Winners of three straight, the UConn Huskies will resume American Athletic Conference play against Cincinnati on Thursday night at the XL Center. After a thrilling win over Georgetown that closed out the non-conference portion of UConn's schedule, two of the American's hottest teams will square off, looking to keep pace with Temple, Tulsa and SMU in the AAC standings- though Temple took a confusing loss to East Carolina last night.
Playing without defensive anchor and starting center Amida Brimah since late-December, the Huskies (14-5, 4-2) have still relied heavily on their defense, especially during their recent three-game winning streak.
UConn boasts the second-ranked scoring defense in the AAC, allowing 62.6 points per game—second only to the Bearcats (62.4)—and is 12th in the country in KenPom defensive efficiency. However, no team in the conference is holding opposing teams to a lower field goal percentage than the Huskies (.373).
UConn will have to center its defensive focus on the Cincinnati (15-6, 5-3) backcourt duo of senior Farad Cobb (11.7 points per game) and junior Troy Caupain (11.3 ppg). The Husky front court will have also have its hands full with sophomore Gary Clark, the conference's fifth-leading rebounder.
The Bearcats are a slightly more balanced team than UConn, ranked 32nd in KenPom defensive efficiency and 66th in offensive efficiency. UConn's offense is currently ranked 109th.
The Husky offense has struggled recently to find easy shots, but it is still one of the better units in the conference. Averaging 75.1 points per game, fifth-best in the AAC, fourth-ranked Cincinnati is only a shade better at 75.3 points per. Head coach Kevin Ollie has leaned heavily on the experience of graduate transfers Shonn Miller and Sterling Gibbs and yet the Huskies' adjusted offensive efficiency rating is outside of the top-100.
Ollie's backcourt has been in flux with Omar Calhoun, Rodney Purvis and Jalen Adams all receiving starting nods in recent games. All three will need to contribute for UConn to extend its winning streak and add another nice win to its tournament resume.
The Huskies are 12-6 all-time against Cincinnati, including a 5-1 mark at the XL Center. In the two teams' last meeting, Ryan Boatright drained a game-winning three with less than a second remaining. Purvis added 17 points in the win and then-freshman Daniel Hamilton tallied nine points, eight rebounds and five assists. Caupain and Cobb combined for 19 points in the loss while Clark had a near double-double with 11 rebounds and nine points.
A win for UConn would improve the Huskies to 5-2 in the AAC, with games still to play against Temple, Tulsa, SMU (twice) and one more with Cincinnati, who are all expected to be contenders in the top-half of the conference.