clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Preview: UConn men’s basketball vs. DePaul | Dec. 30, 9 p.m., CBSSN

The Huskies are back in action after their holiday break.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament-Xavier vs DePaul Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch

When: 9 p.m. Eastern

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: UConn Radio Network

Line: UConn -8.5, O/U 143.5

KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 75, DePaul 68

After weeks of fake-outs, new conference schedule releases and plenty of positive COVID tests, although thankfully none from UConn’s camp, the Huskies are primed and ready to resume their Big East schedule Wednesday night against DePaul.

The Blue Demons, led by former Huskies assistant Dave Leitao, haven’t had the most auspicious start to their season so far. They weren’t even able to get off the ground running in November, as COVID-19 shut down the program well into December. The program’s first 10 games of the season were postponed or canceled, and they weren’t able to kick off their campaign until December 23 against Western Illinois - the date the Huskies were originally supposed to travel to Chicago before the Connecticut Department of Public Health advised against it.

The results so far this year haven’t been the nightmare you’d expect from a lower-tier Big East team coming off a near-month-long COVID pause. After coming out on top in a 91-72 tune-up against Western Illinois, the Blue Demons kicked off their 2020-21 Big East campaign with the furthest conference trip for them possible, away at Providence. The Friars, who had considerably more minutes on the court than DePaul, were able to dispatch their opponents, but needed double overtime to do so in a 95-90 win over the Blue Demons.

DePaul’s resume so far, along with their COVID woes, gives us more questions than answers. The preseason coaches’ poll tabbed them near the bottom of the Big East, so coming close to knocking off Providence away from home might be a signal that they’re overachieving this year. On the other hand, although it’s a very small sample size, DePaul has been remarkably mediocre on both offense and defense, ranking in the mid-80’s in both per KenPom, stats that put them near the bottom of the Big East.

If they are to escape the Big East basement this year, forward Romeo Weems will be a big reason why. The 6-foot-7 sophomore played well in 2019 and has undeniable talent, but was a streaky shooter for most of last year. He has a big wingspan, athleticism and scoring potential, but still has to prove it for the entirety of a season. He got a good start on that on Sunday in his first game of the season, with 21 points, seven rebounds and two steals off the bench, pushing Providence to the limit.

Weems will be joining a core led by guard Charlie Moore, a 2019 transfer from Kansas who makes the team tick, leading the team in both points (20.5) and assists (6.5) per game. Pegged by many as a breakout star along with Weems, the Blue Demons will go as Moore goes in 2020.

Next to Moore in the starting lineup is transfer Javon Freeman-Liberty, who earned a host of All-MVC awards with Valparaiso. He’s had a torrid start to the 2020 season, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three, and is a dogged defender, leading the MVC in steals during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Filling out the starters are sophomore guard Oscar Lopez, another transfer in wing Ray Salnave and center Nick Ongdena, who dominated against Western Illinois, but shrunk somewhat against Providence. Off the bench, expect freshman guard Kobe Elvis to make an impact along with Weems

What to watch for

When UConn has the ball

Once again, it’s been nearly a two-week break since UConn's last game, and rust might rear its ugly head again like it did against Creighton. One positive consequence of the long break, however, is the return of Tyler Polley to the team; he missed the Creighton game while clearing COVID-19 protocols. Is he the missing piece to a UConn offense that struggled at times against Creighton, settling for heaved threes and awkward shots?

James Bouknight is always can't-miss television when the Huskies are on offense, and tonight should be no different. R.J. Cole had an extremely rough shooting night against Creighton, will he be able to turn it around against lighter opposition? In addition, UConn’s front court is much bigger and deeper than DePaul’s, so look for a rotation of Sanogo and Carlton to repeatedly run at Ongenda until he cries uncle.

When DePaul has the ball

DePaul loves to run a super small-ball lineup to start the game — every starter besides their towering center Ongenda is 6-foot-4 or shorter — and love to rain down threes, jacking up 44 of them in their first two games and making them at a blazing 45.2 percent clip. On the other side, UConn has held opponents to 28.2 percent from beyond the arc, so something has to give. UConn could stack up on length in their lineups to combat the three ball, or they could do what they did against Creighton and play small-ball, three- or four-guard lineups.

Final prediction

DePaul has solid talent in Weems and Moore, and they would love to turn this game into a track meet, while UConn needs to guard well beyond the arc. DePaul’s defense has been uninspiring in a limited sample size, while UConn has had a few games to mesh in that area. I think Bouknight and the Huskies will be too much for DePaul in just their second conference game of the year.

UConn 75, DePaul 68