The last time UConn started out 0-2 in conference play was 2013-2014, when the Huskies went on to be crowned national champions.
This year’s team also happens to be 0-2 in the AAC, though with slightly lesser expectations than Shabazz Napier + Co.
On Thursday, UConn (5-8, 112th per KenPom) carries a three-game losing streak into a 7:00 p.m., ESPN2 game at Memphis (10-4, 76th).
The Huskies are not only looking to avoid dropping four straight for the first time in almost five years.
They’re also seeking to dodge an 0-3 start in league play for the first time in over 30 years. The 1984-1985 campaign, to be precise, when a Dom Perno-led squad fell to St. John’s (led by Chris Mullin and Mark Jackson), Villanova (those Wildcats won the NCAA Tournament as an 8-seed), and Providence in succession.
So yeah, it’s been a long, long time. Here’s hoping there are no Kevin Ollie-Perno comparisons at approximately 9:00 p.m. at the FedExForum.
Since the American Athletic Conference’s inception in 2013-2014, UConn is 6-2 versus Memphis, including last year’s AAC Tournament final. The Huskies at least can hang their hat on that nugget.
Jalen Adams had a very forgettable double-double against Oklahoma State in the Maui Invitational with 34 points but 10 turnovers. In eight games since, the sophomore has posted an impressive 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, averaging six dimes per game.
Memphis redshirt freshman K.J. Lawson (13.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG) has enjoyed a breakout season thus far, improving in nearly every aspect of his game from last year. But in his past two contests, he’s combined for just 7 points on 2-of-15 shooting. That equates to a 13.3% shooting percentage.
If you’re a K.J. Lawson fan, chances are you have a poster in your room of brother Dedric Lawson. This writer’s early choice to win AAC Player of the Year, Dedric is one of just three collegiate players in the Play Index Era (since 1993-94) to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists per night over the course of a full season. The other two guys: David West and Tim Duncan.
What to Watch For
How will UConn’s zone affect Memphis’ penchant for close shots?
Memphis converts 56% of its two-pointers, 26th-best in the country. Over at Rivals, I touched on the Tigers’ newfound commitment to close attempts under Tubby Smith in much more depth.
The key for UConn on Thursday will be preventing Memphis from too many layups while encouraging the Tigers to settle for more two-point jumpers and threes. Memphis ranks 313th out of 351 D-1 teams in three-point accuracy—K.J. Lawson is the only player shooting even 34% or better from deep—so UConn’s zone could be quite effective if it invites long shots and cleans up the glass.
How does UConn get easy buckets?
With Jeremiah Martin, Markel Crawford, and Craig Randall running the show, Memphis squeezes the rock really well—it has one of the nation’s Top-20 lowest turnover rates.
That’s extremely problematic for UConn, whose half-court offense is atrocious (302nd nationally in Effective FG%) and ability to turn opponents over (248th in defensive Turnover Rate) is nothing to write home about.
For the entire season, the Huskies force miscues on 17.7% of opponents’ trips down the floor. Over their three-game losing streak, that number has dwindled to 14.6%.
That may not seem like a major discrepancy, but in low-possession, grind-it-out affairs, the victor is often decided by two or three sequences. And in those sequences, UConn is not only scoring the ball infrequently—the Huskies are also allowing their opponents to pile up turnover-free possessions.
Will Vance Jackson come alive one of these evenings?
Yours truly was rather bullish on UConn freshman Vance Jackson in the preseason, though the four-star recruit has struggled while acclimating to collegiate play. He’s posted a 92.1 Offensive Rating and is shooting just 28% (16 of 58) from long distance, where he was expected to thrive.
Jackson logged 17 minutes in Saturday’s overtime loss at Tulsa, his fewest floor time since November 17th. It’s about time Ollie takes care of his LA brethren by running a few set plays to get the 6-foot-8 freshman. Jackson is too talented to be a non-factor on an offense desperate for another player who can put the ball in the bucket.
KenPom projects a 67-60 Memphis win over UConn on Thursday, right on line with Las Vegas (Memphis -7.5).
What say you?