March has just begun and UConn is undoubtedly playing their best basketball of the season.
Tonight, the Huskies have a chance to win four in a row for the first time this season in the midst of a desperation run at the NCAA tournament. They have won 6 of their last 8 including wins over the top two teams in the AAC, Tulsa and SMU, by a combined 33 points. Rodney Purvis has averaged just over 13 points during that stretch while Daniel Hamilton has averaged 12.6 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game. If there's anything Ryan Boatright could have wished for come senior night, it must have been the help of his teammates to carry this UConn team into the tournament conversation.
Some, like ESPN's Eamon Brennan in his weekly bubble watch, believe it is still too late for UConn to have a shot at an at large bid while others, like CBS's Seth Davis, think UConn has found new life if they can complete a deep run into the AAC tournament while winning out the rest of the regular season. They'll still probably need to win the tournament anyway, but every little bit helps.
For UConn to give truth to the prophecies of Seth Davis's wizardry, it must take care of business on senior night against Memphis. This Tigers team is not the same one that the Huskies lost to just two weeks ago. Since then, it has lost leading scorer and rim protector Austin Nichols to what could be a season-ending ankle injury. In the last meeting between these two squads, Nichols had 7 blocks to go with along with 8 rebounds and 16 points. Their offense ran through Nichols and opened up the perimeter for an explosive night from guard Kedren Johnson who hit a killer 4 of 5 attempts of the three point line.
Memphis has not shot well from three all season and I expect this trend to continue on the road at UConn. In Nichols place, Trahson Burrell will join Shaq Goodwin upfront. In Nichols's absence, the Tigers are going to need Goodwin (9.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg), have a monster game if they want a shot to spoil senior night in Gampel.
But we all know Memphis does not have much of a shot in Ryan Boatright's last game in his favorite arena. Two weeks ago, Memphis knew where Boatright was at all times in their zone defense, using great communication to essentially take him out of the game, holding him to 7 points on 2-6 shooting from the field. Kevin Ollie is incredible at forming a game plan against teams the Huskies have already faced, so expect the Boat Show to find his shots and get his points.
Boatright knows the stakes and he knows what it takes win in crunch time. It has taken quite some time for his teammates to play the way he has needed them to, but it seems like this team is finally clicking. Sunday's win over SMU was easily the most enjoyable game to watch this season and gave UConn the confidence they will need to make what would be a pretty miraculous run back to the NCAA tournament. Husky fans have seen glimpses of what this team's potential is all season, and for this potential to become reality by early March is a joy to watch.
Prediction: UConn 70, Memphis 55