Good morning! For whatever reason, UConn and Notre Dame will kick things off at 11 a.m. today, which means, if the players are anything like I was in college (and they're not), they will be waking up about midway through the first half.
Last time out, the Huskies came through with a win in almost-certainly unsustainable fashion: they were absolutely crushed on the offensive boards by West Virginia (16-5) and were again careless with the ball (12 turnovers committed, just 7 against), but efficient performances by Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb and even Alex Oriakhi (the three combined to shoot 22-for-33, and the rest of the team - minus Shabazz - wasn't much worse, percentage-wise) and some tough defense down the stretch gave UConn a big win.
With the two-game losing streak in the rearview mirror, UConn will head back out on the road to play a spry Notre Dame team that has won three of its first four Big East games after a disappointing 8-5 finish in the non-conference. It's taken a long time for the Irish to get used to playing without senior leader Tim Abromaitis, who is out for the season with a knee. Although to be fair, all five of the Irish defeats have come away from the Joyce Centre, and ND hasn't lost there since February 2010.
Notre Dame only does a few things particularly well - they don't turn the ball over, and they don't give up free throws. The Irish shoot just over 32 percent from 3 (225th in the country), though Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins are both near 40 percent (Atkins at 42). They also have a 6-9 fella named Jack Cooley, who has been a beast on the offensive boards (10th-best percentage in America; by comparison, Drummond is 25th). But considering UConn is awful at forcing turnovers, and not much better on the defensive glass lately, the Huskies may need to shoot lights-out to win again.
Big East Gravity (the same force that caused Seton Hall to lose to USF last night, and the same force that's caused 13 of the 16 Big East teams to have two or more losses after 4/5 games into the conference schedule) would seem to favor Jim Calhoun and co., but the Huskies are of course having some roster troubles of their own right now.
Tyler Olander is banged up and may not play today, and late last night, Ryan Boatright was suspended indefinitely, pending the result of yet another NCAA investigation. As if the Huskies weren't already overwhelmed on the road (two losses and a three-point win over USF), they'll now have to go without 1/3rd of their guards and a very consistent presence in the post.
Nevertheless, we'll find out what Cal can do with this team on short notice. Some contributions from soon-to-be-always power forward Roscoe Smith and the slumping Shabazz Napier (0-6, 4 turnovers but also 8 assists on Monday) would help, and UConn will probably need to rely on Lamb and Drummond once again.
Tip is at 11 a.m. over on ESPN2, and this will be your OpenThread. C'mon in, and let's go Huskies.