Takeaways from UConn Men’s Basketball win over St. John’s
Despite yet another late-game drama, UConn Men’s Basketball cruised to victory over St. John’s at the Gampel Pavilion in overtime, dominating the Red Storm in the overtime five minutes to secure an 86-78 victory. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the Huskies’ 11th win of the season.
Adama Sanogo is a star in the making
Dan Madigan: We’ve known all season that Sanogo is one of UConn’s best players, but the sophomore big man proved it on Tuesday night. The Mali native dominated the Red Storm in the 40 minutes he was on the ground, scoring 26 points and adding 17 rebounds with six blocks.
We’ve already seen Sanogo post some stellar numbers this season, but it was by far the best overall performance of his career. Along with his usual dominance in the post and on the glass, Sanogo showcased much improved mid-range play, better defensive footwork/shot blocking ability and hit a clutch free throw in the regulations to force overtime.
It was certainly a little surprising to see that he wasn’t named to any of the All-Big East preseason teams to start the season, but come the end of this year, he’ll definitely be there. With the way he plays now, he has a legitimate case for Big East Player of the Year if the Huskies can keep rolling.
Ryan Goodman: It’s between that and the Auburn game (30 career points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks) for Sanogo’s best performance of the year, but I’m going to have to agree with Madigan here. While the show against Auburn was on a national stage and against tougher competition, Sanogo went through a rough patch in that game which saw him finish with a season-high eight turnovers.
The player we saw in this game even seemed much improved since the start of the season against Auburn. One of the most crucial areas of improvement for Sanogo that I’ve mentioned several times over the year is his ability to pass out of the post and find open guys when the opposing team decides to try to send a cheating defender or blatantly double-team. In this one, we saw Sanogo not only recognize him, but also do the right reading and find an open man on the perimeter or someone cutting to the basket when the opportunity presented itself. He only had two assists on the night (which actually increased his season totals by around 20%! Hooray!), but he’s learning different ways to maximize his effectiveness, which is also a credit to the staff of UConn coaches.
Not only that, but Sanogo has made four or five midrange jumpers in this game, the type of shots we’ve rarely seen him take in his short UConn career thus far. If Sanogo can continue to be so dominant on the block while exploiting the ability to become a skilled passer off the post, and hits 12-15 feet with consistency? Give him the All-Big East first team already. It’s a wrap.
Madigan: Much like James Bouknight last year, Sanogo’s talent and RJ Cole’s shooting ability hide real flaws that UConn has on the offensive side. While Dan Hurley has executed exceptional plays on dead balls and timeouts this year, there are an uncomfortable amount of sets ending with Cole trying to bail out the Huskies late in the shot clock.
Cole is undoubtedly the team’s best option to create a shot, but it seems the team relies on him too much late in games. He definitely has a knack for hitting big shots, but with all the minutes he’s playing – and the fact that he’s just recovered from COVID-19 – the Huskies need another player to be able to create shots. late. With Jalen Gaffney still struggling, the only other logical option is Tyrese Martin.
Patrick Martin: Sanogo’s Big East First Team snub got a lot of laughs, and rightly so. But the way Cole plays, his preseason second-team honor could also end in freezing cold. FS1 posted this chart last night: Cole is one of 10 D1 players averaging 16+ points, 4+ assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Cole fell back to backcourt partner James Bouknight last year, but Sanogo’s gravitational pull inside this year has opened up space for the point guard. Credit also goes to Martin, whose efficiency on offense has allowed Cole’s use to increase this year.
After the St. John’s game, Howard’s transfer is fourth in the Big East in scoring, assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, and third in free throw percentage. Its 40% attendance rate leads the conference. Count me as one of the initial doubters that his skill set couldn’t translate to a higher level. It’s not just an offense; his active hands and willingness to make contact in defense make him a complete player.
We all know how lost UConn looked last year when they were (literally) knocked out of Creighton’s game in the Big East tournament. The Huskies looked just as declawed last week against Seton Hall when he fouled.
Last night, when Cole committed his third foul, UConn had 11 points. St. John’s was able to sit and cut the lead to two possessions until Hurley was forced to bring it back. Until UConn can find a cure for the offensive woes mentioned above, it’s up to Cole to keep the offense going. The good news is that for now he seems ready to take on the role.
Martin: This is how UConn can achieve its lofty goals, with an upside-down combo like Sanogo and Cole achieving All-Big East First Team status. One of the main narratives of the offseason was; what is the identity of this post-Bouknight team? Two months into the season, there are fortunately more answers than questions.
The exciting part of this one is that UConn has a wide array of add-on parts to fit these two, when used correctly.
Need size and sturdiness? Martin is a perfect backcourt companion for Cole. Need to shoot? Tyler Polley can stretch the floor. Problem with the press or need to pick up the pace? Andre Jackson brings in the point guard and a third ball handler. Isaiah Whaley fills in the cracks defensively. Akok Akok – though still criminally underused – is a three and D hybrid on the bench. Jordan Hawkins, when he regains his confidence, is an instant attack off the bench. None of these guys are specialists per se, but they each have a unique skill set that can amp up a team’s abilities when there’s already consistency from Sanogo and Cole.
The roles begin to be defined at the right time of the season. Factor in a lighter portion of their schedule for the next two weeks, the Huskies can build some serious momentum in February and March.
Failure to walk away
Good man: As we’ve noted struggles with late-game possessions throughout the year, the Huskies have also had issues putting games away.
Leading Auburn by 10 with seven minutes left, the Tigers fell back to take the lead with less than a minute in regulation. UConn won this one and Auburn is an outstanding team (currently No. 4 in this week’s AP poll), but UConn had all the momentum in this one and led up to 15 in the second half. In the next game, UConn led by seven with less than four minutes left against Michigan State, but poor shot selection and uneven defense led to a spartan 14-5 run to end the game and hand the Huskies their first defeat.
In the game against Seton Hall, UConn did a superb job of stopping the Pirates’ momentum countless times, and almost the entire game. However, Kadary Richmond went nuclear in the second half and UConn let him almost single-handedly knock them out.
Seton Hall’s loss is more understandable since the Huskies hadn’t played in over two weeks, but the game was there for the taking and they let it slip. Now we come to St. John’s, where UConn controlled almost the entire second half behind Sanogo’s dominating play, up nine with five minutes left and all the momentum on their side. St. John’s slowly eroded, UConn’s offense crumbled and the Huskies found themselves trailing in the final seconds. They managed to pull off that victory in overtime, but the team’s lack of killer instincts that Dan Hurley so perfectly embodies and also preaches most of the time was a little startling.