STORRS, Conn. — With all of its uniqueness on both ends of the floor and all of the pieces that can come into the game and provide different looks, the UConn men’s basketball team has proven to make for an extremely difficult scout and especially benefited in nonconference play because of it.
But scouting their opponent?
Countless hours of film and studying have made it look easy.
“We could definitely feel when a player is about to do a move, or even like after one handoff we know the play. It’s definitely a huge credit to the coaching staff,” freshman forward Alex Karaban said.
“I feel like we know exactly what (our opponent) is going to do every time we step on the court,” transfer guard Tristen Newton agreed. “If it was like a one-day preparation or if it’s like a three-, four-, five-day preparation like we have now, they do a great job of preparing us and showing us what (our opponents) do. We do scout, do all that, watch film every day, go over it multiple times a day, so we know what they’re gonna do. So we’ve just gotta go out there and execute.”
The players and head coach Dan Hurley have credited UConn’s assistants: associate head coach Kimani Young and Luke Murray and Tom Moore for building reports on each of their opponents. And so far, so good.
UConn has beaten each one of its nonconference opponents, going back to the start of the season, by at least 10 points. Through four rounds in this tournament, UConn’s margin of victory in each game has been 22 1/5 points. That includes a 24-point win over Iona to start, followed by a 15-point victory over Saint Mary’s and a 23-point domination of Arkansas. In the Elite Eight, against third-ranked Gonzaga which KenPom credits as being the best offense in the nation, UConn’s 28-point margin of victory made it the fourth-most lopsided blowout in the Elite Eight since 1985.
The team has executed, and appears to be reaching its peak at the perfect time.
“Oh, it’s all credit to the coaching staff for the scouting reports,” Karaban said. “Scouting, giving us the personnel on what to do, how to do ball-screen defense against certain players. I definitely say it’s credit to them. We’re watching film all the time and like, it can get tiring, but it’s worth it all. I think the scouting really allows us to get out to those leads and then everything just goes from there.”
With all of the attention Murray has been getting with his movie star father, Bill Murray, hanging around the team, he’s just one of the assistants Hurley thinks could coach himself into a top job elsewhere. And in the Final Four, the spotlight hasn’t been brighter.
“Luke and Kimani and Tom, there’s not a better group of assistants,” Hurley said. “It’s a special group of players, but it’s a unique staff. Kimani and Luke’s phones should be ringing off the hook with coaching opportunities because of what they’ve been able to do here as recruiters and player development, and as tactical coaches. Luke’s a brilliant basketball guy, Kimani, these guys, they’re brilliant coaches.”
This season alone, the resume includes developing players like Jordan Hawkins, whose production has soared (5.8 points per game to 16.3) and is now projected as a future first-round NBA draft pick, or Adama Sanogo (14.8 points per game to 17.1). They played a major role in bringing in exactly who and what skill sets they needed from the transfer portal after last season ended in the first round, like Newton and Joey Calcaterra, Nahiem Alleyne and Hassan Diarra. And next season the UConn program is prepared to welcome one of the top high school recruiting classes in all of college basketball.
Murray took the head role for one game, at Seton Hall, after Hurley and Young each tested positive for COVID and couldn’t travel. He and Moore coached the Huskies to a lead of as many as 17 points in the first half, but the execution tailed off in the second and UConn ended up dropping that one after a missed rebound at the buzzer.
Moore was the first head coach Murray, 38, worked under as the director of basketball operations at Quinnipiac. Murray made two stops before uniting with Hurley for the first time at Wagner. He then spent two years at Towson and reunited with Hurley at Rhode Island for another two. After three years at Xavier and three at Louisville, Hurley and Murray have joined forces for a third time.
Moore, 57, was head coach at Quinnipiac for a decade after serving 13 years as one of Jim Calhoun’s UConn assistants. When he left the Bobcats, Moore teamed up with Hurley at Rhode Island for a season and came back to Storrs with Hurley in 2018.
Young earned his associate head coach title in 2020 and is in his fifth season at UConn. In addition to great community work around New York City, where he grew up in Queens, Young was an assistant under Richard Pitino, son of new St. John’s head coach Rick, for a year at Florida International and another five at Minnesota before coming to UConn.
“Coach Kimani, since he’s the guard coach, he pulls me to the side all the time telling me what I should be doing better, attack more. Coach Tom, he’s gonna motivate me on the side when he sees I’m getting a little down,” said Newton, who joined the program this season as a junior. “So both of them, they’ve done a great job of helping me. Helping me learn a lot.”
Hurley’s star trio has its work cut out for it in preparing for Miami, a team that presents unlike any they’ve played this season. The Hurricanes have a small, quick lineup with the fifth-best offense in the nation by KenPom and are headed by a potential future Hall of Famer in head coach Jim Larranaga.
But UConn is confident in what got it to this point.
“We’ve got one of, if not the best coaching staff in the country,” said Donovan Clingan, the 7-foot-2 freshman from Bristol who was a No. 1 priority for the coaches coming out of high school. “They do an amazing job with the scouts which has prepared us in the best way possible for the games and, you know, they’re great.”