Eastern Washington Huskies
KenPom: No. 223 Overall (No. 210 Offense, No. 224 Defense)
Head Coach: Jim Hayford
2013-'14 Record: 5-5
For the first time since 1987, UConn will be playing a home game in a building that isn't in Hartford or Storrs. At 1pm today, the Huskies will host the Eastern Washington Eagles in Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena.
Much has been made about the University's efforts to boost it's regional presence by farming out home games to alternate locations. This initiative was initially met with criticism and disdain but for me as the details came in it became more palatable. First, the timing of the game was right on. Having the Bridgeport game during Winter Break makes sense, especially when the game is against an opponent like Eastern Washington. That game doesn't sell out at Gampel, and it doesn't do very well in Hartford either, so to bring some novelty factor and sell all or most of the tickets in a 10,000 seat arena, makes this look like a well executed attempt at "regionalization."
As painful as it is, these are the types of things UConn needs to be doing. I understand most major schools don't do anything like this, but UConn is not Penn State. People growing up in Connecticut, keep me honest here, do not uniformly grow up UConn fans the way people who grow up in Michigan root for the Wolverines. There are thousands from the Bridgeport area going to or aware of this game who will gain exposure to UConn in a way they otherwise couldn't. With the school expanding their presence in that area on the Stamford Campus, this has all made a ton of sense. Fundamentally, I hated the idea at first, but ultimately everything seems to have worked out nicely. Well done UConn.
On to the actual game. Eastern Washington is actually our first opponent ever from the Big Sky conference in a day full of firsts for the Huskies. The 5-5 Eagles are riding a 3 game losing streak at the hands of Saint Mary's, UC Irvine and Seton Hall. They are led by third year head coach Jim Heyford, who came from Division III Whitworth University.
Eastern Washington has actually faced two opponents in common with UConn this year: BU and Washington. The Eagles lost by 12 at Washington and actually beat BU pretty comfortably on a 'neutral' court in Irvine, CA. UConn beat those teams in games that were close at one point but were ultimately double digit wins for the Huskies.
The Eagles have four starters in double digits from a roster with no seniors but still isn't lacking in experience either. Sophomore Guard Tyler Harvey leads the pack with nearly 20 points per game. They don't start anybody over 6-foot-7 but there is a 6-foot-10 Center named Martin Seiferth who plays about 18 minutes per game and could see some more action today against our vulnerable big men. Otherwise, Sophomore Forward Venky Jois is their leading rebounder with 8.6 boards per game. By comparison, UConn's 'best rebounder' is Shabazz Napier with 6.6.
UConn's last game was an 82-70 win at Washington, a strong way to follow up the previous weeks home loss to Stanford. Multiple players contributed to the victory effort, particularly Lasan Kromah, who earned the start in the second half over Omar Calhoun and played magnificently. It was the second of Kevin Ollie's bold moves as Amida Brimah started his first career game in place of Phil Nolan. Ollie has not committed to trotting out the same starting lineup, nor has he made any hints about specific changes. In a game of little consequence against a vastly inferior opponent, I'll be interested to see who starts and who gets the lions share of minutes in the rotation.
The Preview is also doubling as The Open Thread today folks. In addition to the starting lineup, the atmosphere in this new venue will be something to keep an eye on and it'll also be important to make sure the Huskies comfortably put their opponent away and continue to develop their offensive timing. I've been very pleased to see this year's team gradually improve their level of teamwork and offensive discipline. Hopefully they can show more of the same today.
12/31 @Houston (first AAC game)
1/4 @SMU (Currently 10-2)
1/8 vs. Harvard (in Gampel, Harvard is pretty good!)
Prediction: UConn wins 81-65