Team: Connecticut Huskies
2022-23 Record: 31-6, 18-2 Big East
2022-23 Big East Finish: First, one game ahead of Villanova
Final 2022-23 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #5
Postseason? 2023 was the worst postseason in a long time for UConn. After losing in the championship game for the first time in program history in 2022, the Huskies were knocked out in the Sweet 16 by Ohio State. It is the first time that UConn did not get to the Final Four since 2007 and the first time that they did not get to the Elite Eight since 2005. Repeat: Losing in the Sweet 16 was the worst postseason for UConn in nearly 20 years.
Key Departures: Two, but they’re pretty notable. Dorkha Juhasz and Lou Lopez Senechal both started in every game they played for the Huskies this past season, 29 for Juhasz and all 37 for Senechal. They finished as #4 and #2 on the team in points per game, with Juhasz edging out Aaliyah Edwards for the team lead in rebounds, too. Senechal went #5 overall in the WNBA Draft to Dallas, while Juhasz was the #16 pick, going to Minnesota.
Key Returners: Everyone else returns for the Huskies, and one of the returns is a little bit bigger than the others. Yes, I’m talking about Paige Bueckers, who missed all of last season due to an injury suffered in the summer. When we last saw her, Bueckers was averaging 14.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game in an injury marred sophomore season. There’s an argument to be made that the year-plus time off has allowed that 2021 injury to get itself 100% back into fighting shape as well, so there’s a chance that we’re going to see a better Paige Bueckers when the season kicks off in November.
Speaking of injuries, Azzi Fudd returns for the Huskies after only playing in 15 games a year ago. She was great when she was available, averaging 15.1 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Fudd was clearly not right when she returned to the lineup in the Big East Tournament after nearly two months off due to injury. In UConn’s final six games of the season, she chipped in 11.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists.... but shot just 23% from behind the arc after hitting 43% in November, December, and January and 43% as a freshman.
AND NOW we can finally get around to discussing the returning players that were in UConn’s every night rotation last year. Aaliyah Edwards, #1 in scoring and #2 in rebounds? Back. Nika Muhl, UConn’s new single season assists leader? Back. Aubrey Griffin, starter in 30 of UConn’s 37 games, scoring more than 11 points a game and #3 in rebounds? Back.
Ines Bettencourt, Ayanna Patterson, and Amari DeBerry all played in at least 25 games last season in one role or another for the Huskies as the season chugged along. Caroline Ducharme’s stats — 7.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists — aren’t flying off the page at you, but when she was available 23 times out of 37, she averaged more than half the game’s worth of minutes.
We’ll drop Ice Brady in here at the end as we transition to Additions because the former top five prospect missed all of last year with an knee injury suffered in late October. I don’t know what the rehab timeline on a dislocated patella is, so it’s hard to say how much on court work she got in with the Huskies as the season went along. Still, being in the room for a season’s worth of game planning has to rub off in a positive manner, and you’d have to figure that a former top five prospect is going to have an impact on this coming year’s team if she’s healthy.
Key Additions: With that in mind, we’ll start this section off with Jana El Alfy (6’5”, Center, Cairo, Egypt) who joined the team at semester break but did not play in a game. I can’t say much about what she looks like on the court, but averaging 24 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in the FIBA U18 African Championships as Egypt won the silver medal certainly can’t be bad.
The only other new faces on the roster are three freshmen, all of whom are top 50 prospects according to ESPN. The most notable one, both in general and from a Marquette-specific perspective, is KK Arnold (5’9”, Guard, Germantown, Wisconsin) who picked the Huskies over the Golden Eagles. With that said, when you’re the #6 prospect in the country, you can do whatever you want. Ashlynn Shade (5’10”, Guard, Noblesville, Indiana) comes in at #15 on ESPN’s rankings list, while Qadence Samuels (6’0”, Guard, Forestville, Maryland) wraps up the group at #41 in the top 50. If this were almost any other program in the country, you’d expect all three of those freshmen to make an impact right away, but this isn’t just any other program, nor is it just any other year, either.
Coach: Geno Auriemma, entering his 39th season. This is the only Division 1 head coaching job he has ever had. He has a record of 1,180-156, and no, that’s not a typo on any level.
Outlook: In a lot of places in the country, in a lot of sports, both pro and college, you can respond to a down season by saying “it’s not your birthright to [insert accomplishment here].”
Those places are not the state of Connecticut, and those teams are not Geno Auriemma’s Huskies.
Every single Final Four since 2007. Every single Elite Eight since 2005. These streaks came to an end this past March, as the Huskies got bounced in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Given the level of achievement that UConn — both the people in the program and the fans — had become accustomed to over the past 15-plus years, this is tantamount to a disaster.
UConn wasn’t a bad basketball team in 2022-23. You don’t get to finish the year at #5 in the Her Hoop Stats ratings by being bad at basketball. You don’t finish in the top 10 in HHS’ offensive and defensive metrics by being bad at basketball. You don’t go 18-2 in a conference that put four teams that aren’t your team in the NCAA tournament by being bad at basketball. The fact that Connecticut swept the two teams that finished in second and third in the league — 5-0 against Villanova and Creighton, thanks to a Big East title game win — is proof of this.
They were, however, a hilariously injured basketball team for a basketball team that was still good enough to sit at 29-5 heading into the NCAA tournament. This is why Geno Auriemma was my pick for not only Big East Coach of the Year last spring, but national COY as well. He started the year knowing that he wasn’t going to have his National Player of the Year candidate available due to Bueckers’ injury, then had to deal with having one of his tippy top prospects (Brady) removed from availability for the entire season, then only had Azzi Fudd for less than half the season, then had just two women play in every single game as players missed time for one reason or another as the season went along.
If Bueckers and Fudd are 100% from the get-go, Auriemma has himself a six woman rotation that he can rely heavily on to win ball games in 2023-24. Then he has three women after that who give the Huskies experienced depth to fall back on. That’s good enough to return UConn back to being what everyone traditionally thinks UConn is. Stapling a healthy Ice Brady and KK Arnold onto that lineup is just gluing sequins onto a spotlight, and if El Alfy can give them real minutes, that can change the game again for them.
Oh, and that’s just a surface level examination of what they could/should be this coming winter. I didn’t even get into the idea that the Huskies are going to be incredibly pissed off about the Final Four streak snapping under their watch. If Auriemma’s comments during a recent-ish media availability are any indication of the team’s attitude, the rest of the country, much less the Big East, is in a lot of trouble.
Geno: “How about we shut the f—k up and win games?”— Daniel Connolly (@DanielVConnolly) June 20, 2023