Following a comfortable home win over Cornell on Tuesday, UConn seeks to build a winning streak with a victory over New Hampshire today.
Dan Hurley’s squad wasted no time against Cornell on Tuesday, as the Huskies (4-1) easily dispatched the Big Red. Five players scored in double figures, including a team-high 21 points from Jalen Adams, and Christian Vital and Tyler Polley stood out on defense.
UConn clearly has more talent than its incoming opponent, so carrying the momentum forward and keeping their focus might be the biggest issues for the Huskies in today’s matchup with the Wildcats. With a tantalizing game against Arizona getting closer and closer, they’ll have to make sure they don’t overlook smaller teams such as New Hampshire.
That said, New Hampshire (2-3) appears to be one of the weakest opponents UConn will face this year. The Wildcats’ two wins come against Division III teams, and their three Division I games were losses against Quinnipiac, UMass, and American, by an average losing margin of 19.7 points. They rank 329th out of 353 Division I teams in KenPom and 350th in Sports-Reference’s Simple Rating System.
In other words, New Hampshire has struggled so far. That doesn’t mean they’re a team without merit, of course, and there are a few elements that UConn will need to prepare for. The Wildcats have showed solid outside shooting ability so far, for example, and that especially could help a team’s chances of pulling off an upset. The Wildcats also crash the offensive boards, play turnover-heavy games, and don’t have that bad a defense, at least relative to other teams at the bottom of weak conferences.
But there are, of course, several reasons why the Wildcats are playing so poorly. They are among the NCAA’s worst teams at scoring inside the arc, but their style of basketball requires them to continue to take most of their opportunities from two, which only exacerbates their offensive problem. While they create a lot of turnovers, they also do so when the ball is in their hands, limiting the impact their active defense can have on creating extra opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, the Wildcats foul often and frequently, allowing their opponents to take an eye-popping average of 24 free throws per game.
Bill Herrion hasn’t taken a team to the NCAA Tournament since his run of three straight berths with Drexel in the mid-1990s, but his 14-season career at New Hampshire hasn’t been without its strengths. He just led the Wildcats to three straight seasons with 19 wins or more, a streak that ended with a 10-21 performance last season. The series against the Huskies hasn’t gone much better, as the Wildcats have won only seven times in the 50-game rivalry, and haven’t earned a victory over UConn since 1983.
To upset UConn in 2018, they’ll have to withstand the Huskies backcourt, which has been overwhelming weak opponents so far. The four-pronged attack of Adams, Vital, Alterique Gilbert, and Tarin Smith has combined for 55.2 points per game with 12.2 assists, shooting .369 from three and .547 from inside. That’s a formula that’s led to success this season, and New Hampshire will have their work cut out for them to just stop these four, let alone UConn’s depth.
What to look for:
When UConn has the ball: Does the frontcourt rotation get more consistent? Does Dan Hurley still see these games as something that could tell him which of his players deserve more minutes? UConn hasn’t been pushed by a weaker team yet, and that could shed some light on how Hurley is going to handle the tougher parts of the season. Also, keep an eye on Gilbert’s shooting; after a hot start, he’s made only two of his last 12 attempts from three.
When New Hampshire has the ball: How does UConn handle an offense that spreads the ball as much as any opponent they’ll see all year? The Wildcats have five players averaging over nine points a game, but none score more than 11.2. While Josh Hopkins and Elijah Jordan, the two top scorers, get the bulk of the minutes, Herrion has not settled his lineups in the slightest, with a dozen players who have gotten into at least four games. How do the Huskies force New Hampshire off the perimeter? UConn will need this skill when facing better opponents who are stronger from outside than the interior, and it’s important the Huskies develop it now.
Where: XL Center, Hartford, CT
When: 12 noon
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network