Well that was unexpected.
There were two top-15 teams in Syracuse and Oregon and two unranked teams set to compete in Madison Square Garden this weekend, and most people seemed convinced that one of the ranked teams would win out. Well I guess that’s why you play the games.
The Huskies knocked off the No. 15 Syracuse Orange last night while the Hawkeyes took out the No. 13 Oregon Ducks. Syracuse and Oregon are now set to play for the consolation prize at 4:30 pm ET while UConn and Iowa - both undefeated - battle for the top spot in this year’s 2K Sports Classic.
But how did we get here?
UConn is coming off a statement win over their biggest rival. For Dan Hurley, Syracuse marked his first real test as head coach of the Huskies, and he passed it with flying colors. It’s popular to say that Dan Hurley is a step up from Kevin Ollie, but how many of us thought the results would manifest this quickly?
This team is virtually unrecognizable from last year’s squad, and that’s a good thing. It's amazing, considering it’s essentially the same roster with an attitude adjustment.
A healthy Alterique Gilbert and a motivated Jalen Adams were a deadly duo, combining for 32 points on Thursday night. Guards Tarin Smith and Christian Vital had double-digit points, as well. And a slimmed down Eric Cobb had a career-game at forward, recording 13 rebounds and 13 points to play zone-breaker for the Huskies.
It was a similar story for the Hawkeyes who had an absolute monster to deal with at the center position. Freshman Bol Bol, son of NBA legend Manute Bol, stands at 7-foot-2 and moves like a guard. Against Iowa, he delivered on the hype, earning 14 points, nine rebounds and a game-leading five blocks.
Bol is simply a force that you cannot fully prepare for. Add in the outstanding performance from senior guard Ehab Amin, who went 5-8 from deep and finished the day with 25 points and suddenly Oregon looks like they should have easily had the victory.
And yet, the Ducks lost. Those incredible stat lines simply make the victory by the Hawkeyes all the more impressive. It started with an outstanding effort from Junior guard Jordan Bohannon, who led both teams with seven assists and stood as Oregon’s leading scorer with 16 points.
But similar to UConn, it was the bench play that created the separation needed for the win. The Iowa bench outscored the Oregon bench 28-16 with twice as many players contributing offensively. The UConn bench outscored the Syracuse bench 30-4.
For tonight’s game, the concern for the Huskies is going to be forward Luka Garza. He’s not quite as big as Bol Bol, but he still stands at 6-foot-11 with the ability to stretch the floor and knock down threes. While Eric Cobb and Josh Carlton have taken turns stepping up down low, neither has established a consistent dominance of yet. UConn will need to find an answer for Garza if they expect to come out on top.
You know both teams are going to come out swinging. The effort will be there from whistle to whistle, as Iowa provides yet another unique challenge for the Dan Hurley era. It’ll be fascinating to see how he navigates this one.
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: 6:30 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network