How to watch
When: 8:30 p.m. Eastern
Radio: UConn Radio Network
Line: UConn -6.0
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 66, Butler 58
As UConn meets Butler for a second time in two weeks this Tuesday in Gampel Pavilion, the two programs could not be on more different trajectories.
The Huskies were without star James Bouknight when they entered Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 9, but were still able to come away with a 72-60 win over the Bulldogs, and it looked like they’d be able to limp through Bouknight’s 2-4 week absence without their main man. These thoughts were bolstered after the Huskies ground out a close win at DePaul, but after a loss to St. Johns and falling to Creighton for the second time this season, the Huskies are in a bit of a downward spiral at the moment.
Bouknight’s absence has definitely been felt on the offensive end on UConn’s two-game losing streak; the Huskies have shot just 38.2 percent from the floor during that span, and although their offensive rebounding dominance has afforded them plenty of second chances at a bucket, you can’t expect to gain any ground when you’re letting your opponents shoot 50 percent from the floor and giving up 74 points twice in a row. Bouknight will miss a fifth-straight game on Tuesday, and Dan Hurley’s Huskies need to manage without him.
“Obviously, when you lose one of the best players in the country and you’re in year three of rebuilding a program and you’ve now gone up in level significantly in a conference, this is not an easy situation,” Hurley said in availability Monday. “But we did win three in a row basically without him.”
Meanwhile, after a torrid 3-7 start to the season, Butler has seen the reverse turn in fortune, winning two games off the bounce, one 70-66 overtime thriller against Creighton and a 67-53 destruction of current conference punching bag DePaul.
What to watch for
When UConn has the ball
Who's going to step up with Bouknight out for the foreseeable future? Hurley didn't mince words in his pregame press conference, calling on the senior members of the team to help the Huskies through this slump without their star player.
Tyler Polley has shown flashes of red-hot shooting in this stretch without Bouknight, but has faltered recently with just 19 points in his past three games, including a 0-point showing against Creighton. Hurley mentioned his need to improve his movement off the ball in order to get open enough to heat up like he did during the stretch of games that won him the Big East Player of the Week. RJ Cole is another player who could heed the call. He showed signs of stepping up in Bouknight's absence in the Creighton and St. Johns losses as the Huskies’ offensive leader over that stretch with 32 points and 10 assists.
Elsewhere in the squad, young guns Jalen Gaffney and Brendan Adams are definitely ones to monitor. Gaffney hasn't played more than 20 minutes in a game since his last meeting with Butler, and hasn't yet developed into the playmaking guard that Hurley envisioned in the beginning of the year. Hurley, meanwhile, wants to see Gaffney on the floor for 20-25 minutes a night, acting more in that playmaking role.
When Butler has the ball
UConn's offense has had its struggles over the past two games, but it's nothing compared to how dreadful their defense has been. Creighton and St. Johns made a combined 50 percent of their shots and 37.1 percent of their threes against the Huskies, and a lot of their defensive struggles have come due to lack of depth — Hurley only has nine healthy players at the moment, so he's unable to tinker with defensive lineups as much as he wants to, in practice or games.
Expect guard Aaron Thompson to bomb away from deep just like he did in his first meeting with UConn — he’s averaging over seven attempts from three per game — and backcourt partner Jair Bolden to drive to the basket and kick to open teammates.
Without Bouknight, it’s been tough sledding for the Huskies over the past two games. They looked competent against Marquette and DePaul when the shots were falling, and when they weren’t against Creighton and St. John’s, the games devolved into a nasty slog where points were hard to come by. Expect Cole to take charge of the offense again, but if he and Gaffney can’t get Polley involved from beyond the arc, it could be another ugly showing from the Huskies. I think Polley can get going from deep again, however, and the Huskies overcome their sloppy defense to eke out a win.
UConn 74, Butler 70