UConn faces perhaps their biggest test of the season tonight as they take on the No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena. The Huskies have won six of their last seven, with wins over Harvard and Memphis, and look to add another good win to their tournament resume while moving up in the AAC standings.
A couple of weeks ago, UConn had a chance to make a big time national statement at home against Louisville just two days removed from a hard fought road win against Memphis. Unfortunately, the Huskies fell short in a game where Kevin Ollie was ejected (also, the refs were terrible) and Montrezl Harrell put on a beastly performance. After three wins ranging from solid to dominant, UConn gets a chance tonight to notch another strong win for the tournament resume.
The Huskies season essentially has five big games left: tonight at Cinci, hosting Memphis, SMU and Cinci, then the season finale at Louisville. Right now UConn is behind all four of those schools standing fifth in the American Conference standings. Each of these match-ups represents an opportunity to move up in the conference standings and advance further into the Top 25.
The big story for UConn tonight will be DeAndre Daniels' availability. The most recent reports say that Daniels is 75% due to back issues which are ailing him as well. The term high ankle sprain gives me a severe case of the heebie jeebies (it's a real thing, I swear); it's one of those things that can continuously linger if not treated properly with medical care and rest (the ankle sprain, not the heebie jeebies- there's no cure for those). Kevin Ollie did the right thing by sitting him against Houston- Daniels hasn't played since January 25th. I believe he suffered the injury against Temple but returned and also played in the next game against Rutgers. Hopefully nearly 2 weeks rest and the best deer antler spray money can buy allow him to play tonight. He has been practicing in a limited capacity the past couple of days. We'll be sure to keep an eye on his status as the day progresses. (read: follow us on Twitter!)
In case you've been living under a rock for the past few months, Shabazz Napier has been on a tear since... well actually he's just been a monster for 95% of the season. In his last six games he is averaging 22 points, 5.8 assists and 5 rebounds per game during a stretch which included games against Louisville and Memphis. His match-up tonight against Cincinnati's star guard, Sean Kilpatrick, could be one for the ages.
Napier has his team firing on all cylinders, and while beating the pulp out of Houston and Temple isn't super impressive, please recall that a little over a month ago we lost to Houston. Kevin Ollie has his team playing their best defense so far this year, and that's what it'll take to beat Cincinnati. As noted in our Scouting Report, both of Cincinnati's losses this season have been a result of poor shooting performances. If the UConn defense can make things tough for Bearcat shooters we could overcome a hobbled or absent DeAndre Daniels and grab a valuable road win against a Top 10 team.
Prediction- It's nice to see an old Big East friend on the schedule, right? The Daniels situation hurts us here, and could ultimately be our undoing. Even though I'm the homerist, homer that ever homered, I think it'll be tough for UConn to win on the road and even tougher without Daniels. I hope I'm wrong, but I think we lose a close one here: 55-52.