UConn hopes to snap a four-game losing streak as the Huskies host to Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon.
Despite the return of Alterique Gilbert from injury, the Huskies struggled to score in Thursday’s loss to SMU. UConn made only 21 of its 70 field goal attempts, en route to one of the Huskies’ worst offensive performances of the year. The inefficiency, which Dan Hurley is surely hoping is merely a slump rather than a trend, comes at a troubling time as the Huskies had recently looked to be righting the ship.
They’ll have to be better against the Bearcats (22-4, 11-2 American), who continue to have one of the toughest defenses in the nation. Mick Cronin’s squad lost a lot of talent from last season, so despite the same tactics and physicality, Cincinnati does have weak areas. In particular, the perimeter defense isn’t quite as tough as usual, allowing opponents to get more open 3-pointers than desired; the Huskies converted 11 such attempts during these teams’ previous meeting, an overtime thriller in January.
Cincinnati has won 10 of its last 11 contests, however, and teams with many holes don’t have streaks that successful. Accordingly, the Bearcats have very few. In fact, the lapses in perimeter defense (often on the weak side, to be fair to them) might be their only true weakness. Their interior scoring might leave a little to be desired, but a large part of that is because of the team’s excellent offensive rebounding; when they miss from close, they’re incredibly likely to get another chance.
Meanwhile, the Bearcats have the same strengths they’ve had for a long time under Cronin’s tutelage. They play a disciplined but physical style of basketball that frustrates opponents without racking up fouls, their ball movement is purposeful and effective, and they supplement their skills with a barrage of players who can knock down an open three.
If it sounds like a formula, that’s because it is one, and that’s partially why a healthy UConn team was nearly able to take down Cincinnati on the road despite a massive disparity in free throw attempts. A formula, no matter how successful, creates predictable play, and a smart, well-executed gameplan can give the formula trouble.
Cincinnati’s aim, which hasn’t changed in nearly a decade, has been trying to make it impossible for its opponent to execute the gameplan correctly. The Bearcats control the tempo, limit turnovers, push around the opposition, and do other little things that can take teams out of games. This is why Cronin has often played unorthodox lineups — overwhelming the opponent is more important than cohesion.
In order for the Huskies to will, they’ll have to make their shots. I’m not worried about the defense now that Gilbert is in the lineup again; his presence takes a lot of the workload off Christian Vital and helps make sure nobody else is stretched too thin. However, the shooting has been streaky all season and a recurrence of the previous game’s performance is just as likely as a return to form. The Huskies are still playing a man down with Jalen Adams sidelined, but an upset is certainly possible. It’s Cincinnati.
What to look for
When UConn has the ball: Does Gilbert reintegrate himself within the recent, Vital-centric offense, or do the Huskies revert back to the style they played when healthy? Can Sidney Wilson become more effective when taking fewer shots? Can the team get anything out of Eric Cobb in a hinge role in the post?
When Cincinnati has the ball: Who becomes the secondary scorer after Jarron Cumberland? Does the wildly underperforming Cane Broome break out against the Huskies?
How to watch
Where: XL Center, Hartford, CT
When: 2 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network