NEW YORK — There are still three months of basketball games before Selection Sunday, but tonight's game is the biggest on UConn's schedule, without question.
If UConn wants to have a sparkling, jump-off-the-page, quality non-conference win on its resume to hand over to the selection committee, it needs to come tonight. On center stage at Madison Square Garden, the Huskies take on No. 6 Maryland in the Jimmy V Classic with the chance to make a major statement.
UConn (5-2) is coming off a blowout win over Sacred Heart, but those three-point losses to Syracuse and Gonzaga are still fresh wounds. In those two gamesâeven against Sacred Heartâthe Huskies were too slow to get into a rhythm. Against Maryland, that cannot happen.
The Terrapins (7-1) have been plagued by a couple slow starts, as well, but they were only punished against North Carolina in an eight-point loss.
Maryland is a loaded squad, a national championship contender this season. For an in-depth look at what to expect from the Terrapins, check out our interview with Matt Ellentuck of Testudo Times, Maryland's SB Nation site. We also gave them a look at the Huskies for tonight's game.
Gonzaga and Syracuse are two great teams, but Maryland is elite, and a win over the Terrapins would be huge for the Huskies, whose remaining games at home against Ohio State and Georgetown, and at Texas may not carry the same weight.
To win Tuesday, UConn will need strong outputs from everyone, especially the bench, which should be called upon plenty. Of course, the most minutes will go to the starters, and each one has a job its needs to do exceptionally well to get the win. Here is one aspect of the game each starter needs to address.
Sterling Gibbs: Don't get hung up on the three.
Gibbs relies on the 3-point shot too often, and usually the low-percentage deep threes. No Husky has attempted more than Gibbs (40). He has made 14. When he gets in the lane, he is much better. Gibbs .619 2-point percentage, which ranks among the top 200 nationally. When he attacks the rim, he has a better chance at getting three points. He is 15-for-16 from the foul line.
Rodney Purvis: Contain Melo Trimble
Rodney Purvis is the man Kevin Ollie deploys when he needs the opponent's "commander" to become a non-factor. Purvis is always up to the task. He has done a good job of that in the early stages of the season, but he will need to be at his best against Trimble, a Naismith Trophy candidate who can carry the Terrapins as far as he wants. Take out Trimble and Maryland's offense becomes less of a threat.
Daniel Hamilton: Just do you, bro.
Seriously. That's all I've got. Daniel Hamilton does so many things well, and all of them are important for the Huskies. The biggest tonight may be rebounding. The Terrapins are not an overwhelmingly dominant rebounding team, and the Huskies need to start controlling the glass in close games. Hamilton is solid defensively, so look for him to try to take Jake Layman out of the game early.
Shonn Miller: 18 and 7 would be amazing.
"Oh, Miller needs to do the two things he does best well for UConn to win?" It sounds simple, but it is imperative it happens tonight. Miller can be dominant on both ends when he wants to. Amida Brimah will have his hands full with Maryland's biggest and strongest players. It is crucial Miller takes advantage and gets to the rim. Get him going on offense and all will be well. Miller has the 21st-best offensive rating in the country, and his .667 2-point percentage ranks 74th.
Amida Brimah: Play like a big man, big fella.
Brimah was just about useless in the Bahamas, and he has been uninspiring all season. His hands are basically stone at the moment, good for knocking the ball way from the rim, but incapable of grabbing a rebound. He needs to play like the 7-foot-1-inch monster he has brewing inside. It needs to happen now. He is a captain on this team. He needs to lead on the court. Get big. Be fearless. Block all the shots, but get some rebounds, too. Don't miss bunnies at the rim.
What do you think the Huskies need to do tonight to beat Maryland? Share your thoughts in our open thread.