The UConn Huskies, coming off their best performance of the season, will face off against the Auburn Tigers, fresh off an impressive neutral court win over Oklahoma at Mohegan Sun, at the XL Center today (2:30, ESPN2).
But Bruce Pearl’s squad will hardly be the most dignified visitor in the house on Friday.
That distinction belongs to Hamidou Diallo.
Diallo, a five-star high school senior ranked as the tenth-best player in his class (per Rivals), will be on hand as part of his official visit for UConn (5-5, 81st per KenPom) versus Auburn (9-2, 93rd KenPom).
The Putnam Science Academy shooting guard watched practice on Thursday before shooting around and talking with Kevin Ollie. He is eligible to play at the college level right away.
Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Indiana, and Syracuse are also courting Diallo’s services, but none of those schools could presumably offer him the immediate playing time and usage that UConn would be able to, mostly due to all the injuries the Huskies have suffered.
Scouting the Tigers
Auburn has a pair of attractive neutral court victories—the aforementioned Oklahoma one just two days ago, plus a win over Texas Tech in Mexico back in November.
The Tigers have also lost to Boston College. Their other setback is a 25-point drubbing at the hands of Purdue.
That’s the product of a young team—Auburn ranks 320th out of 351 D-1 schools in KenPom’s Experience factor—but Pearl has a plethora of youthful talent as his disposal in Year 3 on the job.
Waterbury native Mustapha Heron (16.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 41% 3FG) and Jared Harper (11.9 PPG) were expected to be the lone impact performers in this current freshman class.
But Danjel Purifoy (15.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG) was forced to redshirt last season based on some sketchy ACT scores, and original 2017 five-star center Austin Wiley (7.5 PPG) elected to reclassify very recently—Friday will be his third game in college.
As a result, Auburn runs out four freshmen to begin the game, aided by the fact that senior starters Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer are still in the doghouse following marijuana-related suspensions.
The Tigers are what you’d expect out of a typical Pearl-coached team, minus the five headbands.
They love to get up-and-down the floor, playing at the nation’s 10th-fastest tempo, and 45% of their field goal attempts come from behind the arc. Auburn also forces turnovers on 23% of its opponents’ possessions, good for 22nd nationally.
What’s Good with the Huskies?
UConn, 0-2 this season when trying to eclipse the .500 mark, is hoping the third time is the charm. It will be if the Huskies executive offensively like they did in Sunday’s 80-59 disposal of North Florida, when they scored 1.23 points per possession, shot 54% from the floor, and collected a season-high 36% of their misses.
The bigs came to play against the Ospreys. Kentan Facey dropped a career-high 20 points to go along with 9 rebounds, Amida Brimah chipped in 11 points and 6 rebounds, and even Steven Enoch added 7 & 7.
It’s one thing when a normally comatose frontcourt eats versus an Atlantic Sun program. But can Facey/Brimah/Enoch produce against an SEC frontline?
“I already know our best way of playing is with balance,” said Ollie. “Our guards have got to see that. Our guards have got to trust our bigs, that’s what I’m trying to get over to them. That was our most efficient game, because they trusted those guys.”
“We’ve been watching film, and the film don’t lie,” Rodney Purvis added. “We’re throwing the ball in there and the big guys are making good plays, kicking the ball out.”
It’s a start, for sure. Pair that with Jalen Adams’ 10 assist: 1 turnover ratio on Sunday, and the signs are present that the offense might be turning a small corner.
Auburn’s Defensive Efficiency ranks 70th nationally, a ranking that could conceivably improve as the 6’11” Wiley continues to log more minutes.
Therefore, Friday presents quite the challenge for UConn’s 188th-ranked Offense. But it’s a test the Huskies must pass.
Beating Auburn isn’t a marquee victory, per say, but UConn’s resume is bleak, made all the more lackluster with every passing Syracuse collapse.
While it kills me to say this before Christmas, an at-large bid is almost entirely out of the question.
Still, the Huskies could benefit from a couple wins over high-majors in the non-con slate (they play Georgetown January 14th). At the very least, it would provide UConn some confidence that it is capable of knocking off the Cincinnati’s and SMU’s of the AAC come the league tournament, which represents our lone chance at dancing come March.
That all changes if Hamidou Diallo joins the program. But for Friday, at least, he’s just a spectator.