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Preview: UConn Men’s Basketball vs. UMKC | 5 p.m., SNY

The Huskies will try to open their season with two-straight wins as they face the visiting Kangaroos.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Following an electric win over Morehead State on Thursday, the Huskies seek to improve to 2-0 as UConn Huskies faces the Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos today at 5 p.m.

UMKC enters the game with an 0-2 record, with losses to NCAA Tournament darling Loyola-Chicago and future UConn opponent Iowa. UMKC ranks 266th in KenPom (UConn ranks 102nd) and has already displayed major struggles on the offensive end.

Those major struggles include figures such as the Kangaroos’ 33.8 shooting percentage from inside the arc, one of the worst rates in the nation. They’re also shooting 41.9 percent from the free throw line, which is also one of the very worst percentages in the country. Those numbers make their 31.9 percent mark from three look downright respectable by comparison.

The scoring problems don’t stop there. UMKC also has more turnovers than assists, and when combined with their rebounding issue, it becomes clear that the Kangaroos have the double-edged problem of losing the possessions battle and minimizing the value of each of those possessions.

And while sixth-year head coach Kareem Richardson—who was on Rick Pitino’s bench during Louisville’s 2013 championship run—is capable of leading this team to a turnaround from two early losses, he’ll need a lot of help in doing so. Leading scorer Brandon McKissic is a good place to start; the sophomore shooting guard has made five of his seven 3-point attempts to start the season, and he’s the only individual player on the roster scoring at an above-average rate.

UMKC, whether by strategy or by necessity, plays a small lineup, the smallest of which is 5-foot-8 point guard Xavier Bishop, and while the Kangaroos do have some height, the few players taller than 6-foot-7 rarely see the floor together. That’s another piece of good news for the Huskies offense, which received its highest scoring mark from center Josh Carlton on Thursday night’s season opener.

Defensively, UMKC is much better, but still limited; the Kangaroos’ perimeter defense is much stronger than the interior. Sophomore guard Marvin Nesbitt, Jr. and big man Brandon Suggs (a transfer from Bethune-Cookman) lead the defensive effort, but both players are forced to come off the bench due to offensive limitations. However, they get more playing time than most defensive specialists due to the team’s remarkably bad defensive foul rate.

The Huskies, meanwhile, carry over a lot of momentum from their electrifying season-opening win. Perhaps the most important takeaway from Thursday night’s win—besides the dramatic change in style from last year—was how the team received important contributions from both expected sources (last year’s leading scorer Jalen Adams, for example) and unexpected sources (Carlton, graduate transfer Tarin Smith).

Dan Hurley demands a style of play that places the highest priority on the team as a single unit, on both offense and defense, which should continue to pay off against UMKC. While the Huskies are still searching for their identity, the team has already notified a few strengths. Those strengths seem perfectly attuned to exploiting the Kangaroos’ weaknesses.

What to watch for:

When UConn has the ball: How aggressive are they with dribble-drives and forcing the ball inside? How does their guard-heavy ballhandling adjust to a team with a strong perimeter defense and a weak interior one? Do floor-stretchers like Tyler Polley have more of an impact in today’s game?

When UMKC has the ball: How do the Huskies fix one of their biggest weaknesses in the season opener—leaving backside three-point shooters wide open? With so little UMKC offense coming from the post, does Hurley run a four-guard lineup for stretches?

How to watch:

When: Sunday, 5 p.m.

Where: Gampel Pavilion


Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network