In the latest installment of our basketball preview, after looking into Omar Calhoun's role on the team, rebound and assist leaders, and best games we've attended, today we look to the schedule. Our final roundtable will go up tomorrow.
Which team is most likely to upset UConn, and what will UConn's best win of the season be?
Tucker Warner: I'm tabbing UConn's best regular season win as the early December matchup with Maryland at Madison Square Garden. Leaving out the good juju that UConn always seems to have at the Garden, I'm just not terribly impressed with the Terrapins, and that game's probably going to be easier than most seem to suggest it will be. Maryland will look good for most of the season, getting easy wins against a weak bottom half of the B1G Ten, but their underwhelming efficiency will likely lead to poor play against quality teams, just like last season. Maryland's a solid team, but they have a lot of holes in their roster, and UConn should be able to get past them with little trouble.
I think UConn's most likely upset loss, on the other hand, comes in conference play. UConn's non-conference schedule is not particularly strong (with only a couple outliers), and I'm not too scared of Michigan, Ohio State, or Texas. Or Georgetown and Syracuse for that matter. I don't think losing to Cincinnati or Southern Methodist would really be that much of an upset, so that leaves the game that worries me the most...February 4 at Memphis.
I don't think the Tigers are a very good team, and I don't expect great things from them this year, but I think that this season is do-or-die for Josh Pastner, and his players will absolutely be motivated to get a win that could really improve their tournament resume. Beyond just Pastner's job status (a reminder: Memphis hasn't made it out of the NCAA Tournament's second round under Pastner's tenure, and last season Memphis failed to win 20 games for the first time in fifteen years), I think Memphis provides some matchup issues for UConn, and that's a little troubling. It's definitely a game UConn can win and will be favored in, but it's not one that they should overlook.
Tim Fontenault: Memphis is the most likely team to "upset" UConn this year. It's weird to say that with Memphis, but I don't think the Tigers are in the upper echelon of the conference this season. I'm lower on the Tigers after Austin Nichols' transfer, but if the Lawsons come in and assimilate right away, they can steal a few extra wins.
I like UConn to beat Maryland, my pick as the early best team in the nation, Dec. 8 at Madison Square Garden. I'm big on both these teams this year, and I think they could both make the Final Four. The big matchup will be Amida Brimah against Diamond Stone. If Brimah can contain the highly-touted freshman, that will give UConn a great shot at a big home win (that's right, MSG is UConn's house).
Ben Zachs: Tulane stinks, but doesn't January 2 in New Orleans seem like the ultimate trap game? This game comes right after a trip to Austin playing against a Shaka Smart team. That means that the team will be exhausted. Depending on the travel schedule of the team, energy levels may be very low. Playing in a 90% empty stadium will not help to pump the team up. This seems like a candidate to be the head-scratching loss of 2015-2016.
Conversely, on December 8 against Maryland I expect to see a UConn victory. Last season, in games against great big men, Amida Brimah often came up small, finding himself in quick foul trouble. Many know about Diamond Stone's recruitment and many expected him to be playing for UConn in this game. I expect the UConn bigs to feel slighted about his school pick and shut him down on the interior. Melo Trimble will be hard pressed to push things against UConn's great guards. Thus, a huge matchup will come down to Daniel Hamilton and Jake Layman. If you can't tell to this point, I LOVE DANIEL. Chalk this one up as UConn's signature win in their second home stadium at MSG. Jim Delany, take note.
Ben Cantor: Though it wouldn't be a significant upset, I could see UConn struggling to win in Austin on December 29th. Shaka Smart now dons burnt orange and with him comes his trademarked pressure defense. UConn and Kevin Ollie have struggled in the recent past against the press, most notably in losses against West Virginia last season and Louisville in 2014. After what has been a fairly tumultuous football season for the Longhorns, and the Huskies potentially coming in as a highly-ranked team, Austin will be as hostile an environment that UConn sees all season.
If UConn can get through Michigan and Charlotte (Sorry Syracuse), UConn's biggest win this season will be over Gonzaga in the championship of the Battle 4 Atlantis over Thanksgiving Weekend. Gonzaga is a trendy final four pick this season and boasts arguably the best front court in the country, with Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis, and Prezmek Karnowski, but the Zags lack experience and talent in the back court. UConn's guards will be able to take advantage of this fact while the Huskies' bigs will do just enough defensively to pull off the upset.
Matt Gionfriddo: While it is tempting to pick an improved Houston team on the road, I'm going to say at Temple on February 11th is the biggest chance for an upset against the Huskies. There are going to be times where AAC conference play is a grind, and that is going to start on this Thursday night in Philadelphia. The game against the Owls kicks off a challenging four-game stretch with Tulsa, SMU, and a road game at Cincinnati to follow. While Fran Dunphy's squad isn't the same as last year's, they have the opportunity to surprise the conference. It is Quenton DeCosey's team, and I can see him hitting big shot after big shot against UConn in front of a raucous crowd.
The one game that I believe UConn will have as their best regular season win by the end of the year is against Maryland at MSG. Coach Mark Turgeon has one of the most talented teams in the country with Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Diamond Stone, and the one and only Rasheed Sulaimon. The Terps are several analysts' pick to win the National Championship this year and while it may feel like a home game for UConn, a win over Maryland at a "neutral site" will be the clear cut best regular season win for the Huskies.
Kaveh Jam: Memphis is a sneaky pick to upset the Huskies this year. For the most part the Tigers are predicted to finish outside the top three in the conference. Memphis does a lot of things well and they're returning some legit experience that could upend UConn. Shaq Goodwin and highly touted incoming freshman Dedric Lawson are just a few of the names with potential to carry Memphis to some upsets along the way.
Maryland stands as a spotlight game for the Huskies with massive national recognition potential. Maryland is stacked but so are the Huskies. While the obvious matchup of Amidah Brimah and Diamond Stone will receive its deserved attention, I will be looking to see if Sterling Gibbs or Rodney Purvis will find space to get loose. Slapping a win like this on their resume can catapult the Huskies through the rest of their schedule.
So there you go, a lot of votes for Memphis to upset UConn and a lot of confidence for the Madison Square Garden date with Maryland. Feel free to share your predictions in the comments!