 UConn Men’s basketball season in the first game of the NCAA Tournament left a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth. Yes, it was a tough matchup against New Mexico State, but there were questions about personnel and coaching immediately following the loss. That loss would be getting more airtime today if it wasn’t for an even more concerning trend with the roster that led to an extremely depleted group of guards: the transfer portal. After R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin decided not to use their extra year of eligibility thanks to the pandemic and chose to pursue professional opportunities, UConn was left with a thinner, but still viable group of guards in the frontcourt. Unfortunately for Dan Hurley, the exits didn’t stop there. Guards Jalen Gaffney (Sr), Rahsool Diggins (So), and Corey Floyd (Fr) all left the program, leaving the roster looking very bleak at the guard spot with just Andre Jackson (Jr) and Jordan Hawkins (So) on scholarship. On top of the guard exodus, Hurley lost Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley to graduation and forward Akok Akok to the transfer portal. Thankfully, less than 2 months later, the Huskies roster looks very different and much more robust.

There was a huge wave of players who entered the transfer portal now that they have an extra year of eligibility and don’t have to sit out a year. More than 1,400 players entered the portal this offseason which led to a ton of player movement and some completely re-worked rosters for next season. The Huskies certainly fit that bill, as they have already locked up East Carolina guard sophomore Tristen Newton (6’5″, 190lbs), Virginia Tech guard junior Nahiem Alleyne (6’4″, 195lbs), and Texas A&M guard sophomore Hassan Diarra (6’2″, 195lbs). The addition of those three guards makes UConn a lot more appealing of a roster going into the 2022-2023 season and adds a lot more collegiate playing experience to the guard group than what would have been there with Gaffney, Diggins, and Floyd. The Huskies will be fairly young behind Adama Sanogo in the backcourt, so some experience in other parts of the roster is important.

It’s likely that Hurley is done tapping into the transfer portal, although it wouldn’t shock me if he brought in one more piece, a veteran for depth. As the roster stands now, there are 3 available scholarship slots and it could be interesting to see how they are used, or not, come October. As it stands now, the roster is as follows:


Andre Jackson (Jr)

Nahiem Alleyne (Jr)

Tristen Newton (So)

Hassan Diarra (So)


Adama Sanogo (Jr)

Richie Springs (RS Jr)

Samson Johnson (So)

Alex Karaban (Fr)

Donovan Clingan (Fr)


Despite the mass exodus of players, Dan Hurley has done a nice job to this point at reloading. The team will likely be led by point guard Tristen Newton, who played in 78 games for the East Carolina Pirates over the last three seasons and this past year averaged 17.7 points, 5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game. He has good size at 6’5″ and is a distributor, so should be able to run the offense on a nightly basis. He’ll be flanked by a combination of Jackson and Alleyne or Diarra in a 3 guard lineup. Alleyne is a consistent force who had appeared in 84 games for Virginia Tech over the past three seasons. Unlike Newton, Alleyne is a solid 3-point shooter, hitting 38.7% for his collegiate career, including nearly 41% in 2020-2021. His other stats aren’t particularly impressive, but at 6’4″, he has some good size and with some solid playing time I would expect him to become a higher-volume scorer and a solid defender. Diarra is an interesting player from Texas A&M. The brother of Mamadou, a UConn assistant coach, he’s a New York kid who played high-school ball at Putnam Science Academy in CT. In two seasons with the Aggies his numbers weren’t impressive, but neither was his playing time. As a 4-star recruit out of high school, he’s looking to find his place at UConn.

In the backcourt, UConn returns Adam Sanogo and fills the depth behind him with young, highly rated players. Two 4-star recruits will have their chance to impact the program next season in Alex Karaban and Donovan Clingan. They join redshirt junior Richie Springs and sophomore Samson Johnson, both of whom have had little-to-no playing time in college. Springs has a total of 13 appearances and averages 3.2 minutes played in those games, while Johnson saw a total of 68 minutes last season, spread over 13 games. Karaban is a 6’8″ is a consensus top-50 player who is from Massachusetts who enrolled a semester early to get some extra work in. He is described as an outstanding outside shooter and solid rebounder. He figures to slot in as a wing/forward, potentially playing alongside Sanogo or Clingan in the backcourt. Clingan is a massive 7’1″, 265lb center who is in line to be the next in a long line of great big men in UConn history. The CT native was the 51st ranked recruit according to ESPN and 44th according to 247 sports. Clingan used his size to dominate in high school, setting a Bristol Central record when he dropped 51 points against Windsor last season, breaking a record he previous held. Learning the game from Sanogo and getting a chance to play early will greatly benefit Clingan as the knock on him seems to be a need to improve his defense. Lots of potential and youth in the backcourt.

