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Preview: UConn Men’s Basketball vs. Syracuse at Madison Square Garden

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The Huskies could change the tune of what has been a miserable start to the season with a win today.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of how you slice the orange, Monday isn’t just another game for UConn.

And, as rough a start as its been for the Huskies (3-4, 80th KenPom), a win over Syracuse (5-2, 23rd KenPom) in the Tire Pros Classic (7:00, ESPN2) would at least temporarily numb the pain caused by a very forgettable November.

In the big scheme of things, Syracuse needs this one more. That’s because UConn, after losing two of their three best offensive players due to injury on their recent West Coast trip and struggling mightily to score even before their depleted roster status, has quickly transitioned from Sweet-16 hopeful to having a KenPom projected 15-15 record.

Syracuse, on the other hand, has not looked all that sharp in its past three games, which includes losses to South Carolina and Wisconsin in addition to a six-point victory over North Florida on Saturday.

The Orange have been led by Nebraska grad transfer Andrew White (17.0 PPG, 45% FG), who is flanked in the frontcourt by intriguing sophomore Tyler Lydon (10.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG), currently predicted by Draft Express as the 17th overall pick this June.

Fellow sophomore Frank Howard (9.0 PPG, 6.7 APG) has taken a major leap at the point guard position, boasting the nation’s top Assist Rate (55.3%), 4th-best steal rate (6.1%), and knocking down 10 of 19 three-pointers. The Orange as a team have dominated from the three-point line this season, where they’re shooting 43% (7th best in America) while holding the opposition to 25% showing, good for 3rd best in the country.

On top of all that, UConn is presented with the challenge of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.

On Wednesday, UConn saw zone all night long against Boston University, a clear inferior defense to Syracuse’s, and had that deer-in-the-headlights look for the entirety of the game. The Huskies scored just 0.73 points per possession and shot 32% from the field in a hideous 51-49 win.

UConn will miss Terry Larrier in every remaining contest this season, but perhaps none more so than Monday. Larrier would have been a perfect plug at the high post and elbow areas—instead, look for Kentan Facey and Vance Jackson to split time there tonight.

Unless Jalen Adams vastly improves from his Wednesday performance—when he was neutralized by BU’s zone—and Christian Vital, Rodney Purvis, and Jackson are repeatedly cashing in from distance, it could be another long night on the offensive side of the ball for UConn.

At the very least, though, Husky Nation ought to be optimistic based on the venue. UConn has won ten championships at Madison Square Garden, including seven Big East Championships plus the 2014 NCAA East Regional. Tonight’s game represents the 115th game UConn has appeared in at basketball’s Mecca.

Crazier happenings have occurred at MSG—especially for UConn—than the Huskies pulling off an upset against their biggest hoops rival.

Go Figure

  • Syracuse leads the all-time series with UConn, 55-37. The Orange have also won seven of the last nine meetings.
  • UConn is 6-7 versus Syracuse at MSG.
  • Rodney Purvis has averaged 12.3 PPG and shot 40% from the three-point line in 28 neutral court games in his career (10.5 PPG, 36% 3FG in 79 true home or road games).
  • UConn has used five different starting lineups already this season—in seven games. On Wednesday, Christian Vital shined in his first career start (13 points, 3-6 3FG, 5 rebounds), and now the Queens Village native is back in his home city.
  • Also on Wednesday, UConn led at the half for the first time all year. The score? 21-17.
  • Amida Brimah is getting to the free throw line at a ridiculously high clip this season—he has the nation’s 2nd-highest Free Throw Rate, but where has that sweet stroke gone? He’s made just 14 of 27 freebies this year (he was an 82% free throw shooter in 2015-2016).

No matter tonight’s outcome, Tyler Olander will still have more national titles than Jim Boeheim.