For any UConn fan reading this right now, I've got a bit of an unpopular opinion I'd like to share: The Huskies aren't nearly as bad as their 1-2 record would indicate. As a matter of fact, while I haven't seen every team in college basketball history, I'd venture to guess they're better than most.
I say all this at a time where most UConn fans don't want a positive spin, after another less than impressive game against Loyola Marymount on Thursday night. The Huskies needed a missed three-pointer at the buzzer from LMU to hang on for a 65-62 victory, this, after an ugly 1-2 start that included losses to Wagner and Northeastern. It's definitely not the beginning to the season UConn fans envisioned, and it isn't unfair to say that of every fan-base in the country, the Huskies' might be the unhappiest right now.
And for those who didn't see the game Thursday night -- and for plenty who did -- this result will only add fuel to the fire. Frankly, there are probably plenty of people waking up across Connecticut on Friday morning, looking at the score and thinking "How did this happen again? Are we really this bad?"
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The answer is "no, you're not this bad," and at the sake of sounding like Aaron Rodgers UConn fans, "R-E-L-A-X." Yes, the season is off to a slow start. Yes, you have every right to be disappointed. But the good thing is, there is nothing that UConn did wrong on Thursday that isn't fixable going forward. Yes, they're a work in progress. But so are most teams this time of year.
In terms of positives, there were actually quite a few for the Huskies on Thursday night. Playing in a hostile venue, against a team who was clearly playing in their most meaningful game of the season, UConn actually jumped out to an early lead, and had a comfortable 10-point lead with a couple minutes left before the break.
Then Alterique Gilbert -- who finished with 10 points, second most on the team -- went down with a nasty shoulder injury, and the Huskies were never quite the same. A game that looked like it'd be a blowout, all of a sudden got tight, pretty much for the remainder of the evening.
#UConn: Alterique Gilbert's dislocated shoulder was put back in place and he will be evaluated when the Huskies get to Hawaii.— UConn Men's Hoops (@UConnMBB) November 18, 2016
Still, when UConn was full-strength with Gilbert they were playing well, and even beyond that, there were other positives too. Transfer Terry Larrier continues to be spectacular in his first few games in a UConn uniform, tallying a game-high 14 points Thursday. Amida Brimah, while still limited offensively, ended with nine boards and four blocks. Maybe most importantly, freshman Christian Vital -- who hasn't been able to play at all this season with a back injury -- appears to have helped the team's shooting woes, hitting three three-pointers from behind the arc.
In terms of the negatives, well, there were plenty, but if you paid close attention, they're actually not as bad as you'd think. Most of the Huskies' biggest indiscretions Thursday night were things that were easily fixable; turnovers on fast breaks, easy misses around the basket, and things of that nature.
As a matter of fact, of the few concerns Kevin Ollie expressed after the game, those were basically it.
"We still have got to convert on fast-breaks," he said. "I still think we're doing that poorly right now, and making the right passes. We had too many turnovers when we had opportunities to break it [open]. We missed some lay-ups again."
Now obviously those aren't things you want to hear from a coach after a game, but they're much better than the alternative. There was no "they were simply better than us," no "we got out-toughed" or "out-played" or anything like that. Just small, correctable things. And now that the Huskies first win is under their belts, they can focus on fixing them, and look ahead to what's next. Oh boy, is it big.
The Huskies next go to the Maui Invitational, where the competition will obviously be much tougher. They will face Oklahoma State in the first round, and if they were to win that, would meet some combination of Top 25 teams like Oregon, North Carolina or Wisconsin later on in the tournament.
Do the Huskies need to play better to beat those teams? Absolutely. But despite their disappointing record, are they some broken team, whose season is doomed before it even begins?
Not at all.
At 1-2, the Huskies are actually better than you think.