With their five-game losing streak dropping them below .500 for the first time all season, the Huskies look to start winning again as UConn travels to Wichita State for a conference battle.
UConn (13-14, 4-10 American) has seen its season slide away due to injuries to several players, most notably Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert. Gilbert is back on the court, but doesn’t look to be 100% just yet, and Adams remains sidelined. Despite promising performances from some young players not expected to play big roles this season, the team isn’t built to withstand losses to one key player, let alone two.
Wichita State (13-13, 6-8 AAC) may have lost to UConn earlier in the season, but the Huskies are a different team now, and the Shockers are hoping to get revenge at home. Gregg Marshall’s squad had a rough beginning to conference play, but has won five of its last seven, and looks as good as it has all year.
Of course, expectations have been tempered in Wichita. After seven straight seasons ending with NCAA Tournament berths, the Shockers aren’t achieving the same level of success as they once were. The roster has seen a lot of turnover, and after a trio of upperclassmen (two seniors and a junior), the key contributors are mostly freshmen. Compounding the issue is that two of the upperclassmen aren’t quite living up to expectations.
Markis McDuffie, though, is carrying the team on offense. The 6’8” senior is a versatile scorer and potential mismatch on both ends, being capable of shutting down opponents when focused defensively. Samajae Haynes-Jones, the other senior, is an okay player, but scoring inefficiently means he isn’t a good option to lead a team. Jaime Echenique, a junior center, is a good defensive player but offers little on offense.
The team as a whole has a lot of potential, with three freshman guards showing they’ll have value in the future. As UConn faithful can tell you, though, that doesn’t mean they currently have a big impact on wins. With Gilbert on the court again, and hopefully regaining more and more of his ability every day, the Huskies will have an advantage when it comes to depth.
That was the value to players like Sidney Wilson and Brendan Adams entering the starting lineup when the Huskies were so shorthanded; getting them experience against other teams’ starting units. The steady play of Tarin Smith can combine with the aggressiveness of Gilbert and Christian Vital to create a balanced backcourt, with Wilson’s and Adams’ midseason improvements quickly becoming assets off the bench.
Wichita State is another team dependent on its offensive rebounding bailing out poor overall shooting, which means Josh Carlton could be crucial once again. The Huskies will have several opportunities to pick up their first true road win of the season; it’s just a matter of executing the gameplan correctly.
What to look for
When UConn has the ball: In a game where the bench will have a big impact, can one of the Huskies’ reserves step up to make a difference? Can Tyler Polley continue to be a floor-spacer, creating a mismatch for the Shockers? Does Gilbert’s shooting return to form?
When Wichita State has the ball: How do the Huskies combat the larger guards in the Shockers lineup? UConn may have the better bench, but Wichita State’s is larger; do the Huskies get worn out against Marshall’s ten- or eleven-man rotation? Does the Shockers’ ball movement continue to stall, or do they show sharper passing against the Huskies?
How to watch
Where: Wichita, NE
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network