This was supposed to be a down year for Arizona. The Wildcats, rocked by a scandal that kept college basketball in news headlines throughout the offseason, were perhaps even more affected by the loss of their top five scorers from last season, including the NBA’s first overall draft pick DeAndre Ayton. With a recruiting class below their usual standard and no returning player with a scoring average of five points per game, the Wildcats needed a strong year from Duke castoff Chase Jeter and one of their young players to step up.
Chase Jeter is having a strong year and two of their young players have stepped up.
Jeter, a big center whose offensive game is finally starting to match his defensive ability, leads Arizona (5-2) on defense, an area where the team builds its success. Sean Miller’s teams aren’t big—they rarely are—but everyone on the floor can play quality defense.
That could spell trouble for UConn (6-1), a team whose one loss was to a team that pressured them defensively all game. The Huskies have had issues with ball protection, and against a team like Arizona that controls its possessions, losing the turnover battle could become a major disadvantage.
Pittsburgh transfer Ryan Luther, the team’s leader in steals and its top all-around defender, represents a major issue for the Huskies. Jeter will patrol the paint, so Hurley will have his choice of lineups to combat the Wildcats’ frontcourt. Small lineups could stretch the floor and pull Luther away from the rim, but big lineups could keep Luther parked on one player the whole time, opening up opportunities for UConn guards to work one-on-one. Regardless of Hurley’s decisions, minimizing Luther’s impact on the game could be the key to the Huskies’ offensive success.
Sophomore Brandon Randolph is the top scorer, averaging nearly 17 points per game on the strength of his interior ability. In fact, he and Brandon Williams, the player with the next-highest scoring average, both exemplify a problem with Arizona’s offense—the Wildcats’ best players struggle to score from outside. Shooting only 31.7 percent from behind the arc, the only players with above-average shooting rates from three are Luther, who struggles to create his own shot, and Justin Coleman, an undersized point guard shorter than any UConn perimeter player.
Where Arizona has been fortunate is in its opponents’ collective 28 percent mark from three, which is a combination of good perimeter defense and good luck. This is an area UConn has to exploit. The Wildcats simply will not be able to score in bunches the same way the Huskies can when they’re hot. With Tyler Polley (36.4 percent), Christian Vital (37.1 percent), and Alterique Gilbert (46.9 percent) all threats from three, the Huskies can’t afford to pass up opportunities from deep.
Arizona’s two losses were to Gonzaga and Auburn, two very strong teams, and the Wildcats have already beaten a solid Iowa State team, so even in a down year for the storied program, Arizona will be tough to beat. If the Huskies can exploit their weaknesses—an inefficiently structured offense, mostly—they’ll have a chance to pick up another statement win in non-conference play.
What to look for
When UConn has the ball: How are Hurley’s lineups affecting play, and is he going big or small? Miller will never have fewer than three guards on the floor, which means Hurley will be able to structure his rotation ahead of time (unless the Huskies get into major foul trouble). Is UConn drawing Luther toward the perimeter or keeping him parked inside—or something else entirely? Can the Huskies draw enough fouls to get to Arizona’s bench (a shallow one) early?
When Arizona has the ball: Who is taking the bulk of the shots? Are they attacking from outside, or moving the ball to areas where their shooters are more successful? Do the Huskies pack in their defense more when Coleman is on the bench? When Arizona’s bench unit is on the floor, how does the UConn defense force the ball to weaker offensive players?
Where: XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut
When: 1 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network
REMINDER: After the game, head over to The Press at 187 Allyn Street in Hartford for a FREE game watch for the UConn women’s basketball game against Notre Dame hosted by The UConn Blog!