How Paige Bueckers’ injury impacts the UConn Huskies and the 2022-23 women’s college basketball season

UConn Huskies star guard Paige Bueckers has suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, which can sideline her for the 2022-23 women’s college basketball season and trigger a ripple impact all through the sport.

One of the marquee gamers in the sport, Bueckers was the No. 1 general recruit in the Class of 2020 and has helped UConn attain the women’s Final Four in every of the previous two seasons. The Huskies fell in the championship sport to the South Carolina Gamecocks in April in Bueckers’ house state of Minnesota.

The 5-foot-11 Bueckers, who turns 21 in October, had an outstanding freshman season for the Huskies and was the 2020-21 consensus nationwide participant of the 12 months. She had surgical procedure on her proper ankle after that season, however returned able to go for 2021-22. However, Bueckers was injured close to the finish of UConn’s victory over Notre Dame on Dec. 5, struggling an anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear, additionally in the left knee. She missed 19 video games, then got here again in late February.

Bueckers averaged 20.0 factors and 4.9 assists as a freshman and 14.6 and 4.0 as a sophomore. We have a look at how Bueckers’ injury will influence the Huskies and the nationwide championship race this upcoming season.

How does Bueckers’ injury influence UConn for the 2022-23 season and what changes will the Huskies make with out him in the lineup?

A workforce that was one win away from taking house the nationwide championship 4 months in the past little question faces far more of an uphill battle because it seeks to return to a fifteenth consecutive Final Four. Losing three WNBA draft picks — Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Christyn Williams and Evina Westbrook, the first two of whom have been three- and four-year starters, respectively — was going to be an adjustment because it was. But Bueckers’ absence removes a transcendent level guard and passer, phenomenal shooter and workforce chief from a program that’s on its longest stretch with out a nationwide title since successful its first in 1995.

The Huskies are actually all the way down to 4 wholesome backcourt gamers: sophomore Azzi Fudd, sophomore Caroline Ducharme, junior Nika Muhl and Fairfield graduate switch Lou Lopez-Senechal. And solely Muhl is a real level guard.

There have been instances final season when, with Fudd and Bueckers sidelined for a number of months, UConn performed with simply three wholesome guards. It’s not out of the query that one thing like that would occur in 2022-23 if the Huskies undergo extra unhealthy injury luck. Regardless, that lack of depth is slightly unideal for the extra guard-oriented system that Geno Auriemma likes to run. Note, too, that Ducharme is coming off an offseason hip injury and Fudd was collaborating in workforce exercises on a restricted foundation whereas trying to totally heal from the foot injury that hindered her most of her freshman 12 months.

Muhl has shone on the defensive finish her previous two seasons, however will have to be as dependable as ever working the level with robust decision-making and foul-free play. (And then who’s going to be the backup level guard? Fudd?) Ducharme, who helped carry the workforce when Fudd and Bueckers have been out, might want to shortly reassert herself as a go-to possibility as she did throughout that aforementioned stretch.

And then there’s Fudd, Bueckers’ shut pal and a fellow No. 1 general recruit. With so many veteran gamers having graduated and Bueckers sidelined, Fudd is now burdened with extra offensive accountability than anticipated for what she’s hoping is her first full wholesome season in Storrs. She must shortly emerge as the famous person so many count on her to in the end turn out to be if the Huskies need to obtain a lot of their identical objectives this season.

It’s not as if the Huskies are left with none robust performers in 2022-23, however their ceiling is considerably decrease with out a participant like Bueckers, who is not simply individually gifted however makes her teammates higher. — Philippe

How far does UConn fall in the preseason polls?

In the most up-to-date ESPN Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings on June 14, we had the Huskies at No. 2 behind defending champion South Carolina, with the Stanford Cardinal, Tennessee Lady Vols and Texas Longhorns rounding out the prime 5. Bueckers is a key element to the workforce, clearly, however the Huskies did play practically three months with out her final season. And since this injury is in early August, the workforce doesn’t have to regulate in midstream to her absence.

