The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is set to take on former Big East rival Connecticut in the first round of the 2K Classic tonight at Madison Square Garden. The game will tip at 7 pm from the garden, a venue that’s played host to some of the best and most historic games of the Syracuse-UConn rivalry.
As always for these types of events, we reached out to those representing the
sixth borough bucolic countryside of Storrs, Ct. from The UConn Blog to preview the game. Daniel Connolly had answers.
TNIAAM: How has the UConn fan base reacted to the Dan Hurley hire and what’s the overall sentiment on him early on?
Daniel Connolly: I don’t even know where to start with Dan Hurley. Everybody loves him. I haven’t met anyone that isn’t thrilled that he’s our head coach now. Even with Jim Calhoun, there were some people that didn’t like him for whatever reason. Kevin Ollie always had his detractors even before things went south. But Hurley has really endeared himself to the fanbase off the court and, at least through two games, is doing the same on the court. There’s nothing but complete confidence that Hurley is going to restore UConn to its former glory.
TNIAAM: What’s the hope for UConn basketball for this season and beyond?
DC: This season, an NCAA Tournament appearance would be great and really isn’t that out of the realm of possibility. Going forward, Hurley is expected to win national championships. Even with the last few seasons, that’s the standard. I don’t think UConn will ever get back to being a top-5 team consistently like they were from the mid-1990’s to the mid-2000’s. But they should be making the NCAA Tournament consistently and advancing once they get there. Fans won’t be happy with flaming out early every year (like Syracuse).
TNIAAM: Has there been any sort of conversation from the UConn athletic department about continuing a series with Syracuse?
DC: Recently, athletic director David Benedict talked about creating a preseason tournament between the Old Big East and the fake Big East, but that doesn’t seem like it would put Syracuse and UConn up against each other. I hope the series continues, regardless of who else is on the schedule. This is the game Huskies’ fans circle (Partially because of the conference, but still) at the start of every season. The games may not mean much in terms of conference implications but to fans, it’s everything. I also want some of these games come to the home arenas. MSG is cool and the atmosphere is always great (Thanks to all the UConn fans), but it would be nuts to have Syracuse play in Gampel Pavilion again and I’m sure the same could be said about UConn and the Carrier Dome.
TNIAAM: With the ACC going to 20 league games, do you fear that the Syracuse-UConn series will be cut?
DC: I doubt it. I’m sure Syracuse could survive with one less cupcake on the schedule to fit in a game as big as UConn. It would be irresponsible for either athletic department to not have this continue every year.
TNIAAM: Okay, so for this matchup what can Syracuse expect to see from UConn?
DC: UConn’s a completely different team under Hurley. No more iso plays for Jalen Adams that take up 25 seconds on the shot clock before attempting an ill-advised shot. The Huskies move the ball well and work to get it inside, especially if sophomore center Josh Carlton is in the game. They also like to run whenever they get the chance, a change from the last few seasons. Through two games, they have 47 fast-break points. They haven’t had that many in a two-game stretch since Dec. 2012, Ollie’s first season.
Defensively, this team is still figuring things out. The lowest point total they’ve allowed this season is 64 points to Southern Connecticut in an exhibition, which isn’t great. Grad transfer Kassoum Yakwe has shot-blocking ability, but he was injured for most of the preseason and only got serious minutes last game against UMKC, where he didn’t look great. I have a hard time seeing the defense improve drastically before Thursday.
TNIAAM: Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert are names Syracuse fans might recognize, how have they adapted to Hurley?
DC: Just in general, I don’t think there’s anybody on the roster that hasn’t responded well to Hurley. To start with Gilbert, the most important thing with him is that he’s healthy. He’s been really good as the starting point guard and has a clear command of the offense. He’s passing the ball well but has also shown a nice stroke from three, hitting 5-8 shots from beyond the arc so far. As long as Gilbert stays healthy, he’s only going to continue to get better and better.
Hurley has been hard on Adams, saying that he’s cut corners the last few years. He still the same player, but it’s not like that’s a bad thing. He just hasn’t taken as much of a step forward as I expected but it’s still early. He should keep improving as the season goes on.
TNIAAM: Tarin Smith seems like he’s working out well at UConn. What can Syracuse fans expect to see from his game?
DC: UConn’s luck with grad transfers in recent years hasn’t been great, so expectations were low going in. However, Smith has been a very pleasant surprise. He scored 22 points against UMKC and brings a great energy off the bench as a sixth man. Sometimes, he tries to do too much and turns the ball over because of it, but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed. He’s also solid on defense and hits the boards. Pretty much exactly what you want from a grad transfer.
TNIAAM: Lastly, who wins and what’s the final score? Why do you think so?
DC: I’m going to say UConn wins, 80-76, because Dan Hurley.
Folks can follow Dan on twitter at @DanielVConnolly. Feel free to reach out to him in regard’s to his final score prediction at approximately 9 pm EST on Thursday night.
For Syracuse basketball stories and updates, follow James on twitter @JamesSzuba