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UConn Men’s Basketball Schedule Preview: Non-Conference Slate

Previewing some good, and some not so good, but not terrible, teams in the non-conference slate.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

While the American Athletic Conference strains to build its basketball reputation, its flagship program, in hopes of contending every year, has resorted to putting a pretty challenging non-conference slate together.

UConn will meet Oklahoma State, and possibly North Carolina at the Maui Invitational. Another future opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas, are in the field but have a date with the Huskies as well in Washington DC on January 14. We previewed the entire field earlier this week.

There are two other games which need to be circled on the calendar, against Ohio State and Syracuse. Here’s where those two teams stand heading into the season.

Ohio State

Head Coach: Thad Matta, 320-108 (422-139)

2015-16 Record: 21-14

KenPom: 13 (30 Off, 8 Def)

Coaches Poll: N/A

CBS Sports All 351 Poll: 39

2015-2016 Season: Ohio State played in the NIT after losing big to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes lost in the 2nd round and finished as the 76th-ranked team in KenPom.

2016-2017 Outlook: The Buckeyes lose no one from last year’s team, hoping the return of Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams and Marc Loving will lead them to the NCAA Tournament.

Key Players: Kam Williams, jr., guard (8.3 points per game, 1.8 rebounds); Jae’Sean Tate, Jr., forward (11.7 points, 6.4 rebounds); Marc Loving, sr., forward (14 points, 5.3 rebounds); Keita Bates-Diop, jr., guard (11.8 points, 6.4 rebounds).

Match-up with UConn: Tate and Loving will be a tough matchup for the UConn’s bigs when the two teams meet on Dec. 10 in Columbus. This year’s meeting is the culmination of a home-and-home series which started last year when Ohio State visited Gampel Pavilion and lost 75-55.

While it was a down season a year ago for Thad Matta’s group, the Buckeyes are returning a lot of talent. This team should have the depth to give the Huskies a serious early-season challenge.

Syracuse

Head Coach: Jim Boeheim, 884-342

2015-16 Record: 23-14, Final Four

KenPom: 12 (31 Off, 5 Def)

Coaches Poll: 17

CBS Sports All 351 Poll: 21

2015-2016 Season: Last season marked Boeheim’s 40th season on the Syracuse sideline. While Boeheim missed nine games due to a suspension, the selection committee was kind enough to understand the adversity which you have to fight through in order to be without your cheating coach for part of the season. The Orange parlayed their unexpected bid into an unexpected run all the way to the Final Four.

2016-2017 Outlook: The Orange return a pair of key starters in Tyler Roberson and DaJuan Coleman. The Orange have a pair of graduate transfers in John Gillon and Andrew White who should help Syracuse make up for lost production.

Key Players: Tyler Roberson sr., forward (8.8 points per game; 8.5 rebounds); DaJuan Coleman, sr., C (4.9 points, 4.7 rebounds); Tyler Lydon, soph., forward (10.1 points, 6.3 rebounds).

Match-up with UConn: The former Big East foes renew their rivalry at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Dec. 5. With plenty of talent to work with, Boeheim’s squad looks formidable. The Huskies are going to need the Garden crowd to get behind them as this should be the biggest out-of-conference game of the year. UConn’s front court, while talented, is mostly raw and could struggle against the experienced bigs of Syracuse.

***

All teams on the non-conference slate can’t be excellent. Still, UConn has done a good job this year of booking some slightly better bad teams which should be comfortable wins but won’t kill the RPI. Though the RPI sucks as a measure of quality basketball teams, it is used by the selection committee and shapes voter perceptions, so it matters.

We previewed the lesser teams in the non-conference slate earlier this week as well.

Auburn

Head Coach: Bruce Pearl, 26-40 (488-185)

2015-16 Record: 11-20

KenPom: 153 (159 Off, 145 Def)

Coaches Poll: NA

CBS Sports All 351 Poll: 95

2015-2016 Season: Bruce Pearl’s second season at the helm was not a good one, as the Tigers finished with an 11-20 record, going 5-13 in a weak SEC.

2016-2017 Outlook: This team has 10 newcomers that will need to get up to speed this season. Mustapha Heron, a five-star recruit from Connecticut, headlines Pearl’s third season at Auburn.

Matchup with UConn: With Auburn still in rebuilding mode under Pearl, the Huskies should have the upper hand at the XL Center on Thursday, Dec. 23.

Loyola

Head Coach: Mike Dunlap 22-40 (350-145)

2015-16 Record: 14-17

KenPom: 208 (171 Off, 246 Def)

Coaches Poll: NA

CBS Sports All 351 Poll: 136

2015-2016 Season: The Lions finished 208th in KenPom haven’t made the postseason since 2012, with an NCAA tournament drought that dates back to 1990.

2016-2017 Outlook: The Lions return three starters from last year’s team along with a 6-11 transfer from Hawaii, Stefan Jovanovic and graduate transfer, Kelvin Amayo from Iona.

Key Players: Brandon Brown, sr., guard (honorable mention All-WCC); Steven Hanley, jr., guard/forward (73 career three-pointers, 8th in school history); Shamar Johnson, sr., forward (5.5 points per game, 4.2 rebounds).

Match-up with UConn: The game against the Huskies is the marquee opponent on the Lions schedule. It is listed as a “Crimson-out” in the team’s media guide and should be a good early test for Loyola while giving the Huskies a solid tune-up before the Maui Invitational.