Overall the Huskies are in a better place than a few months ago, but still have some question marks. It’s nice to have highly rated recruits and young players, but as we have all seen, not all of them pan out in the end. Without a senior on the roster, this team will certainly take a lot of patience and work from Dan Hurley and it will be interesting to see who steps up in an on-court leadership role. Sanogo is an obvious choice, but if Jackson can take the next step forward in his development and maturity, he could end up being a leader of the guard group. It will be interesting to see how the newer faces transition into the program when practices start up in the fall.

For now, I’m certainly more optomistic than I was just 2 months ago. The bleeding has stopped and the wounds have mostly healed. Now the question has become, what can Dan Hurley do with this new roster of players?

Can UConn Make a Deep Tournament Run?

As the Big East Tournament begins, it’s a good time to take a look into the future. The UConn Men’s Basketball team enters the tournament at their home-away-from-home, Madison Square Garden, winning 6 of their last 7 games and as the #3 seed in the league. By all accounts, they had a very strong regular season, putting together a 22-8 record with a 13-6 record in the Big East. There were a number of close games they could have won, but ultimately they are where they want to be: playing their best basketball with a first round bye in the Big East Tournament. They have two All-Big East First Team players on their roster (R.J. Cole and Adama Sanogo), a member of the All-Big East Freshman team (Jordan Hawkins), and Sanogo is one of 5 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award. All of that is great and fun to write about, but the bigger question is whether they are a contender to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Let’s take a look at the seeding first. As it stands today, most believe UConn is a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They were creeping up into the #4 line before a tough loss to Creighton on March 2nd and now have some work to do if they want to improve their seed. The good news? They have a chance to beat some quad 1 teams in the Big East Tournament and perhaps move up. Looking at their potential schedule, UConn will face the winner of Seton Hall and Georgetown in their first game, two teams they can handle. They lost to Seton Hall earlier this year, but beat them on February 16th. If they can get past either one of those teams, then they face a likely matchup with Villanova in the Semifinals. The Wildcats are the #8 team in the country and a 2nd win against them this year would certainly turn some heads. Assuming the higher seeds win, a victory over #8 Villanova would give UConn a matchup with #11 Providence. While it’s a tough ask to beat Nova and Providence on back-to-back nights, if they were to do so and win the Big East Tournament title, a #4 or even #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament is not out of the question.

While I would love to say the seeding doesn’t matter, it does. The difference between a #5 and a #4 seed can be significant in terms of odds of making a deep run. According to Betfirm.com in March of 2021 the odds of a #5 seed reaching the Sweet 16 was 33.6% while the #4 seed had a 47.1% chance to make the 2nd weekend of the tournament. When it comes to the Elite 8, there is a 8.6% higher likelihood of moving on as a #4 seed vs a #5 seed. If UConn wants to put themselves in the best position to make a deep run, they definitely need to win their first Big East Tournament game and really need a win over #8 Villanova to make their case. Obviously seeding is not the only factor in success, but it can help push a team along in the earlier rounds.

Looking at the team overall, they have the ability to matchup with most teams in the country. Their interior size and skill puts them in the top tier in the country, assuming Sanogo can stay out of foul trouble and off the bench. Isaiah Whaley is a nice compliment with his rebounding ability and veteran leadership and when on the floor with Sanogo, they can stifle inside shooting. UConn has length and athleticism in Andre Jackson and a jack-of-all-trades in Tyrese Martin. They have a solid 3pt shooting threat in Tyler Polley and are of course led by the Cole-blooded killer, R.J. Cole, who is the heart and soul of this team and can force the action when things are stagnant. Hopefully Jordan Hawkins is out of concussion protocol and can add some shooting depth to the team in stretches. All of that sounds nice and is a recipe for success, but that hasn’t always been the case this season and there are a lot of concerns heading into the postseason.

