The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Huskies hoping for preseason Top 25 spot
A funny thing popped up last week in our e-mail in-box, as well as the in-boxes of the 62 other Associated Press men’s basketball Top 25 voters.
Labeled “For your Top 25 consideration … the 2021-22 UConn Huskies,” and sent from the UConn sports information department, it featured a glossy fact sheet on this year’s UConn team. Among the information highlighted: 74.3-percent of the Huskies’ points and 89.3-percent of their blocked shots are returning this season, blurbs about each key UConn player and its No. 10-rated 2021 recruiting class, and other accomplishments under coach Dan Hurley.
A desperate plea to be ranked in Monday’s preseason AP Top 25 poll? Hardly. In fact, it’s a fairly common practice among programs throughout the season. Typically, it’s “mid-major” programs like San Diego State or Richmond that send out such e-mails. It probably means more for those schools to see a number in front of their name than it does a Kentucky, North Carolina or Louisville.
Or UConn. In at least the last 15 years, UConn had never sent out such an e-mail until last week. Clearly, being nationally-ranked in the preseason AP poll means something to Hurley and his team.
“It’s important to me. I would like to see that,” Hurley said on Friday. “I would love the benefits of the excitement that’s create with that. It does a lot for you, in terms of the anticipation for the fans.”
The 63 AP voters, representing 42 states along with three national voters, are all journalists (mostly print, a few broadcast) who probably wouldn’t want to admit that they can be swayed by an e-mail labeled “For your consideration …” from a college SID. But journalists on the East Coast may not know that, say, San Diego State has won 10 straight games, holding opponents to less than 35-percent shooting over that
span. If a voter is torn between voting for San Diego State and a school he might be more familiar with, such an e-mail might tip the scales.
The Huskies haven’t been ranked in a preseason poll since Oct. 31, 2016, when they were No. 18. They quickly fell out that season after dropping their first two games of the season at home to Wagner and Northeastern, and never returned that season.
In fact, UConn never returned to the AP Top 25 at all until last season, when they were ranked No. 25 in the Jan. 11 poll. The Huskies have been a team “also receiving votes” a few times in recent years, including last year’s preseason poll.
So, it will be interesting to see if UConn is ranked when this year’s preseason poll is unveiled at noon on Monday. Hurley clearly believes his team should be.
“I would think when you return seven or eight rotation guys and have a Top-10 recruiting class, that that would earn you into the Top 25,” he noted. “But, obviously, the (transfer) portal could change that a little bit.”
How did we rank the Huskies on our preseason ballot? Answer at the bottom of this column.
WHERE IS SID WILSON?
Some players with local college ties have popped up on the rosters of other teams around the country.
Josh Carlton should be a key reserve off the bench for Houston, the AAC preseason favorite and a certain Top 25 team. Brendan Adams figures to be a starter at George Washington, which is generally picked to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic 10. Former Yale star Paul Atkinson is a major pick-up for Notre Dame.
One former Husky whose whereabouts is unknown is Sidney Wilson. The mercurial forward left UConn in April, 2020 and entered the transfer portal looking for a “fresh start.” He had butted heads with Dan Hurley a few times in two seasons in Storrs and was suspended for a game at East Carolina late in the 2019-20 season.
Wilson wound up last season at SIU Edwardsville and was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 13.1 points over 18 contests. However, he ran afoul of coach Brian Barone and left the team with four games still left in the regular season in what a team spokesman labeled a “mutual agreement.”
“It was not a good fit,” the spokesman said.
Wilson entered the NCAA transfer portal but hasn’t emerged on a roster. Jason Smith, who coached Wilson at Brewster Academy, said he had heard Wilson “was considering overseas options when I spoke with him last.”
NUTMEGGERS AROUND THE NATION
We count 30 Connecticut natives playing Division 1 men’s college basketball this season, not including walk-ons. A few of the will have “homecomings” against UConn: Waterbury’s Ty Flowers (Long Island, Nov. 17 at Gampel), Orange’s Brett Hutchison (Binghamton, Nov. 20 at XL Center) and Stamford’s Aaron Wheeler (St. John’s, Jan. 12 at Gampel).
Also, Windsor’s Justice Ellison will face the Huskies when Central Connecticut State plays UConn at Gampel in both team’s season-opener on Nov. 9.
OUR PRESEASON AP TOP 25 BALLOT
1. Gonzaga: Does Drew Timme bring back the mustache salute this season?
2. Purdue: Five returning starters, including AllAmerica candidate Trevion Williams? Works for me.
3. Kansas: Jayhawks should be drunk with love for Remy Martin, an Arizona State transfer.
4. Texas: The additions of Chris Beard (coach) and Tre Martin (forward) are huge for Longhorns.
5. Villanova: Collin Gillespie’s return for a fifth season makes all the difference.
6. Illinois: Kofi Cockburn, Andre Curbelo form as tough a 1-2 combo in the country.
7. UCLA: Can’t get over fact that Bruins were First Four before Final Four. And, Mick Cronin.
8. North Carolina: Love addition of Dawson Garcia, who Shaka Smart could’ve used at Marquette.
9. Michigan: Hunter Dickinson may be the second-best big in the country – and in the Big Ten.
10. Ohio State: E.J. Liddell is an underrated star.
11. Duke: Here’s guessing Coach K might get a few calls go his way during his farewell season.
12. St. Bonaventure: Rams will give UConn a major test on Dec. 11 in Newark.
13. Tennessee: Hopefully, Vols’ basketball fans are better-behaved than their football fans.
14. Indiana: Are we overrating the Big Ten again? We’ll assume last year’s tourney was a fluke.
15. Baylor: Defending national champs lose a lot, but add ex-UConn commit James Akinjo at PG.
16. Houston: Josh Carlton has joined a talented roster fresh off a Final Four.
17. Memphis: No excuses for Penny this season. Too much talent, though we predict a slow start.
18. Virginia: ECU transfer Jayden Gardner could finally make a national name for himself.
19. Alabama: It’s time for Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly to truly shine.
20. Maryland: Dan Hurley knows how good Eric Ayala is … and URI transfer Fatts Russell, too.
21. Florida State: Don’t care how much talent left, Leonard Hamilton will have ‘Noles in the mix.
22. Kentucky: Football school. Just ask Will Levis.
23. UConn: Offense will miss James Bouknight, but defense could be truly special.
24. Xavier: Paul Scruggs, Zach Freemantle as lethal a 1-2 duo as there is in Big East.
25. Syracuse: We’re in minority, but feel the Orange could shoot it as well as anyone this season.