Kevin Ollie’s UConn Huskies are in New York City, where thousands of fans are currently packed in bars, awaiting the 9 p.m. tip-off at Madison Square Garden as part of the Jimmy V Classic. Villanova and Gonzaga are playing at 7, so there’s a decent chance the start of UConn’s game is slightly delayed.
Syracuse is 6-1 on the season, winning six straight home games, including a nice win over Maryland, before losing to a highly-ranked Kansas team on a neutral floor in Miami. The Orange appear to be better than UConn based on performance thus far in the season, a sentiment which KenPom backs up. The analytics site has Syracuse ranked a healthy 30 spots ahead of the Huskies at 58th in the country and projects a 67-64 win for Jim Boeheim’s squad.
But UConn was the underdog last year too, and the Huskies prevailed in a hard-fought contest—anything can happen against a rival in the Garden. The Orange are also further hampered by the loss of Geno Thorpe, who left the team recently for “personal reasons.” Thorpe was a graduate transfer from South Florida who was a proven scorer for the Bulls.
What the Orange do have going for them is Tyus Battle, a guy who can score like crazy and potentially make things very tough for a beleaguered UConn defense. Syracuse also has a decent crop of big men, who may challenge the Huskies’ frontcourt-by-committee, particularly if its leaders Eric Cobb and Mamadou Diarra get into foul trouble. UConn’s offense, which has been known to take a few minutes off at times, will have its hands full against the patented Syracuse zone, especially since Alterique Gilbert misses his third straight game with the same shoulder injury which sidelined him almost all of last year.
What I’d like to see tonight is Terry Larrier showing some more initiative and staying more in his area of excellence rather than milling around the perimeter. He and Jalen Adams are going to have to lead this thing, with some help from Christian Vital and Antwoine Anderson. Those are the team’s leaders right now with Gilbert out.
The Huskies’ big men are a wildcard, though we have seen good things from Cobb, Diarra, Josh Carlton, Tyler Polley, and Isaiah Whaley. It will need to be a group effort by these guys to make sure the Orange don’t dominate the paint with Oshae Brissett (12.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG), the 7-foot-2 Paschal Chukwu (5.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG), along with two others in Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe who are averaging around six points and six rebounds per game each.
Though it was against Columbia and Monmouth teams that have not been super impressive, UConn has shown a propensity in this young season to be able to handle crunch time. Additionally, Larrier, Vital, and Diarra are all from New York City so this is a big night for them in basketball’s Mecca. Hopefully, this group has an extra level in a game that the whole team should be hyped for in a lively environment.
We’ll have live updates here as well in the event you are unable to watch the game or happen to be checking out the #icebus at the XL Center this evening.