The biggest indication that the UConn men’s basketball team might have already turned around its fortune is that for the first time in over two years, the Huskies received a vote in the AP Poll.
Yes, UConn fans who have been here a while aren’t and shouldn’t be impressed by three measly points in this week’s poll, but it represents a new future for the Huskies. Or, perhaps, an old future. No matter the case, UConn’s win over Syracuse on Thursday night impressed enough people to take notice of this team potentially being among the nation’s best, a major change from recent seasons.
The Huskies (3-1) have a good chance to continue their newfound winning ways tonight, as they face the Big Red of Cornell in the first XL Center home game of the year.
Cornell (3-2) ranks among the worst teams of a recharged Ivy League and gets most of its scoring from electric senior shooting guard Matt Morgan. Morgan, who ranked in the top ten nationwide in points per game last season, has raised his average once again in 2018-19, scoring 25.4 per contest, and shooting .488 from three.
Morgan is one of the only scoring options the Big Red have, especially from deep—the team converts only .302 of its attempts from beyond the arc even with Morgan making so many. It’s not for lack of trying, as they collectively attempt nearly 26 threes per game, though the team may not be suited for such a deep assault.
The primary reason for that is Cornell’s other scorer, Jimmy Boeheim (not Boheim), the son of Syracuse’s longtime coach. Boeheim may be better than his younger brother, who UConn dispatched with the rest of the Orange on Thursday night, but his three-point shooting could still use some work, even as his .313 mark is the second-best on the team. Meanwhile, he shoots .676 from inside the arc. In fact, Cornell’s .571 field goal percentage from two ranks in the top 60 in the country.
Beyond those two, Cornell may lack any other player who makes a positive net impact, as only one of their ten players with more than 20 total minutes played has a Box Plus/Minus above zero—and that would be Morgan. Deep backup Riley Voss, who plays only sparingly, is the only non-walk-on who provides above-average offense.
The Big Red do provide slightly better play on the defensive half of the court. Steven Julian, a big man with court vision on offense, is Cornell’s top defender, though he’s not much of a rebounder, an inefficiency that UConn could exploit with big lineups. While Cornell typically plays a three-forward lineup, it’s not a big one. Their tallest rotation player is Boeheim, who normally fills a perimeter role, and they lack the size of players like Eric Cobb and Josh Carlton, both of whom have already excelled for the Huskies at times this season.
With so many holes in the Cornell frontcourt, the big men could once again be the difference-maker for UConn. The guards have been leading the charge so far—Jalen Adams, Alterique Gilbert, and Tarin Smith are each averaging double figures—but Cobb, the Huskies’ top rebounder, could have a massive impact in tonight’s game.
What to look for:
When UConn has the ball: The Huskies’ inside-out game is perfectly suited to dominate Cornell. Look for how early and how often the guards feed the ball inside, whether by a pass to Cobb in a mismatched one-on-one, or by dribble-drives from lead guards Gilbert and Jalen Adams. Cobb may even start, a move that might make sense given his offensive performance to start the season. See how often they involve Tyler Polley on offense too—when Boeheim is out of the game, Cornell will struggle to match his length and quickness.
When Cornell has the ball: Third-year coach Brian Earl has cycled thirteen players in and out of the rotation; it’s possible he’ll shorten things up when playing against a team of this caliber for the first time this year. Look out for how quickly Terrance McBride, who has seriously struggled through five games, is pulled in favor of Boeheim. Keep an eye on UConn’s defensive rotations, too; one of the biggest reasons Morehead State was able to remain in the game so long against the Huskies two weeks ago was because the perimeter defenders often didn’t follow the backside shooter, leaving the opponent with open opportunities. Against a team as trigger-happy from three as Cornell, that could spell disaster if the Big Red get lucky.
Where: XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Radio Network