My two biggest concerns are keeping Sanogo on the floor and engaged and overall offensive stagnation. When Sanogo gets established early and gets angry, it’s damn-near impossible to stop him. However, he has a tendency to stop himself with early fouls and forcing the issue too often. If he gets into a rut, he can significantly slow down the UConn offense and cause prolonged cold streaks. Numerous times this season the Huskies have missed a few shots and began forcing the ball. The 2 minute cold streak turns into a 4 minute streak and snowballs to detrimental effect. If they can limit and contain those cold streaks, they are a strong offensive team, but if they get into a 5+ minute cold streak in the NCAA Tournament, they’ll likely be taking the next flight back. The UConn win against Villanova on February 22nd was a great example of how good this team can be. They missed a few shots, got down a bit in the first half after Dan Hurley was ejected, but were able to regroup, make smart decisions and take smart shots, and reverse their mini slump without letting it snowball. They got big shots at the end when they needed them and were able to grind out a W. If they are able to do that in the tournament, look out.

The other factor that I think really helps UConn is their Big East schedule. Every night, whether they were playing the #10 team in the conference or the #1 team, they were hard fought battles. Being back in the Big East has helped UConn get used to close, physical games and play a style that can really work against mid-majors and teams that aren’t used to the banging. The nightly challenge has led to some tough losses, but ultimately has taught UConn how to play in close games and how to fight until the final whistle. Having experience winning close games will definitely benefit them if they get into one in the NCAA Tournament (which is almost a guarantee).

Ultimately, UConn controls their own destiny. Yes, it’s cliché, but it applies to this team maybe even more than others in the past. If the Huskies play their best basketball, there are very few teams in the country that have a chance to beat them. If they play just a B-level basketball, they aren’t going to be dancing very long. They need a full team effort every night and can’t just rely on R.J. Cole to bail them out at the end, although his ability to do so could come in handy. I think this is a 2nd weekend team, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. The next few games in the Big East Tournament will tell us more about where the team is mentally heading into Selection Sunday, but overall I have a good feeling about the chances at a deep run this year.

Kimani Young: Breakout Star

It took only only 24 minutes and 53 seconds for Kimani Young to cement his status as one of the most coveted assistant coaches in NCAA Men’s Basketball. After Dan Hurley was enthusiastically ejected by referee James Breeding with 4:53 remaining in the first half of UConn’s game vs the #8 Villanova Wildcats for pumping up the crowd, Young stepped in as the head coach for the Huskies. He proceeded to lead UConn to one of the biggest wins in recent memory and received some national attention in the process. Young’s calm demeanor and poise under pressure was on display for the whole basketball world to see on Tuesday.

Young joined Dan Hurley’s staff at UConn in April 2018 and rose to assume the Associate Head Coach role in September of 2020. The fact that he’s risen through the ranks to now be considered a top candidate for a head coaching position in the next year or two is amazing given his life story. After becoming a basketball star at UTEP, Young looked like he was on a solid path until he was arrested for possession of 96 pounds of marijuana and spent a year in federal prison. He doesn’t talk about that part of his life much, but hung around the wrong people at the wrong time and made a bad decision. Following his time in prison, Young began to rebuild his life and spent time working at a few foundations in New York.

About a decade later and Young is the Athletic Director at New Heights Youth, Inc with his life back on the rails. He’s married with three young children and living in New York when tragedy strikes. His wife, Sharette Dixon, got sick with what seemed like a normal cold that progressed into pneumonia and at age 39, she passed away unexpectedly. Young was now faced with being a single father to three children under 6. Another major life event and another opportunity to overcome adversity.

“That was a hard one, man. That was a hard one. My kids motivated me the most. I knew I had three small children that I was responsible for and I just said, ‘look, we’re going to figure this thing out.’ …We just kind of circled the wagons. They were young, but we put a system in place. We had a schedule, we had a nanny, we had a slew of people that were willing to help. As they got older, I had the ability to get back in college — they were all in school. We haven’t looked back.”

Kimani Young in an interview with the Hartford Courant in 2018

Young was able to get by with the support of his network and once again build himself back up. In 2012, he got an opportunity to jump into the college coaching ranks when Richard Pitino hired him for his staff at Florida International. The next season, when Pitino took the Minnesota job, Young came along with him and stayed for 5 seasons. In 2018, Dan Hurley came calling and Young took the opportunity to return to the east coast and as a Queens, NY native, the job at UConn made a ton of sense. He could use his connections in New York and the surrounding areas, a hot bed for UConn recruiting, and have the opportunity to grow and learn under Hurley. Just 4 years later, the decision has proven to be a wise one, both for UConn and Young.

