UConn will have a chance to defeat an NCAA Tournament bubble team as it heads to Philadelphia to face Temple on Wednesday evening.
The Huskies (13-9, 4-5 American) improved their record with a big victory over East Carolina on Sunday, which they hope will carry over into a winning streak, beginning tonight. With Alterique Gilbert still nursing a minor shoulder injury, Dan Hurley’s lineup may still be limited, but quality play from his teammates in the previous win showed that the UConn roster is capable of playing well with or without him.
Gilbert’s absence and the second-half benching of Jalen Adams left UConn without two of its top three scorers, but depth options became a key component in the win. Josh Carlton finished with career highs in scoring and rebounding, Tyler Polley scored off the dribble, Tarin Smith steadied the team with heady play and Sidney Wilson was perfect off the bench.
That formula may not be able to repeat itself, but the return of Adams (and potentially Gilbert, whose status has not yet been formally announced) will provide some relief to the Huskies, who will need more help against Temple, a far better team than East Carolina.
Temple (16-6, 6-3) is firmly on the bubble on every bracketologist’s board and the Owls see tonight’s game as an opportunity to improve its standing. Fran Dunphy has only led his team to one NCAA Tournament in the previous five seasons and the Philadelphia icon is itching for a return to the big dance.
His team is built around balance but the Owls’ shooting has notably improved since the start of their conference schedule. Out of AAC play, the Owls shot .296 from three, which was one of the worst percentages in Division I. Against teams in the American, the Owls shoot .372 from deep.
That’s partially why a team who played close games against several inferior opponents was able to improve to beating Houston for the Cougars’ only loss of the season. Behind a backcourt of Shizz Alston, Quinton Rose, and Nate Pierre-Louis, the Owls developed into a team competing with high-level opponents instead of playing down to mid-level ones.
Efficiency is still a problem. Alston struggles to score on the interior while Rose and Pierre-Louis are inconsistent from beyond the arc, leaving the floor-spacing to unproven three-point specialist J.P. Moorman, the team’s sixth man. Alston, a quality point guard, leads the team’s turnover-averse style, which might be the most important component of the Owls’ offense.
While their defense isn’t considerably better than the offense, it will have a bigger impact in tonight’s game. The Owls are a steal machine, swiping possessions away from opponents regularly, averaging over 8.5 per game since the start of conference play. The Huskies, especially without Gilbert, have a tendency to give the ball away, so ball control must be the highest priority.
Temple’s defense doesn’t rely on the standout play of individuals, as Dunphy runs a team-oriented style that the entire roster has bought into. Given the Owls’ short rotation—the team is not deep—that means the Huskies won’t have any periods of relief, but it also means they won’t lose by skill differential alone.
The Owls’ recent upward trend has the Huskies on high alert, but a positive result with two key contributors on the bench has also led to optimism among the UConn squad. In a tough road environment, the Huskies will have an opportunity to prove they can hang with the AAC’s best.
What to look for
When UConn has the ball: Against a team dependent on takeaways, how conservative does the gameplan get? Does the careful Tarin Smith become the primary ballhandler instead of Adams, who has had problems with turnovers this year? Do the Huskies aggressively drive the lane and draw contact to force Temple to shorten its rotations even further?
When Temple has the ball: The Owls are much bigger than the Huskies around the perimeter; how does Hurley match up his team on defense? Do we see Hurley run out different lineups than usual in order to combat those mismatches? Can the Huskies combat an increasingly predictable—though increasingly effective—offense?
How to watch
Where: Liacouras Center, Philadelphia, PA
When: 6 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network