Over the past two games, the UConn men’s basketball team has played some of its best basketball but has nothing to show for it other than two losses. Even after losing Tyler Polley for the season with a torn ACL, the Huskies fought back from a nine-point deficit with over a minute left to take No. 23 Wichita State to double overtime, but couldn’t pull out the win. Six days later, UConn hung with - and outplayed for stretches - No. 14 Villanova on the road, but couldn’t string enough big plays together to come out on top.
While those two losses to ranked teams dropped UConn to 10-7, it’s hard to be too negative about their performances. In both games, the Huskies showed flashes of their potential, making stops on defense, scoring in transition, and cranking up the pressure with a full court press to speed opponents up.
Even though UConn hasn’t shot the ball well from deep, shooting 13-45 (28.8 percent) from three in the past two games, some of that can be chalked up to losing their best perimeter player in Polley.
Another part can be summed by the fact that between Wichita State and Villanova, the Huskies have faced some of their toughest competition all season in back-to-back games. Unfortunately for UConn, it doesn’t get any easier as the Huskies head to Houston to take on the No. 25 Cougars and wrap up this brutal three-game stretch of ranked opponents.
Houston (14-4, 4-1 the American), handled Wichita State easily on the road last Saturday with a 65-54 victory for arguably their best win of the season. Outside of a surprising road loss to Tulsa, the Cougars three other losses have all come against opponents in the top 80 in KenPom and have overall been as good as advertised, staking their claim as one of the American’s top teams.
A big reason for Houston’s success this season is their hyper-efficient offense. The Cougars rank 12th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, largely due to their ability to dominate the glass. Houston ranks second national in offensive rebound percentage, something that could pose a major problem for the Huskies, who have struggled mightily at times keeping opponents off the glass.
Nate Hinton, a 6-foot-5 small forward, leads Houston with 9.7 rebounds per game and is one of four Cougars averaging double figures at 11.6 points per game. Outside of Hinton, big man Chris Harris Jr. is another menace on the boards, ranking No. 12 nationally in offensive rebound percentage. He’s also the leading shotblocker on a team that rivals UConn in shotblocking ability - the Cougars rank just three spots behind UConn nationally in block percentage at 16.6 percent.
Prediction: UConn puts together another solid performance, but can’t do enough to get by the Cougars as Hinton, Grimes and Harris are too much to handle on offense. The Huskies go through their brutal three-game stretch with three losses, but have some confidence and are trending in the right direction heading into a softer spot of their conference slate.
How to watch
Where: The Fertitta Center, Houston, Texas
When: 9 p.m. ET
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network