Kevin Ollie’s UConn Huskies (5-9, 0-3 American) are enduring some hard times. Down three players, possibly dealing with some infighting, and struggling to get a win in the American conference is about as far from ideal as a basketball team can possibly get.
Once seemingly on the cusp of turning things around after a disappointing start, the Huskies have lost four straight. Now ranked 119th in the country by KenPom, the Huskies welcome a conference opponent to the XL Center which few would have predicted would be doing better than them at this point in the season— the UCF Knights.
KenPom has the Knights ranked 72nd in the country, putting this game at a toss-up due to UConn’s home court advantage. In three games to open conference play, the Huskies have been beaten comfortably by solid Houston and Memphis teams and also dropped an overtime “thriller” to Tulsa.
UCF (12-3, 3-0 AAC) has played a much easier schedule than UConn but still has wins over decent teams, including Temple, who UConn will be facing next later this week. The Knights have been playing great defense, in large part thanks to 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, who is currently averaging over 14 points and 11 rebounds per game. Fall is also the third leading scorer on the team, behind Orlando natives Matt Williams (15.6 ppg) and B.J. Taylor (16.4 ppg).
UConn comes into this game desperately needing a light to turn on, but with no indication that it will. The Memphis game saw the Huskies get off to a good start before completely collapsing. The same mistakes—poor shot selection, incoherent offensive strategy—continue to rear their ugly head. To make matters worse, effort and team morale seem to be at season lows.
On the plus side, freshman Vance Jackson is coming off a solid performance and classmate Juwan Durham showed some spark in the last game as well. These guys will benefit from the development opportunity offered by the injuries to this team, but there will be highs and lows. Christian Vital, the other standing member of the “Top Five” recruiting class, has been seeing a lot of minutes with mixed results.
The Husky big men have been playing well, but teams have been able to contain them by packing the box and daring UConn to hit outside shots. UCF has a human eraser down low in Fall, so may not even need to resort to those tactics to stop the Huskies.
Expect a low-scoring affair, and if UConn wins someone out of Rodney Purvis, Jackson or Vital will need to have a big game to give the Huskies a balanced attack. If not, it could get ugly. But what else is new?