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Preview: UConn Men’s Basketball vs. Villanova | 12 noon, CBS

UConn faces its toughest test of the season as they face No. 1 Villanova at the XL Center.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

A UConn team that has already faced many struggles this year has its toughest challenge of the season ahead of them as they face Villanova at the XL Center at noon today.

Villanova is only two seasons removed from their most recent national championship and they haven’t seen any attrition since. The Wildcats rank first in the AP and Coaches polls, and they’re also at the top of the KenPom ratings, with the highest adjusted efficiency margin in the nation. (For comparison, UConn is 160th in KenPom, N/A in the AP Poll, and N/A in the Coaches Poll.)

Villanova (17-1, 5-1 Big East) is not just great but also balanced, forming one of the most well-rounded teams in the country. One of their few weaknesses is interior defense, and that’s only a weakness when compared to other elite teams, as their defense has appeared to improve across the board since the beginning of conference play.

Offensively, they’re as strong as anyone, keeping turnovers to a minimum while still getting quality ball movement, and I’m not sure they’ve missed a shot all season. That’s only a slight exaggeration; Villanova ranks fourth in shooting from inside the arc (.596) and sixth from three (.421).

Villanova’s top five players all average double figures, and the sixth scores 9.9 per game, so the balance of the Wildcat rotation is evident. They still have a few standouts though; Jalen Brunson is one of the best point guards in the country, and Mikal Bridges is likely to be a first-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft. Omari Spellman is a big freshman who can step out and pop a three, Phil Booth is a steady contributor who would be the best player on many power conference teams, and Eric Paschall is the defensive stopper. Donte DiVincenzo comes off the bench as a super-sub, and his versatility ensures that the Wildcats lose nothing when they first go to the bench.

UConn will absolutely have their work cut out for them, but Villanova is not a perfect team (I don’t believe I’ve seen one in my lifetime), and they can be vulnerable with the right play. The Wildcats’ success is dependent on team play, and Villanova fans believe they could lose again if their opponent forces them away from that style. What that would require from UConn is isolation on certain players (not Bridges) and individual penetration while on offense.

Strangely enough, those seem to be the things UConn likes to do this season, but that doesn’t mean executing that gameplan (if that even is Kevin Ollie’s gameplan) will be any easier. It will be even more difficult without Terry Larrier, who is a game-time decision after missing the Memphis game due to headaches. Villanova’s talent level is so much higher than UConn’s that even a perfect strategy executed well might still result in a loss, especially if Larrier is not available.

The Wildcats also shoot a lot of 3-pointers, so if UConn gets locked-in defensive performances from Christian Vital and Antwoine Anderson, maybe they’ll get lucky and see Villanova’s shooting go cold. And maybe if Jalen Adams’ drives end with slightly better touch around the rim, they might be able to see a closer game than expected.

Regardless, it’s going to take a major team effort to keep this one competitive. Even if you don’t think Villanova is the best team in the country, they’re certainly among this year’s championship favorites, and UConn is...not.

PREDICTION: Villanova 84, UConn 60


Jalen Adams, Christian Vital & Kevin Ollie pregame video