UConn finds themselves in a very familiar situation when the face UCF this evening.
Earlier this season, the Huskies lost two games against talented opponents (West Virginia and Texas), and in the following game suffered a devastating defeat to lowly Yale. On this night, UConn finds themselves in danger of dropping three straight games once again after losing two road games to respectable opponents in Tulsa and Stanford. The UCF Knights, like Yale, do not have the talent UConn has and are coming in as heavy underdogs to one of the most hostile environments in college basketball; yet like Yale, they do have a chance to take advantage of a reeling UConn team that is struggling to find its identity.
For UConn, the struggle begins on the offensive end. In the last six games, the Huskies have scored 60 points or more just twice. In that span, Ryan Boatright is averaging just 9.8 points shooting 31 percent from the field, compared to 15.7 points per game and 41 percent shooting over the whole year. We knew when this season started that it could hinge on Boatright's productivity and leadership. He has struggled mightily since the turn of the year and the only way UConn can turn things around, beginning tonight, is if Ryan Boatright can get himself going offensively. The whole team feeds off Boatright's success and he must find a way to get to the line, hit his open threes, and create some easy baskets by pushing the tempo off defensive rebounds and steals in transition.
As far as tonight's opponent goes, they are young and trigger-happy. The Knights have six players who have had over 20 three point shot attempts this season, with four of the six shooting over a 40 percent from long range. Comparatively, UConn has just one player, Omar Calhoun, who makes his threes 40 percent of the time. UCF is led by three starting guards each averaging double-figures- freshman BJ Taylor (14.9 ppg), freshman Adonys Henriquez (11.5 ppg), and sophomore Brandon Goodwin (10.5 ppg). In the post, they have one of the seven wonders of the American Athletic Conference in the 6-foot-10, 325 pound Justin McBride (7.1 ppg) to go along with the lone senior, the 6-foot-7 Kasey Wilson (6.7 ppt).
This team provides a good test for UConn's perimeter and gives the Huskies a chance to show its muscle inside against a very small front line, besides the massive McBride. UCF simply does not rebound well. Not a single player averages over 5 rebounds per game and as a team they rank 219th in the country in rebounding.
Another trend in UConn's losses is Amida Brimah's inability to stay on the floor. If Brimah can stay out of foul trouble tonight, UCF will be at a considerable disadvantage both on the boards and offensively inside. Amida tends to have his biggest games against undersized frontlines. If you look at the Duke and Texas games, Brimah averaged 2 points and 1.5 rebounds against those talented and big frontlines. The story completely changes when Brimah has a size advantage on both the offensive and defensive end, and I believe this is the story we will see tonight.
Prediction: Team captains Amida Brimah and Ryan Boatright are the keys to a turn around for UConn's season. Brimah is incredibly motivated after such a disappointing road trip and Boatright would do anything to find his touch once again. In a do or die game for Husky Nation, it will be the students' first game back since winter break, Gampel will be rocking and the Huskies will feed off this energy and cruise to victory, avoiding its second 3-game slide this season.
UConn 70 USF 58