No. 20 UConn men’s basketball will start the 20-game slog that is Big East play for the first time in front of fans on Saturday when the Huskies welcome Providence to a sold-out XL Center.
When: 5 p.m.
Where: XL Center, Hartford, CT
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -6.5, over/under 137.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 73, Providence 65
Barring any late setbacks, the Huskies will likely have Tyrese Martin back, though it’s still unclear if he’ll have a minutes restriction. Meanwhile, Dan Hurley told reporters on Friday that sophomore forward Adama Sanogo hasn’t been ruled out for Saturday’s matchup.
On the other side of the ball, Providence finished non-conference play 10-1, tied with Xavier for the best mark in the Big East. The Friars have a road win against Wisconsin, a neutral site victory over Northwestern and defeated Rhode Island and Texas Tech at home. Their only loss is to Virginia in the Legends Classic on a neutral floor. Each of those squads are ranked in KenPom’s top 75.
When UConn has the ball
Getting Martin back should be a boon to the team’s offense. Martin, along with Tyler Polley and Andre Jackson, can drive to the hoop and create matchup problems with size. The 6-foot-6 Martin averaged 12.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, the latter of which leads the team.
While he certainly won’t be at full strength, Martin started the first seven games of the season and played at least 30 minutes in each game during the Battle 4 Atlantis. Even at less than 100 percent, he’ll be an important part of the team on Saturday.
Any and all reinforcements will be crucial against Nate Watson and the Friars, one of five graduate students on their roster. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound center is one of the biggest players in the conference and averages 1.0 blocks per game. Watson is one of the best inside forces that the Huskies will face all year and as a team that likes to get the ball moving and drive inside, avoiding his long reach will be an important part of success on the offensive end.
The Friars are the 69th-best team in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, surrendering 95.2 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, UConn touts the 27th-best offense, scoring 110.5 points per 100 possessions.
When Providence has the ball
Save for a 77-72 victory over Northwestern and a few breakout performances against sub-200 KenPom teams, most of Providence’s games have been played in the 60s. Despite the nation’s 61st most efficient offense at 107.4 points per 100 possessions, the team only averages 67.9 adjusted possessions per 40 minutes, which is No. 206 in the country. The Friars like to slow it down and grind it out — as do the Huskies, who average less than one possession more per 40 minutes and are ranked No. 173.
This would typically favor UConn, who are longer and more athletic than most teams and play ferocious half-court defense, but Isaiah Whaley, Akok Akok and Samson Johnson will have their hands full with Watson, who averages 15.3 points per game and shoots 64.3 percent from the floor. Stopping Watson inside will be key, though the Friars’ offense also runs through a pair of upperclassman guards in Al Durham and AJ Reeves.
Durham and Reeves are second and third in scoring at 13.5 and 10.7 points per game, respectively. Those two also have taken the most shots from beyond the arc, with Reeves connecting 36.4 percent of the time. Martin, as well as RJ Cole, Jalen Gaffney and Jordan Hawkins will have to be active and aggressive defensively to stop their outside scorers.