How to watch
When: 8 p.m. Eastern
TV: CBS Sports
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Line: UConn -21.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 84, Hartford 61
In their season opener against Central Connecticut, UConn played about as well as expected. After a rough first half where the Huskies showed some understandable rust, UConn (1-0) rolled past an improved, but still low-end of Division 1, CCSU team for a 102-75 win.
Against the Blue Devils, UConn’s talent advantage was clear. James Bouknight (20 points, eight rebounds, three steals) was on a different level compared to everyone else on the floor, but the Huskies also got legitimate contributions from RJ Cole (17 points, six assists) and a strong bench performance from Brendan Adams, who scored 15 points and made three of his five 3-point attempts. Sharpshooting senior Tyler Polley also looked like his old self in his first game back from a torn ACL, scoring 14 points and adding seven boards.
But while Bouknight, Cole, Adams and Polley powered the offense, the most surprising performance came from freshman big man Adama Sanogo. The freshman took advantage of the opponent’s small lineup and delivered a strong debut on both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-9 forward scored eight points, showing delicate touch and a respectable post game with the ability to finish with either hands. He also showed that his reputation as a high motor player was as advertised, bringing a ton of energy off the bench and pulling down seven rebounds in 17 minutes.
UConn takes on the University of Hartford next, who does not have much more size but should be a small step up in talent from what CCSU had to offer. The Hawks haven’t kicked off their 2020-21 season yet, but do return over 75 percent of their offensive production from last season. Big man Hunter Marks, Hartford’s leading scorer and rebounder last season, poses as a decent test for the UConn frontcourt Friday night.
Marks isn’t afraid to stretch the floor, shooting 33 percent from three last season on over four attempts per game. The Huskies certainly have the size and bodies to throw at Marks, even with Akok Akok still absent, but Marks may be a good litmus test for how UConn handles floor-stretching bigs like Sandro Mamukelashvili of Seton Hall and Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl in the Big East.
Hartford also returns assists and steals leader Traci Carter, who started 19 games as a freshman at Marquette in 2015 before transferring to La Salle in 2018, then to Hartford last season. Carter led America East in assists last season (162) and ranked sixth nationally with 83 steals. For a UConn team that was sloppy with the ball in the first half against CCSU, Carter could pick up right where he left off and force some early turnovers.
Aside from Marks and Carter, head coach John Gallagher landed another intriguing transfer in Jakub Dombek, a 6-foot-11 forward who played sparingly at Colorado before heading to UHart, and gives the Hawks some significant size to pair with Marks, a potentially significant advantage in America East play. After going 18-15 last season, Gallagher and the Hawks could easily improve their record if Marks and Carter continue to play well and Dombek or fellow transfer Austin Williams become steady contributors.
What to watch for
When UConn has the ball: Does Sanogo build off of his solid debut against opponents with more size like Marks and Dombek? Also, Tyrese Martin is back after a one-game suspension, and is likely to be making his Husky debut Friday night. It will be interesting to see how his minutes play out. Carlton played sparingly in the opener after being a starter for every single game in the Hurley era — will his limited playing time be a trend or an aberration?
Lastly, Hartford was exceptional defending against 3-pointers last season — ranking second in the country in opponent 3-point percentage at 27.5 percent and first in KenPom at 27.2 percent. There are signs UConn might be a better perimeter shooting team this year. Does UHart continue its 3-point stopping powers or can UConn continue to establish itself as a better shooting team?
When Hartford has the ball:
Hurley called Jackson one of the few players to bring defensive intensity in the win over CCSU. While Jackson looked nervous and a little out of sorts on offense, he can still bring a ton of instant value with strong performances on defense and on the boards using his incredible athleticism. If he continues his strong defensive play, it might be enough to earn more minutes even if he can’t get it going on the offensive end.
Hartford’s Marks won’t be the most talented player UConn faces all season, but poses a matchup problem that was usually solved by Akok prior to his Achilles injury, Can Whaley or Polley step up and keep Marks in check? Will Sanogo be able to guard bigs like Marks and Dombek for stretches without being plagued by foul trouble?
Like Christian Vital without the offense, Carter is a tenacious defender with a knack for steals. Cole did a solid job adjusting from primary scorer at Howard to a distributor in game one with six assists, but also led the team with four turnovers. Will Carter exacerbate this problem or was Cole just shaking off more than a year of rust after sitting out last season?
Prediction: If the UConn team that played in the second half shows up against UHart for all 40 minutes, this one shouldn’t be close. Bouknight continues to be way better than everyone else in Gampel Pavilion, and Martin eats into Adams’ minutes in his UConn debut, using his physicality to wear down the Hawks. Whaley and Sanogo put up another solid game, while Jackson continues to flex his impressive athleticism on both sides of the ball, even while his offensive game develops. UConn 90, Hartford 68