Still, the Huskies will drop, in all probability even out of the prime 5. For now, that may be an affordable place for UConn — say at No. 6 or 7 — contemplating the Huskies additionally misplaced veterans Williams, Westbrook and Nelson-Ododa. — Voepel

UConn performs Texas, NC State, Duke, Notre Dame and both Iowa or Oregon State in the first month of the season. How would possibly the Huskies emerge from that schedule?

Last season the Huskies practically beat Louisville with out Fudd and Bueckers and efficiently took down Tennessee with out Bueckers, so it isn’t out of the query that they will compete in opposition to high quality groups with out Bueckers. Still, it would not be stunning if UConn’s early 2022-23 slate seems to be considerably just like how 2021-22 went: Experiencing a number of bumps in the highway when the Huskies have been making an attempt to determine issues out sans Bueckers (and Fudd at the time), however then discovering extra of a rhythm as the season went on, even impartial of Bueckers’ return.

Timing is not precisely on their facet, at the least by way of their highest-caliber competitors being concentrated in the first month of the season, as the workforce goes to should principally reinvent itself with out Williams, Nelson-Ododa, Westbrook and Bueckers . UConn may have in all probability figured issues out extra so, although, by the nationwide title sport rematch in opposition to South Carolina on Feb. 5. — Philippe

How does Bueckers’ injury influence the nationwide championship race this coming season?

UConn received an epic regional ultimate in opposition to NC State final season to advance to its 14th consecutive Final Four. There was numerous thought that the streak would finish final 12 months, as some confidence waned in the Huskies whereas Bueckers was out. But as quickly as she returned, it appeared they bought again on monitor shortly.

It’s a special image this season with Bueckers sidelined. The Gamecocks, with final season’s nationwide participant of the 12 months again in Aliyah Boston, shall be a really robust choose to repeat, in addition to be the prime workforce in the SEC (though Tennessee might be a challenger).

Stanford, the 2021 champion, is at all times in a position to reload shortly after personnel losses, and that shall be the case once more this season after shedding guards Lexie Hull, Lacie Hull and Anna Wilson. With stars like Haley Jones and Cameron Brink again, plus including 6-7 Lauren Betts, the Cardinal shall be a favourite in the championship hunt. Tennessee and Texas each picked up numerous expertise from the switch portal, as did Louisville, NC State and LSU. Iowa and Iowa State each return a lot of their expertise from final season, and each shall be amongst the prime groups of their respective conferences.

The final of UConn’s 11 NCAA titles was in 2016, and Bueckers’ absence makes it extra probably that drought would possibly proceed. However, it was already going to be a really aggressive group of the almost certainly contenders, even with Bueckers wholesome. — Voepel

How does this influence the 2023 WNBA draft, for which Bueckers was eligible? And what does it imply for her future at UConn, the place she has three years of eligibility remaining?

Bueckers will flip 22 in October 2023, which implies she is ready to go away college early and enter the 2023 draft. WNBA guidelines stipulate that gamers who flip 22 in the identical calendar 12 months of the draft are eligible for it even when they don’t seem to be seniors.

But Bueckers beforehand mentioned that she had no plans to enter this upcoming draft. She has been one among the prime gamers to money in on identify, picture and likeness offers, and affiliation with the UConn model identify is larger, frankly, than that of any WNBA workforce.

The NIL alternatives permit Bueckers to make the most of her recognition with the Huskies and in college basketball, so most have anticipated her to play the subsequent two college seasons and go in the 2024 draft, and she indicated that was additionally her plan. However, due to the additional 12 months of eligibility student-athletes bought as a consequence of COVID-19, she truly may keep till 2025.

Now, along with her 2022-23 season misplaced, will Bueckers nonetheless be in the 2024 draft, having performed simply three seasons at UConn? It is dependent upon how she heals and how she is feeling. If she needs to have all 4 seasons in college, then we can’t see her till the 2025 draft. Or she may keep all the means till 2026. She has said a powerful want to win a nationwide championship, so that would think about as nicely. — Voepel

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