Following a couple of feel-good home victories over UCF and Temple, UConn (7-9, 97th KenPom) now takes its newly improved act on the road against familiar foe Georgetown (9-8, 59th KenPom) on Saturday.
The Huskies, in search of their first three-game winning streak of the season, defeated the Hoyas 68-62 at the XL Center nearly one year ago to the day, as Rodney Purvis dropped a game-high 17 points.
Georgetown has lost four of its last five games despite crushing St. John’s, 83-55, on Monday.
John Thompson III’s squad played stifling defense in that one—holding the Red Storm to a season low 0.69 points per possession—while also sinking 27 of 33 free throws.
On Saturday, Georgetown will be tasked with stopping a suddenly revived UConn offense, which has benefited from the discovery of its most dynamic starting lineup, improved post play from Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah, and the continued growth of Jalen Adams as a lead guard.
It’s giving Kevin Ollie hope.
“This is not a bad season, it’s a character-building season,” the fifth-year head coach said. “We’re just going to keep performing, and I still believe that we got enough here to win games.”
A couple of 6-foot-5 Georgetown guards in Robert Morris graduate transfer Rodney Pryor (18.2 PPG) and junior L.J. Peak (15.8 PPG) combine to put up 34 of the Hoyas’ 74.2 points per game.
Pryor has a strong pull-up game, knocking down 51% of his two-point jumpers this year, and also is shooting 44% from behind the arc.
Peak, on the other hand, does most of his damage at the tin—49% of his field goal attempts come at the rim, compared to only 28% for Pryor—and attempts over six free throws per night, cashing in on them at an 84% clip.
UConn’s recent defensive game plans which successfully held UCF’s Tacko Fall to zero points and Temple’s Obi Enechionyia (7 points, 7.2 PPG below his season average) were brilliant.
But how will the Huskies contain the two-headed monster of Pryor and Peak?
Expect Ollie to run out a starting five of Adams, Purvis, Vance Jackson, Facey, and Brimah for the third straight contest and seventh time overall. UConn is 4-2 when employing that lineup for the opening tip.
Why is that? On a per-possession basis, the Huskies’ defense has basically performed the same in the six games with that starting lineup (0.98 points allowed per possession) compared to the ten games with other five-man combinations (0.97 PPP).
Offensively though, the Adams/Purvis/Jackson/Facey/Brimah starting quintuplet has seen the Huskies put up a cool 1.10 points per trip in those six games. In the other ten games, that number drops to 0.91 PPP.
In layman’s terms, UConn is 18 points better per 100 possessions when rolling out the aforementioned starting lineup as opposed to any other five Huskies to begin the game.
Should this trend continue on Saturday against Georgetown, don’t be surprised to see a more in-depth look pinpointing this group’s success sometime this week.
The most conspicuous reason for that lineup’s prosperity is the rapid ascension of one of its five players. That’s Facey, of course.
The 6-foot-10 senior, who has already exceeded last year’s totals in points, free throws made, and defensive rebounds this season, is finally unveiling an aggressive gene that few knew he owned.
In the first nine games of the 2016-17 campaign, Facey took just 2.4 shots per game, averaging 4.0 points.
Over the last seven games—this coincides with being reinserted into the starting lineup—he is attempting nearly nine shots from the floor, upping his per-night scoring average to 12.0 PPG while maintaining his efficiency along the way.
“I feel like I’m playing at a different level than I was before,” the Jamaican native said. “That’s because my teammates are on me every day to be more aggressive and getting me the ball in positions where they know I can score.”
Facey is doing a nice job of making himself more available, has increased his activity around the rim, and is putting on a midrange clinic.
Last year, 35% of his field goal attempts were of the two-point jumper variety. He made 41% of those.
This season? 59% of his shots are two-point jumpers, with the senior nailing those at a 56% rate.
As for whichever teammates are hounding Facey to assert himself, thank you. Keep it up.