When: 9:00pm Eastern
Where: Fiserv Forum - Milwaukee, WI
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -2.5, over/under 142.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 73, St. Marquette 70
While junior guard/forward Tyrese Martin was able to return to action in the Huskies last game against Providence, it was not enough to overcome ice-cold shooting from nearly every Husky player this past weekend. The loss dropped the Huskies out of the top 25 for the first time all season.
The jury is still out on whether or not sophomore forward Adama Sanogo will be back in the lineup against Marquette, but either way, the Huskies have a real chance to pick up their first conference win of the year on the road in Milwaukee.
Marquette has fared better than most thought through the first 12 games of the season under new head coach Shaka Smart. They already have three quad 1 wins so far this year with victories over No. 10 Illinois, Ole Miss, and West Virginia. All four of their losses have been to ranked teams at the time, dropping contests to No. 22 St. Bonaventure, at No. 23 Wisconsin, No. 4 UCLA, and most recently, at No. 22 Xavier. They are a battle tested team that is far from a walk in the park.
When UConn has the ball
If Sanogo plays, UConn will almost certainly feed him the ball early to help him get right back up to speed. UConn’s offense was atrocious against Providence, and who better to help them get out of a slump than the bail-out man himself? Throwing the ball into Sanogo on the block may be the most effective offensive play that Dan Hurley has. Even if Sanogo is on a minutes restriction, 15-20 minutes of the big man could be the difference UConn needs to take care of business.
As mentioned previously, Martin returned after a four-game absence and unsurprisingly made a major impact for the Huskies. He was second on the team in scoring with 15 points, and also grabbed five rebounds. His ability to rebound and create opportunities with hard drives to the basket are going to be crucial in this game.
But perhaps most of all, UConn’s bench has to be better. As a team that predicates itself on versatility and depth, neither were on display in the loss to the Friars. The trio of Tyler Polley, Jordan Hawkins, and Jalen Gaffney combined for four points on 1-13 FG.
Polley was 1-7 from 3-point range and definitely seems to be in one of his elongated slumps that we saw last season. Since going Super Saiyan against Auburn (6-9 from beyond the arc), Polley has shot 9-40 (22.5%) from 3-point range since. This has to improve.
Hawkins also finds himself in a bit of a slump, but gets more of a pass since he is just a freshman. Hawkins is three for his last 19 field goal attempts, but Hurley will continue to encourage Hawkins to be aggressive, as he should. With 10 games under his belt, it seems as though the biggest issue with Hawkins is going to be consistency.
As the season progresses, more things become clear about this UConn team. One of the things that we have learned is that Andre Jackson is clearly one of the team’s best rebounder. After two straight games with 10+ rebounds (14 against Providence), Jackson now leads the team in rebounding with 8.1 per contest. These numbers may be slightly inflated due to the absence of Martin and Sanogo, but Jackson’s bounce is unmatched and he’s utilizing this part of his game to quietly become one of the best rebounding guards in the country.
Despite hitting two threes against Providence, Jackson is still very challenged offensively, but right now he is ripping down boards left and right and always looks to push the pace, something he needs to continue doing due to UConn’s half court woes.
When Marquette has the Ball
Smart has his team playing at a fairly high level in his first season as the head coach of Marquette. After being picked to finish ninth in the Big East, the Golden Eagles started off extremely hot, going 5-0 with wins over Illinois and West Virginia. They have come back to earth a bit since, but nonetheless present a tough matchup to a struggling UConn team.
Marquette is led by two outstanding players in redshirt freshman forward Justin Lewis (15.3 points, 7.8 rebounds) and fifth-year senior guard Darryl Morsell (13.8 points, 3.8 rebounds). Lewis is a Big East Most Improved player hopeful that can play inside and out (16 made threes on the season) and is a matchup nightmare with this 6-foot-7, 245 pound frame. Isaiah Whaley will have his hands full in this game trying to stop Lewis, and will have to stay out of foul trouble if UConn hopes to effectively neutralize him.
Morsell is a transfer from Maryland and a former Big Ten Defensive player of the year who put the clamps on James Bouknight last year to bounce the Huskies from the NCAA tournament in round one. He isn’t known for offensive fireworks — he averaged under 10 points per game over four years at Maryland — but he has proved to be a late bloomer on the offensive end.
He started off on a blistering pace with 20 points in his first four games, including 12-21 from beyond the arc. Morsell never hit more than 18 triples in a season, but already has 20 so far this season through 12 games. He is at his best when he is going downhill and attacking the basket, though, and Morsell will likely be looking to do just that no matter who is on him. Look for Andre Jackson to draw his assignment, as this matchup could dictate the outcome of the game.
Junior guard Greg Elliot (7.9 points) is also starting to come on very strong for Smart. After scoring a combined 24 points over his last five games, he has poured in 40 points in his last two, shooting 8-14 from downtown. UConn cannot overlook the recent surge of Elliot, as he needs to be a key focus area on their scouting report since he has proven his ability to light up the scoreboard.
Marquette also boasts an elite shot blocker in senior forward Kur Kuath. UConn will need to draw him out of the paint in order to neutralize his shot-altering abilities, much like they did with Osun Osunniyi against St. Bonaventure. This was done very well in the game against the Bonnies, as Osunniyi finished with zero on the day despite averaging over three per game.
If Sanogo is back, UConn is likely the more talented team on both ends of the floor. The biggest question mark lies on the offensive end, and whether or not multiple guys can step up and make shots when the starters are not hitting. In another hostile environment, the Huskies are going to need a better performance from the field if they want to leave Milwaukee with a win heading into the holiday break.