Officially, Young is attributed with recruiting responsibilities, practice planning and game strategy (according to the UConn website). Those responsibilities came in handy on Tuesday night when he was forced to take over the game strategy as head coach in the first half of UConn’s game vs #8 Villanova. He seamlessly stepped in for the ejected Hurley and calmly managed the game and his players. Hurley’s ejection forced a 6pt swing thanks to free throws and the next possession, but Young remained calm. He knew just when to give the players leeway to take chances, when to yell in play calls and encouragement from the sidelines, and picked the right moments to use his timeouts at the end of the game. He drew up the play that sprung Tyler Polley over the screen for a 3 that cut the deficit to 1pt and put the ball in R.J. Cole’s hands for the game-winning shot. If you didn’t know anything about what transpired in the first half, you would never have known UConn was without their head coach down the stretch. Young was prepared and ready to step in without issue and looked like a veteran pacing the sidelines.

While Young was already on some watch lists for head coaching vacancies, his stock has certainly risen even more after his performance on Tuesday night. He got the chance to show the world that he’s ready to be a head coach now and took full advantage. Unfortunately for UConn, he’s likely not returning next season, but it’s hard not to be happy for Young given the adversity he has faced throughout his life. No matter where he ends up next, that school will be lucky to have him.

Massive W for the UConn Huskies

After some inconsistent play throughout much of the regular season, the UConn Huskies Men’s Basketball program has risen to the challenge down the stretch. UConn faced their toughest challenge of the season on Tuesday night when they matched up with #8 Villanova at the XL Center. From the opening tip to the final whistle, it was one of the most exciting games of the season for the Huskies in front of more than 15,000 fans in Hartford (one of the best UConn crowds in recent memory). UConn played one of their most consistent games all season with high energy and grit for the entire 40-minute game, with contributions up and down the rotation. With under a minute left, UConn was able to overcome a 4pt deficit thanks to Tyler Polley‘s sharp-shooting, very strong defense, and a massive game-winner from the heart and soul of the team, R.J. Cole. When the buzzer sounded, the students stormed the court and a message was sent out to the college basketball world: UConn is back and coming for you.

This has been a rollercoaster season for the Huskies, filled with what ifs and stretches of forgotten identity. Tuesday night was their 20th victory of the year and arguably their most complete game played in several weeks, if not all season. Being back in the Big East means a tough game almost every single night in conference play and as a result, a number of close losses in which UConn was one or two plays away from securing the W. Earlier in the season, this would have been a close loss filled with questions. Since their several week COVID pause in December and into January, UConn is 11-3 with their losses coming to Creighton (by 4), Villanova (by 11), and Xavier (by 6). They have gone on a revenge tour the last week, beating Xavier and Villanova in their 2nd matchup and if they can beat Creighton on March 2nd, will have avenged their losses. If the season ended today, they would be a #3 seed in the Big East Tournament, which gives them a really strong chance to improve their resume for the NCAA Tournament (currently a 4th or 5th seed).

Throughout the season, UConn has shown signs of being a top team, but hasn’t put it all together until recently. They started the season off strong with a great showing in the Battle for Atlantis with a huge victory over now #3 Auburn in OT (their only loss for most of the season), followed by a 4pt loss to Michigan State (shorthanded with Whaley out) and then a nice rebound victory against VCU. Despite cold streaks, awful layup percentages, and foul trouble (looking at you Adama Sanogo), UConn has been able to lean on it’s defensive intensity and offensive rebounding to keep them in games when the offense disappeared. We’re seeing a more complete UConn team this past week because they have continued their defensive identity while also limiting their cold streaks offensively. As they get more confident individually and as a group, more layups are falling and their offensive game has improved.

A great example of the improved offensive game was Tuesday night. More specifically, there was a turning point in the game after Dan Hurley was ejected for a ridiculous 2nd technical (an entirely separate rant). The technical free throws and possession led to a 6pt swing for the Wildcats with hardly any time coming off the clock at a pivotal time in the game with 4ish minutes left in the first half. At a different point in the season, that deficit could have led to forced shots and digging a deeper hole on the offensive end, but instead, it led to a nice offensive run with smart shots and increased defensive intensity to pull back tied. The confidence the team has in each other was obvious and it led to an incredibly strong performance against a top tier team with tons of experience. The signature win will only help to continue building the team’s confidence down the stretch.

