UConn Men’s Basketball Position Preview: Guards



This year’s UConn No.24 men’s basketball team (KenPom No.21) presents arguably their most talented front end since Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien patrolled the paint in 2009. But for As Adama Sanogo and his company carve out their presence, UConn’s backcourt must keep the opposing defenses honest.

Just over 10 years ago, Tyler Olander won the first baskets against Kentucky and Butler in the 2011 Final Four. Yes, that’s right – on a list of three future goalies in the NBA rotation, opposite to John Calipari and Brad Stevens, Jim Calhoun opted for post games set for… a future minor league baseball player. Because as bizarre as this decision seemed at the time, it stuck to chance in my brain because it forced these defenses to respect the position. It was a reminder that even though you have a transcendent backcourt; successful teams need an upside-down balance in March.

This is the fourth year under the direction of head coach Dan Hurley. James Bouknight – UConn’s first lottery pick since 2012 – is gone, but Hurley returns to one of the Grand Est’s oldest backcourt, while bringing in a new generation of talented freshmen. Last year’s offensive identity of “Bouk et Planks” will shift to lower block sets, but the big ones need proper spacing to function. The same concept applies to the defensive side of the ball. If UConn’s backcourt cannot apply the pressure Hurley wants, UConn’s potentially elite rim protector comes undone and is prone to fouls. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how UConn’s backcourt might behave this year.

RJ Cole, graduate student (12.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists per game, 38.7 FG%, 38.6 3 points%)

It’s no coincidence that for 45:07, UConn’s rallying cry this offseason, the 6-foot-1 point guard was either concussed or limited by recovery from a concussion. UConn scored just three points in the final five minutes of the loss to Creighton and had just 0.93 points per possession against Maryland. Before being (literally) knocked out against Creighton in the Big East tournament semifinals, he was the straw that stirred UConn’s drink as the team found themselves in late season form last year. Cole has scored in double digits in 13 of the last 14 games, finally acclimating to the Big East pace after Howard’s transfer stalled in 2019.

Cole finished second in the conference in terms of attendance-to-turnover ratio, but with Bouknight in the NBA, there’s a lot of production to replace, and he looks set to replace Bouk.

“That’s what you play in times like this, why you come to these kind of schools,” he told Big East’s John Fanta earlier this week. “When the game is on with two minutes to go, I want the ball in my hands.”

Beyond the box score, Cole wants to continue evolving to become the team’s quarterback.

“I’m trying to light a fire under my teammates. I used to be more of an example, but this year I have to be more vocal. I am definitely out of my shell, ”Cole told Blue Ribbon.

Tyrese Martin, senior (10.3 points per game, 7.5 rpg, 44.0 FG%)

If Cole is the quarterback, the 6-foot-6 Martin is the slots receiver who gets the crucial third downs. He is exactly what UConn needs next to Cole; a bigger physical guard who can attack the ledge, keep defenses honest with usable outside fire, and smash glass like a demon. Martin led UConn in rebounds and paced the Big East in offensive rebounds per game (three). If the games and hot hands dictate, Martin can earn you 20 points. He led UConn in scoring four times, but went 1-10 on the field against Maryland, many of those seemingly easy looks on the rim.

Hurley needs Martin to be his Steady Eddie.

“Until that late season faint and shooting struggles, Tyrese has had a great year for us – at least statistically speaking,” Hurley said in an interview with CT Insider. “We need this consistency from Tyrese throughout the year.”

Jalen Gaffney, junior (6.1 games per game, 1.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, 41.0 FG%)

Whether it was because he came to Storrs with Bouknight, or the hyperbole of an AAU coach, the 6-foot-3 Gaffney has always played with the burden of expectations by becoming UConn’s next big goalie. Development hasn’t always been linear, but the reality is that, while playing the same number of minutes, Gaffney doubled his score and raised all of his shooting percentages to respectable numbers from year one to year two.

Seek that the light finally stays on for the third year. Gaffney is a different player when he puts pressure on the defenses when attacking downhill from the dribble. Hurley has seen a “different” Jalen this offseason, and Gaffney echoes his head coach.

