After an abysmal performance against Cincinnati in their American Athletic Conference opener, UConn looks to bounce back against USF at the Yuengling Center in Tampa, Florida.
The Huskies (9-4, 0-1 the American), were flat from the get-go against the Bearcats, who dominated UConn in the paint and forced 16 turnovers on the way to an easy 67-51 win. The performance was so deflating that head coach Dan Hurley is debating making changes to the lineup, meaning we could see new starters for the first time this season. Whether or not that change actually happens (and whether it makes a difference) remains to be seen, but UConn cannot play like they did in its first game of 2020 and expect to beat the Bulls.
Unlike some of UConn’s previous opponents, USF (7-7, 0-1 the American) has faced a moderately competitive schedule this season and has won all of the games they’ve been expected to win, outside of a 70-53 loss to IUPUI in November. Other than that, the Bulls have only lost to opponents within the top 150 on KenPom, including No. 18 Florida State close less than two weeks ago.
USF isn’t an offensive juggernaut, but head coach Brian Gregory has his team playing solid defense, ranking in the top 100 in defensive efficiency and excelling at limiting offensive rebounds from their opponents. Worst of all for UConn, the Bulls are one of the best teams in the country at forcing turnovers, ranking ninth in the country in turnover percentage on the defensive end.
After 16 turnovers in the loss to Cincinnati and a few games removed from 48-turnover stretch over two games in mid-December, keeping turnovers to a minimum will once again be a crucial factor for the Huskies to try and get the win. While UConn is the more talented team on paper, USF could easily capitalize on sloppy offensive play and hand the Huskies their second-straight conference loss. The Bulls got the best of them last year in Tampa.
Offensively, the Bulls are led by their backcourt of David Collins and Laquincy Rideau. Neither guard shoots the 3-pointer well, but are the only two Bulls averaging double figures at 14.5 and 12.9 points per game respectively. The duo combines for nearly 60 percent of USF’s offensive possessions, with Rideau serving as the main distributor with 4.1 assists per game. Rideau and Collins could also give the UConn backcourt some trouble on defense, with the two both ranking in the top 30 in steal percentage.
Outside of those two, Justin Brown, Xavier Castaneda and Ezacuras Dawson pick up the rest of the scoring load, with Castaneda and Dawson serving as the Bulls’ best shooting threats. And while USF doesn’t have a big man as talented as the Bearcats’ Chris Vogt, who torched UConn for 19 points on Wednesday, 7-foot sophomore Michael Durr is team’s leading rebounder and holds his own on the offensive glass.
Regardless of who starts and who doesn’t for UConn, the whole team just needs to simply play better than they did against Cincinnati to even have a chance at winning. While Christian Vital, Akok Akok, James Bouknight and Brendan Adams all had solid performances against the Bearcats, the Huskies need at least one of Tyler Polley, Alterique Gilbert and Josh Carlton bounce back against the Bulls. Polley in particular played just 16 minutes against Cincinnati, but could greatly benefit from getting more looks on offense - he’s shooting the ball especially well this year (41.5 percent from three), but is used less on offense than Sidney Wilson, who has played a total of eight minutes in the last three games.
Prediction: A new lineup injects some energy into the Huskies. They limit turnovers and do just enough to overpower the Bulls and pick up their first AAC win of the season. One of Adams or Bouknight slides into the starting lineup, but both take advantage of more playing time and play a key role in helping UConn to a 70-65 win on the road.
How to watch
Where: Yuengling Center - Tampa, Florida
When: 2:00 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Radio Network