On Saturday, the Huskies (7-3) play their first of two tune-up games leading up to a major Dec. 22 game against Villanova. These tune-up games have not provided much of a challenge so far, none finishing with a single-digit scoring margin, but they allow Dan Hurley to make adjustments for upcoming games before they even start, as well as giving the team practice and experience for the later tough contests.
Manhattan, meanwhile, could use both practice and experience. The Jaspers (2-7) rank 319th out of 353 Division I teams in Ken Pomeroy’s vital adjusted efficiency margin metric, reflecting a season that can only be characterized by their struggles.
While the Jaspers’ defense isn’t even that bad—it’s about average—it’s their offense that drags them toward the depths of college basketball. The team shoots only .306 from three, and .399 from inside. When you combine that with a team that plays at a pace so slow that calling it “glacial” would make you consider the effects of global warming, you get the team that scores the fewest points per game in the nation.
Manhattan, in fact, seems to be allergic to scoring points. Outside of three-point specialist Tyler Reynolds (who is 0-5 from inside the arc), there aren’t any scoring options. Top scorer Pauly Paulicap, the only player averaging double figures, hasn’t attempted a three in his two seasons with the Jaspers. Neither has their second-leading scorer.
When players have certain ranges that they exclusively shoot from, your offense becomes predictable. This might explain why the Jaspers’ best shooters are never at the free throw line, leading to a nation-worst .539 free throw percentage.
Suffice to say, this is not what you want. Head coach Steve Masiello has seen success at every other stop of his career—he won a national championship as a player with Kentucky in 1998, and was an assistant coach on Rick Pitino’s staff at Louisville before Manhattan—which makes his current offense even more puzzling.
Thankfully for this writer, the defense is considerably better, which means I don’t have to come to terms with their enigmatically inefficient scoring. While the rotations are so fluid that it’s almost impossible to tell which players are starters and which are bench players, there are several defensive contributors getting a reasonable amount of playing time. Leading minutes-getter Ebube Ebube, in fact, is a quite solid interior defender, and freshmen Christian Hinckson and Elijah Buchanan create steals in the passing lanes.
The defense shouldn’t trouble the Huskies too much, even with their recent turnover troubles. Even if the game is ultimately low-scoring, there’s a good chance that’s because of pace limiting the amount of possessions. The Huskies have major advantages in size, versatility, and offensive ability; all they’ll need to do in order to win is exploit those.
What to look for
When UConn has the ball: Are they turning the ball over less against a weaker team? This could show whether or not the turnover issue is one of process rather than one of on-the-fly decision-making. Are the guards looking to keep Josh Carlton and Eric Cobb involved with the offense? Does Isaiah Whaley, who has only seen playing time in tune-up games so far, continue to play well in the minutes he sees?
When Manhattan has the ball: Are Reynolds and Thomas Capuano getting open looks from three? Seemingly the only way Manhattan could win is if these two get opportunities to shoot the ball far more often than they have been.
How to watch
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT
When: 8 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network