PHILADELPHIA - The expectation for a Dan Hurley-coached UConn menâ€™s basketball team varies based on your view of the former Rhode Island, Wagner and St. Benedictâ€™s Prep leader.
For Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who matched up with Hurleyâ€™s Rams, he believes the Huskiesâ€™ defense will be the thing that changes the most in the upcoming season.
â€śTheyâ€™re going to be fundamentally sound and play hard. They play to win,â€ť Cronin said during the American Athletic Conferenceâ€™s Media Day. â€śHeâ€™s got an interesting job ahead of him because they had lost their defensive mindset. And that in spite of having a defensive-minded coach in Kevin (Ollie).
â€śKevin won a national championship and thatâ€™s all he talked about, playing hard on the defensive end. Some of his teams, we couldnâ€™t score against. Especially that team that won it all (2014). We couldnâ€™t get the ball near the basket.â€ť
That obviously wasnâ€™t the case in Ollieâ€™s final season at the helm of the Huskies.
UConn went 14-18 a year ago, including 7-11 in American Conference play. The Huskies allowed opponents to shoot 43.3 percent from the field.
According to two experts, UConn was either 243 or 246, out of 351 teams, in defensive efficiency last season. Cincinnati, depending on your calculations, was either No. 1 or No. 2.
UConn was picked to finish fifth in the preseason coachesâ€™ poll that was released Monday. Thatâ€™s not a number that Hurley is particularly concerned with, though he admits heâ€™s aiming for better.
â€śIf Jalen Adams shows up as one of the best guards in the country, if Alterique Gilbertâ€™s able to knock all that rust off, if Tarin (Smith) and Christian Vital and Brendan Adams are able to form one of the best guard groupsâ€¦we may be able to be better than that,â€ť Hurley said.
And Hurley agrees with Cronin that most of the changes have to come on defense.
â€śItâ€™s hard to critique a team that was coached by a national championship coach. Thatâ€™s a tough thing to do,â€ť Hurley said of Ollie. â€śI would say the biggest thing would be just going from zone to man. The personnel for Kevin dictated that they play a lot more zone. The lack of guard depth last year kind of forced their hand.â€ť
Hurley has spoken often about changing the Huskiesâ€™ defensive â€śmindset.â€ť
And the Husky players are eager to get their minds right.
â€śEager to win and just eager to learn. Obviously we donâ€™t know too much of the right stuff. We havenâ€™t had the formula to win games and he (Hurley) has,â€ť Adams said. â€śThatâ€™s something we want. In order to be good you have to listen to people that have already been there.â€ť
Even the new Huskies believe the incumbent playersâ€™ overriding desire to change their ways is palpable.
â€śLosing makes you want winning more than anything else in this world,â€ť said Smith, a graduate transfer from Duquesne. â€śThatâ€™s what this team wants.â€ť
Anything less than a return to the NCAA Tournament this season would be a disappointment for the Huskies, it seems. â€śI really just want our team to experience what itâ€™s like to get into that postseason, to continue to play in March,â€ť said Adams, the only player on UConnâ€™s roster with NCAA Tournament experience. â€śThatâ€™s when the excitement really happens and everyoneâ€™s watching. Thatâ€™s really when the dreams do come true.â€ť
Sid the Kid
Hurley, much as he did last week before the Huskiesâ€™ First Night festivities, continued to praise the development of sophomore forward Sid Wilson.
â€śThe last 10 days or two weeks, that young man has turned it up,â€ť Hurley said of the 6-foot-7 New York native who sat out last season after transferring to UConn following a brief stay at St. Johnâ€™s.
Hurley admitted that upon his arrival at UConn he had to deal with several â€śissuesâ€ť with Wilson but that things have turned around considerably in recent weeks.
The coach also believes the potential Wilson has is almost immeasurable. â€śSid was one of the reasons I took this job,â€ť Hurley said. â€śI saw him a lot in high school and knew he had ability.â€ť
His team has already secured the commitment of two guards in the Class of 2019 and could soon see a frontcourt player join the fold. Overall, Hurley says he has been pleased with the Huskiesâ€™ recruiting efforts in this class.
â€śWeâ€™re got involved with all the guys we wanted to in with,â€ť Hurley said. â€śNow itâ€™s like we tell the guys, itâ€™s time to finish.â€ť
UConn welcomed a pair of big men to First Night, including 6-foot-9 Putnam Science standout Akok Akok. A report over the weekend that Akok has already committed to the Huskies is apparently erroneous but Hurleyâ€™s team remains squarely in the hunt for his services as well as those of Qudus Wahab, another Friday visitor.
Guards Jalen Gaffney and James Bouknight have already given Hurleyâ€™s Huskies a verbal pledge.