UConn men’s basketball got plenty of rest while preparing for their first game in a week, and they’re expected to be fresh when they take on Wichita State at Gampel Pavilion on Saturday evening.
UConn (11-8, 2-4 American) recovered from a two-game losing streak with a big win over Tulane on Saturday, which Dan Hurley and his squad hope to extend into a two-game winning streak. A shooting slump combined with an unusually high number of opposing free throws caused the Huskies to falter early in conference play, but their latest victory reversed both trends, giving the team hope their worst days are behind them.
Wichita State (8-10, 1-5 AAC), meanwhile, is on pace for its worst season in a decade, Gregg Marshall’s first at the reins. The Shockers have made the NCAA Tournament in seven straight seasons, none of which ended with double-digit losses, a total they’ve already reached.
After playing some moderate success during the non-conference schedule, including wins over Providence and Baylor, the Shockers have lost six of their last seven, with the lone win coming in an upset over UCF. Marshall’s team is healthy, so the reason for the sudden plummet isn’t injury. In fact, it might just be a previously-overachieving team regressing to their true level of ability.
While Hurley can’t assume that’s the case, Wichita State’s play does indicate the team has significant problems. Chief among them is the lack of floor spacing and poor outside shooting; the Shockers are .305 from three on the season. There was a lot of turnover from last year’s successful team, leading to Markis McDuffie overtaking a leadership role by default. While he struggled on offense as a junior, he’s thrived with the added workload as a senior. It’s everyone else who’s the problem on offense.
Well, almost everyone else. Semajae Haynes-Jones, the team’s only other senior, also has a positive offensive box plus-minus (a measure of how an individual’s offensive play affects the team’s score over the course of a game, compared to an average player). Even center Jaime Echenique, an efficient scorer when he puts the ball up, turns the ball over too often and doesn’t create opportunities for others.
The team is stronger on the defensive end but even that comes with reservations. McDuffie is no longer the go-to stopper he was as an underclassman, perhaps because of his increased offensive focus. Echenique and freshman guard Erik Stevenson, the team’s sixth man, will be the toughest matchups for the Huskies, as both regularly contribute production from their own end.
Since the Shockers’ offense struggles overall, the defense, even when good, typically isn’t enough to make up for the slow scoring. They simply need more than they’ve been getting, and their poor play has become consistent at this point. With a coach as sharp as Marshall, though, that could mean they’re primed for a breakout. Maintaining a creative, effective gameplan will be imperative for Hurley and the Huskies tonight.
What to watch for
When UConn has the ball: One way or another, this game will be determined by mismatches: Are the Huskies taking advantage of them or failing to exploit them? Does Jalen Adams stay hot from the floor? Is Tyler Polley done with his shooting slump? And most importantly, can the penetrative play from the Huskies’ guards create issues for Echenique, either through foul trouble or by pulling him away from the basket?
When Wichita State has the ball: Who is McDuffie’s second option? Haynes-Jones is undersized and not exactly efficient, which plays right into the hands of a stalwart perimeter defender like Christian Vital. Does Marshall try to stretch his bench, or does he rely on a hot hand to support his starters? Will there even be a hot hand to ride?
How to watch
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT
When: 6 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network