How to watch
When: 6:00 p.m. Eastern
Radio: UConn Radio Network
Line: UConn -5.5, O/U 140.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 73, DePaul 67
For the second time in two weeks, UConn and DePaul will face off as the Huskies will be playing at Wintrust Arena in Chicago for the first time in program history. When these two programs faced off on Dec. 30, UConn dominated from start to finish as the Huskies picked up an 82-61 win at Gampel Pavilion. Tyrese Martin led all scorers with a season-high 22 points on 9-15 shooting while sophomore star James Bouknight added 20 points in the win. The Blue Demons shot just 38 percent from the floor with only two players — Nick Ongenda and Darius Hall — reaching double figures.
Since then, DePaul has played one game, a 76-68 loss to Seton Hall to fall to 1-3 on the season and 0-3 in the Big East. UConn, meanwhile, used the win over the Blue Demons to rebound from a close overtime loss to No. 9 Creighton. After taking down DePaul, the Huskies rattled off two more wins — surmounting an 18-point deficit to defeat Marquette and handily defeating Butler four days later — to enter the national conversation as a team that deserves a top 25 ranking.
In DePaul’s loss to Seton Hall, the Blue Demons once again had just two scorers in double figures in Ongenda and Javon Freeman-Liberty, who had a game-high 22 points. Point guard Charlie Moore, who was one of the most prolific scorers in the conference last season, has struggled after getting off to a hot start in his first two games. The Chicago native scored just eight points against UConn and seven points against Seton Hall after scoring a total of 41 points in the first two games of the season. With another matchup against the Huskies and an elite on-ball defender in RJ Cole looming, Moore might have a tough time breaking out of his scoring slump.
For UConn, Dan Hurley and the Huskies might be without Bouknight for the second straight game as he recovers from a hyperextended elbow suffered at the end of the first half against Marquette. Hurley said Bouknight is once again a game-time decision after being ruled out for the Butler game. While Bouknight’s absence certainly would make things more difficult for the Huskies, they’ve shown they can handle teams of DePaul’s caliber without him, riding solid performances from Martin, Tyler Polley, and Isaiah Whaley to take down Butler and come back in the second half against Marquette.
What to watch for
When UConn has the ball
Can Polley remain the hottest shooter on planet earth? Polley has scored 42 points in his last 60 minutes of basketball and is shooting over 60 percent from beyond the arc on 15 attempts. If Bouknight is out once again, Polley should be attempting 8-10 threes with the way he’s been shooting of late.
After being held scoreless against Marquette, Martin looked more like his usual self against Butler, scoring 15 points and dominating the boards with a team-high seven rebounds. Can he put together another strong performance like he did two weeks earlier against DePaul?
DePaul is one of the best teams in the country in block percentage and swatted five shots against UConn in December. On Dec. 30, Whaley and Sanogo were non-factors, scoring just four total points and Whaley spent most of the game in foul trouble. Only Josh Carlton (11 points, 10 rebounds) was able to get anything going down low. The Husky bigs need to improve on that, especially if Bouknight is out.
When DePaul has the ball
Dave Leitao and DePaul have some real talent in Freeman-Liberty and Ongenda, and will probably need both to once again reach double figures to have a shot at defeating the Huskies. Can Moore snap out of his shooting funk to be the scoring spark they desperately need? Moore is just 7-24 from the field (29 percent) in his last two games and will have his work cut out for him going up against Cole.
The Blue Demons also shoot the ball relatively well from deep (37.8 percent), but usually don’t rely on it as a big part of their offensive gameplay, ranking 325th in 3-point attempt frequency. Will Moore (38.1 percent from three), Romeo Weems (6-10 from three), and Kobe Elvis (6-9 from deep) let it fly a little bit more to try and pull off the upset?
With or without Bouknight, UConn is the more talented team. If Polley’s shots keep falling, it should open up space for others to make plays. Akok Akok may once again see an increase in minutes as he returns from his Achilles injury. He looked understandably slow at times, especially on defense, but still will be a tremendous help to this UConn team on both ends. If Bouknight is out, the offense may get stagnant at times, as it is known to do, but the Huskies’ defense should keep them in it even if things get ugly. Cole keeps Moore in check for a second time. Ongenda and Freeman-Liberty get their points, but not enough to keep the game tight.
UConn 72, DePaul 61