Another shift that was interesting to watch and gives this team a new dimension going into the postseason was Andre Jackson as the baller handler. He athleticism and speed helped UConn get out in transition and for the most part, he was able to take care of the ball without his tendency for silly turnovers. The new twist of Jackson running point more often puts Tyrese Martin and R.J. Cole in better spots to get their shots and definitely gives the offense an energy boost. It also gives the opponent different looks and allows Cole to have more energy down the stretch for the big bucket at the end. Jackson has always been praised for his athleticism and speed, but now it feels like he’s more comfortable using that to exploit the opponent. He is a strong passer and the more he has the ball in his hands to facilitate, the more engaged he is on the offensive end. He can’t run point every possession, but as a change of pace, it’s great.

Overall, UConn is peaking at the right time and is back to being relevant again. If their strong play continues over the next few weeks, they have a real chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament in a year where the field is pretty wide open. If they can improve their seeding and grab a #4, maybe even a #3 seed, they will have a good chance at making a 2nd weekend appearance and perhaps even beyond. Tough and gritty defense with a strong big man inside and a veteran point guard who isn’t afraid to take the big shot at the end. Sound familiar?

Are the UConn Men a Legit Contender?

It’s been an interesting season for UConn men’s basketball. There were fairly high hopes coming into the season despite losing star James Bouknight to the NBA draft, because the roster was mostly returning with some young talent added in. At times, the team has lived up to the hype and have looked like a dangerous March team and then for stretches they have looked flat and ineffective. Add in a 3-week COVID pause in December and early January and a plethora of injuries, it’s challenging to figure out who the Huskies really are and what their ceiling is 20 games into the season.

After a tough loss to Creighton at home on Tuesday the coach Dan Hurley called “brutal”, the Huskies are 15-5 and ranked #17 in the country (for now). They are 6-3 in their triumphant return to the Big East and have a huge game against #12 Villanova on Friday. They have big wins against now #1 Auburn (the Tigers only loss) and now #24 Marquette and tough losses against West Virginia and Seton Hall (in OT). At times, they have looked offensively savvy and have been able to score in bunches and then they have had ridiculous ice-cold stretches offensively (i.e. the first half plus of the Creighton game). Defensively, the Huskies seem to have a hard-nosed, grinding approach that makes them tough to play against, but if they can’t score, does it matter?

One thing for certain is that Adama Sanogo has elevated his game this season and has had a big impact. When Sanogo is healthy and playing, UConn is 13-3 with the 3 losses to a tough Michigan State team, Seton Hall in OT, and the most recent Creighton loss. It seems the offense runs as Sanogo does, but despite making a big step forward this year, he’s still been somewhat inconsistent and when he struggles, it can impact the offense significantly. For example, against Creighton he went just 3-10 from the field and ended with 8pts and 9 rebounds and UConn failed to score 60 as a team. When Sanogo takes over inside, the other scoring options open up for the Huskies and they become significantly more balanced and powerful.

The injury bug has definitely impacted the team as well. Just 2 players, RJ Cole and Andre Jackson have started all 20 games and that has led to a lack of cohesive play at times, especially on the offensive end. The team tends to get a bit stagnant and too often are driving late in the shot clock to get off an off-balance layup or pull-up attempt. The ball tends to stick a bit, leading to low percentage shots and bad possessions. If the team can stay as healthy as they are now and not have any other season pauses like the long one in December and January, my hope is the chemistry will grow and the offense will become more fluid like we have seen in flashes during the year. If not, this team won’t make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

The bright spot for the Huskies right now is their defense. They rank at or near the top of the NCAA in many defensive categories and have allowed less than 65 points in 14 of their 20 games on the season including 3 of their last 4 (the only exception being the Georgetown blowout on January 25th). If they are to make a deep run into March, the defense will have to be the star of the show as with past deep runs. The cliche is “defense wins championships” and I think that can be true if the offense is potent enough to keep pace (which is my biggest concern). If you can’t get 60 pts of offense, the best defense probably won’t matter and an early exit is almost guaranteed.

The next 10 games will be the most telling for this year’s team. During that stretch, UConn plays 5 games against currently top-25 ranked teams and will have chances to measure themselves against other tournament-level competition. If they struggle, March will be a challenge and a deep run will be unlikely, but if they can show their strength and win most of those games, it will give the Huskies momentum into the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Now is the time for UConn to put it all together and live up to their high potential.