So the good news is UConn isn’t the only team in this game coming off an embarrassing performance.
The bad news is that Florida (2-1) actually won its previous game, a six-point victory over Towson. Also that Towson is better than Saint Joseph’s, the team that beat the Huskies on Wednesday night. And perhaps most importantly, Florida is deeper and more skilled in every department than UConn.
I know, what an optimistic way to start a preview of the biggest game of the season so far. Some of that is realistic—this won’t be an easy game. Florida can run 10 deep of legitimate assets when everyone is healthy, and UConn (1-1) will only have nine scholarship athletes dressed for today’s game.
Beyond that, the Gators have a wealth of talent that goes beyond what the Huskies can offer. Freshman swingman Scottie Lewis could be a lottery pick after this season, big man Kerry Blackshear was the most sought-after transfer on the market this summer, and pass-first point guard Andrew Nembhard is one of the best distributors in the nation. Keyontae Johnson adds an additional scoring punch, Omar Payne is capable of leading the bench unit’s defense, and Tre Mann has the makeup of a freshman who’s ready to break out at any time.
But even with all that flattery, the Gators are still vulnerable. While their defense has looked solid so far, thanks to the presence of the experienced Blackshear, they’ve struggled to find the right shots. Mike White’s team has converted only 45.2 percent of their shots from inside the arc, and a remarkably low 23.7 percent of their shots from deep. This will improve in time, because the team is too talented to shoot like this all year, but it’s a worrying trend for White and a potential source of exploitation for Dan Hurley.
Shooting has not been among the Huskies’ issues so far this year, finding the net on 19 of their 48 attempts from three, and that’s with lead guard Alterique Gilbert seriously struggling so far. Gilbert, one of the team’s best players last year, has gotten off to a rotten start in his redshirt junior season, and his slump has seemed to come at the worst possible time, as the team is in need of on-court leadership right now.
Christian Vital has stepped up in the meantime, averaging 21.5 points over the team’s first two games, so far surpassing the 20 point threshold that no UConn player has maintained for an entire season since Kemba Walker. His two-way presence should prove a challenge for the Gators, who under White have always struggled against hard-nosed defenses like the one Vital commands.
An upset win will require a better game from Gilbert, but also for Josh Carlton to play a defensive game more in line with what he showed last season. He’s the only player on the roster who wouldn’t be giving up size to Florida’s leading scorer Blackshear, who has dominated the glass so far. The Gators often play four perimeter players at a time, and Blackshear can certainly step out and shoot, which means the size mismatches aren’t as pronounced as one might think. Other than Blackshear, only one other player taller than 6-foot-5 averages more than 10 minutes for the Gators, which means UConn wings Tyler Polley and Akok Akok will have the advantage when the Huskies have the ball.
The conditions are right for an upset. The Huskies just suffered an embarrassing close loss, and they’re at home for a key game against a struggling ranked team. A win would put UConn back on track as they look to build an NCAA Tournament resume.
Prediction: It’s a tight one, and Gilbert starts to come around to his normal self on offense, but Florida also snaps back to how they should be performing. UConn looks good in the loss, but Florida wins 75-71.
How to watch
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Connecticut
When: 3 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Radio Network