UConn faces its last real test of 2019 as the Huskies travel to their home away from home to face a rebuilding Indiana team that doesn’t seem to have lost a step.
The Huskies (6-2) have won three-straight blowouts, a winning streak that isn’t likely to continue at the same scoring margin against a strong Hoosiers team that only just received its first loss of the year.
Dan Hurley’s squad is healthy again, with the much-improved Sidney Wilson returning from a minor injury in time to play limited minutes in last Wednesday’s win over Iona. Indiana is likely to be without sophomore guard Rob Phinisee, a sharpshooter who has represented much of the improvement for Archie Miller’s team.
After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, the Hoosiers (8-1) lost their top two scorers in Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford, the latter to the NBA Draft lottery. Despite entering the season with few players who looked ready to lead a top-25 team, Indiana is already verging on cracking the AP Poll, having blown out every opponent until a 20-point loss to Wisconsin on Saturday.
Leading the improvement so far has been Trayce Jackson-Davis, the star of Miller’s recruiting class. The freshman center leads his team in scoring, rebounding, and blocks, and is the type of two-way player you never expect to see out of a newcomer to college ball. He’s an impressive scorer on the inside and the focal point of the Indiana defense, which allows players like senior guard Devonte Green to thrive in expanded roles.
A large part of the team’s success is spreading the workload around, as nobody on the Hoosiers is so talented that they can afford any one player to get quite so much usage. The team chemistry and the balance of the roster provides a significant amount of the Hoosiers’ upside. This can lead to their highest peaks, but it also means they can be vulnerable on defense.
Facing a big man capable of shutting down the paint, the Huskies will need to hit their outside shots in order to get the win. Tyler Polley and Brendan Adams will play a big role in this department, but high-volume shooters like Christian Vital and Alterique Gilbert must also. Gilbert especially must break out of his long slump that began the season, though he seemed to turn it around in the Iona win.
For players like Josh Carlton and Akok Akok, their goal should be slowing down the Hoosiers’ inside game as much as possible. The Hoosiers can shoot too, but they do the majority of their damage on the interior, with an impressive 56.9 two-point percentage (good for 19th in the country), and attempting 267 free throws, a number bested by only one team in all of Division I.
The X-factor should be James Bouknight, who has so far shown the sort of spark that Indiana does not have coming off its bench. If UConn’s super-freshman is actually as good as he’s played in his first five games, he could be one of the Huskies’ best sixth men of all time, since players as good as him normally start. The value of a Bouknight can’t be overstated against teams that have depth in quantity more than quality.
Prediction: This is a pretty good matchup for the Huskies, all things considered, but the concern is if Jackson-Davis gets Carlton into foul trouble. The game should be relatively free-flowing, since Indiana’s defense isn’t a particularly aggressive one, but that puts all the more pressure on UConn’s ballhandlers. While the Huskies have looked good so far, and should be an NCAA Tournament team come March, the final stretches of the game could provide some issues. Indiana 72, UConn 67.
How to watch
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
When: 9:00 p.m. (but probably closer to 9:30 in actuality)
Radio: UConn IMG Radio Network