Back at .500 after a win over South Florida, UConn seeks to regain a winning record in a nationally-televised evening contest at No. 22 Wichita State.
The Huskies’ first matchup with the Shockers this season resulted in a closer-than-expected 10-point loss for UConn, where they had opportunities, but Wichita State’s shooting was too much to overcome for a team that hadn’t yet found its best lineups. With the Shockers struggling at points since their earlier meeting, perhaps a better-prepared UConn side could catch them by surprise.
Wichita State’s bread and butter is their offensive efficiency, the product of strong team shooting ability and a strategy that sees the Shockers maximize their scoring opportunities. They shoot a high rate of 3-pointers, and they make most of them, with their 37.5 3-point percentage ranking first in the American Athletic Conference. Sharpshooters like Landry Shamet (the team’s star player), Conner Frankamp and Austin Reaves are capable of hitting multiple deep shots per game, and four other rotation players - though less frequent shooters - convert their attempts at an above-average rate.
As if that isn’t good enough, the Shockers make the majority of their shots from the inside too. Wichita big men Shaquille Morris, Darral Willis Jr, and Rauno Nurger get success on the bulk of their scoring opportunities, creating an offensive environment that’s hard for any opponent to defend. They also feature one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation in Rashard Kelly, who ranks second in Division I in offensive rebounding percentage.
Wichita State is solid on defense too, and while it isn’t the team’s biggest strength, they’re more than capable of shutting down opposing attacks. Their best defensive lineup features Kelly, Morris, and defensive specialist Zach Brown, and Shamet can be a perimeter stopper when called upon. The Wichita State defense isn’t the main reason the Shockers are ranked No. 22 in the country, but it’s just another asset on an already strong team.
The Huskies are not likely to score an upset on the road, given their struggles while away from home, but if there’s an opportunity to be taken, it can be found when reviewing the results of their home loss to the Shockers. UConn played good interior defense, thanks to the work of Josh Carlton and Isaiah Whaley, and that’s something that can be repeated, but they’ll have to play more than they did on Dec. 30. UConn frequently loses the rebounding battle when Carlton isn’t in the game like we saw against South Florida, and he might need to see more minutes than he’s been getting (barring foul trouble).
The Huskies also can’t let Jalen Adams and Terry Larrier dominate every possession either. In the home game against Wichita State, they combined for 40 of UConn’s 62 field goal attempts, taking 20 each. Larrier scored 18 points on his 20 attempts, and Adams only 14. While there’s value to volume shooters, that level of inefficiency can’t carry UConn against an offense so skilled from behind the arc. Christian Vital didn’t fare much better either, scoring 10 points on his 11 field goal attempts, but he attacked the basket as usual and picked up seven extra points at the line.
The return of Eric Cobb could help bolster the UConn rebounding, as could the emergence of Carlton as a player capable of playing well with starters’ minutes. They’ll still need a great overall effort in order to beat a team as good as Wichita State, though. While I might be more optimistic than any about their chances on the road tonight—I think it’s mostly a favorable matchup for UConn—it’s still unlikely that they’ll come away with the upset.
PREDICTION: Wichita State 74, UConn 62