“I took it upon myself to improve myself. I have a role to fulfill. It’s about being aggressive at all times, whether it’s trying to find my shot or entering the lane to throw it, ”Gaffney told Blue Ribbon Magazine.

Consistent aggression and improved outside fire could cause Hurley to deploy more double-paced rosters. But even though he’s leading the Second Unit, Gaffney’s ability to dictate the tempo of the game gives Hurley another weapon to use off the bench.

Andre Jackson, sophomore (2.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.6 apg)

Has UConn ever had a player like Andre Jackson? College basketball? Rudy Gay had bunnies, but could he lead a quick break after pulling off an offensive rebound? Ben Simmons has vision and is 6ft 10in, but can he do it this? Both of these comparisons are ridiculous, of course, but Jackson, Albany’s 6-foot-6 runner-up, is predicted by many domestic pundits to have a night out this year. Embarrassed by injuries and freshman rentals last year, fans nonetheless spotted a hyper-athletic, forward-pointed defensive disruptor.

Offense is all about pace and space in the modern age, and while Jackson has the former in spades, the latter is still in question after shooting 2-17 of three last year. But UConn doesn’t need Jackson to transform into Steph Curry; all he needs is defenses to respect his outside shot enough to let the rest of his absurd talents take over.

While his offensive repertoire may be incomplete, Jackson is already a more on-ball defender who can become the elite with better awareness and better off-ball positioning. His size and ability to switch with Tyrese Martin means Hurley can trot through a monster-sized backcourt that can suffocate guards.

After dazzling on both sides During last week’s open practice, Hurley spoke about how Jackson can be an impact player.

“He’s a role model for how Andre should play. He was so active and he went down with the reader. This version of André could have a very big impact ”, Hurley told the Inquirer Journal.

It’s not just his transitional straight-line athleticism that makes Jackson so unique. This is his game; his ability to set up teammates for easy looks while attacking downhill.

If rumors of improved outside shooting – he connected on two threes in the open scrum – are true, it will be difficult to keep Jackson at Storrs for another year, let alone the starting lineup.

Jordan Hawkins, freshman

Forget the comparisons of James Bouknight. Hurley took the expectations a step further and even said that Hawkins had “Wall potential”. The famous DeMatha Catholic’s 6-foot-4 shooting guard – the high school powerhouse that produced Victor Oladipo, Markelle Fultz and Josh Carlton – was rated No.48 by Rivals and brings an offensive skill that could be the missing piece. of the puzzle for UConn this year. Shooting and stretching the floor will be a priority this year, so reports of Hawkins’ advanced footwork and fluid outdoor movement should be music to fan ears.

The expectations of freshmen need to be tempered, of course. Look for Hurley to sharpen Hawkins’ defensive intensity in the same way he brought Bouknight. If summer training videos are to be judged, Hawkins’ offensive package could mean jump start minutes, or an instant attack off the bench as he gets his varsity ball sea foot. If neither works, put a bat in his hands; UConn baseball has a Reggie Crawford-sized hole that needs to be filled.

Rahsool Diggins, first year student

It’s very easy to look at the full depth of UConn and assume the 6-foot-2 point guard won’t be seeing a lot of weather this year. But that would be playing into the hands of Agent Sool, who oozes the outsider arrogance inherent in the Philadelphia Guards. Diggins struggled with a knee bruise during the preseason, but productive on both ends of the pitch in the Huskies’ open scrum. Rookie # 58 has all the makings of a prototypical Hurley playmaker: tough and spirited with playing qualities to match.

Corey Floyd Jr, freshman

Floyd signed up to UConn in January, the first domino of the 2022 class that ultimately touted hometown awards Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban. Fast forward to August, fresh off an outstanding Peach Jam performance, Floyd grabbed the headlines after deciding to step up to the 2021 class and enroll early at UConn. The 6ft 4in combo guard from New Jersey is only 17 years old, but possesses the physique and poise of an upper class man, to the point where the redshirter may not even be an option. With another weapon that can go into the paint and make shifting plays, Hurley suddenly has a minutes conundrum in the backcourt.


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