After falling to 10-8 (1-3 in conference play) with a loss to Tulsa Wednesday night, UConn returns home to face a Tulane team that has yet to win an AAC game.
The Huskies were again rattled by foul trouble in their last loss, where they played well when Dan Hurley wasn’t forced to keep multiple starters on the bench. Against a team like Tulane, though, they’ll have a much better chance of winning, even if there is unexpected adversity.
Tulane (4-12, 0-4 AAC) might have kept certain games surprisingly close, such as its 11-point loss to Florida State, but its game log is even worse than the record might imply. Close wins against likely NCAA Tournament automatic bid winners such as Texas Southern and South Dakota State might eventually look better than they currently do, but the losses to Southeastern Louisiana, Towson, and Alabama A&M will continue to look embarrassing.
What looked like progress last season in the second year of Mike Dunleavy’s tenure as head coach, might have been an anomaly, as NBA-caliber players like Melvin Frazier don’t often come through Tulane. The team has seen attrition from a positive 2017-18, losing its top two scorers and missing solid role player Ray Ona Embo due to injury, but it’s clear that the step back Tulane has taken isn’t limited to just who isn’t on the court.
Who is on the court matters too, of course, and with Ona Embo on the sidelines, the Green Wave simply don’t have a single two-way player available. Caleb Daniels can create his own shot and freshman Buay Koka has shown defensive potential, but there aren’t many players Dunleavy can put on the floor that have a consistent positive impact.
The team as a whole has too many problems, but it starts with an offense that just isn’t good at anything. They don’t have outside shooters and struggle to find good looks on the inside, they don’t get offensive rebounds, their passing is just as likely to lead to a turnover as it is an assist, and on the off chance they do draw contact, they’re unlikely to put away their free throws at an efficient rate.
The passive defense isn’t much better, though it does at least minimize risk, which could make it even worse. They don’t ever steal the ball, but the Green Wave front line has at least been relatively effective at preventing easy interior buckets. That’s only in relation to their own ability, of course; their opposing two-point percentage is still worse than the national median. But, Tulane doesn’t foul very often, so they do have that going for them.
I’m obviously stretching for something, anything, to compliment the team about, but the best I can say is that the Green Wave aren’t terrible, they’re just merely very bad. That might not seem like much of a distinction, though I assure you I’m intending it to be, but it does mean this is one of the worst teams the Huskies will play all season long. Coming off a rough stretch in AAC play, that might be all they need to spark a turnaround.
What to look for
When UConn has the ball: I’ll be honest, if UConn doesn’t win this game, it’s time to pack up the season. Just keep an eye on who’s playing well.
When Tulane has the ball: Once again, this game should be an easy win, so if the Huskies can’t do it, it doesn’t really matter how they look on defense. Watch for whoever guards Daniels, I guess, because that’s who Hurley considers his top perimeter defender.
How to watch
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Connecticut
When: 2:00 p.m.
Note: Due to weather, the game was moved up to 2 p.m. and will not be televised live, but can be streamed using the link posted above. A full replay of the game will air at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network