Takeaways from UConn men’s basketball win over Buffalo
UConn men’s basketball battled a slow start to roll to a comfortable 84-64 win over Buffalo on Tuesday night. While the offense struggled, especially early, the Huskies got key contributions from Tristen Newton and Adama Sanogo as well as quality bench minutes from Joey Calcaterra and Donovan Clingan to pick up their third win of the season. Here are some takeaways from UConn’s win over the Bulls.
Cracks form in the offense
Patrick Martin: In the first 10 minutes, you could start to see how UConn would lose games this year; sloppy turnovers from the guards and a one-dimensional offense when the shots aren’t falling. You always want to feed Sanogo, but when he doesn’t pass effectively from double teams, his ball movement sputters. And if the big man can’t establish good position, Plan B seems to be to put his head down and attack the basket. You know Doug McDermott is going to plan something to take away Option A. Can UConn create something in the half court without Sanogo? It’s great Tristen Newton drew 17 fouls, but foul hunting in the Big East is never a good strategy, unless you’re Collin Gillespie. Hopefully that changes with Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins back in the fold, two players who can create their own shot if the offense breaks down.
Donovan Clingan: Better than advertised
Martin: Another remedy for a sputtering offense? Donovan Freakin’ Clingan, who continues to impress as a backup. All 11 of his points were easy free buckets, which becomes so crucial when you don’t have much efficiency on that end. While he had two turnovers last night and could go back as the competition increases, there is very little drop off when Sanogo goes to the bench. His passing and screen setting unlocks a ton of space and facilitates a ton of movement. He’s so different from Sanogo that teams have to plan for him even if he doesn’t look behind. Maybe we all did a good job of tempering our expectations, but I didn’t expect the Bristol star to be so polished. You don’t need to run an offense through him, but he’s the perfect addition to a team that desperately needs easy buckets.
Dan Madigan: I was fortunate enough to watch Clingan play a few times in high school and had a good feeling his offensive and passing skills would translate well to this level, but even I have been surprised by how good he has been so far. He’s still a bit of a liability defensively right now – teams will constantly throw him in the pick and roll and force that mismatch – but he’s been such a good shot blocker that I’m not sure how much that matters. It is truly a luxury for UConn to have him off the bench. How many teams in the country can replace an elite center like Sanogo with an even bigger team that can hold its own on offense? I think he’ll take some lumps as the Big East season approaches and stronger competition awaits, but going against Sanogo every day in practice is without a doubt a fast-tracker of his development. He is a special player.
When should we worry about shooting?
Martin: The big offseason story was all this shooting that was brought in. Karaban, Alleyne and Newton plus shooters were brought in to stretch the floor but are shooting 28.6%, 23.5% and 16.7% from three respectively. Joey California is burning the nets and will be a weapon off the bench, but his usage will level off once Hawkins and Jackson return. That paint is going to be awfully packed if the shots don’t start falling. It’s early. So early. Three games isn’t even a sample size. Newton said after the game that he “has to get back to the lab.” Shooters are shooting out of slumps and you have to trust the coaching staff and these players they are working hard with. Averages always even out, and at least two of the three above have done enough in their careers to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Madigan: I’m not worried about the shooting. This offense is completely out of whack without their top scorer in Hawkins and best transition facilitator in Jackson. UConn also shot just about 50% from three in Gampel (10-21) less than a week ago. I’m willing to give it another game or two, especially since Friday’s game is at Gampel, to see how UConn shoots before declaring it a problem. This is a small sample size nightmare, but the Huskies are shooting 23.4 percent from deep on XL (11-47) and nearly 48 percent on Gampel (10-21). It’s harder to shoot in bigger arenas, and Dan Hurley has always lamented that he doesn’t like playing at the XL because they don’t get to practice there before gameday. Maybe he just needs to bring some extra sage to sniff out some shooting demons in Hartford. Let’s revisit this after PK85.
“We couldn’t make open threes. I thought we had a bunch of them,” Hurley said after the game. “I thought Nahiem had some good looks, Tristen had a couple of good looks. The more we play in here, the better we will shoot.”
Triple double Tristen
Ryan Goodman: While UConn was unable to build on its impressive display of long-range shooting last time out against Boston, Tristen Newton was the opposite, dropping 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds last night for the Huskies’ first triple-double since Daniel Hamilton seven years ago. Newton wasn’t particularly efficient from the field (4-14 and 0-5 from distance), but he did it at the charity stripe where he converted 14-17 opportunities.
“I feel pretty good about getting my teammates involved,” Newton said after the game. Still not the kind of shooting performance I want, but I managed to get a lot of people involved. It wasn’t just me, it was a collective group.”
Coming in, Newton was a career 86% free throw shooter, so it’s no surprise that he shot this well from the line, but it’s just incredibly comforting to know that you have a player who is almost always good for two points when he gets hacked. Something tells me UConn is going to try to get the ball in his hands in late game situations. Not only did Newton do a fantastic job attacking the rim, he was also a major disruptor on defense with four steals. There were a couple of instances where he could have switched to better looks for his teammates, especially on the break, but his drives were clearly effective and he made Buffalo pay from the line. With Jackson and Hawkins still sidelined, UConn being able to get this kind of production from Newton is so important to the team’s prospects.