Thanks to big games from guards RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin, UConn men’s basketball took down Marquette on the road Tuesday night to secure their first Big East win of the season. Here are some takeaways from the Huskies’ win over the Golden Eagles.
Andre Jackson, Akok Akok emerging?
Dan Madigan: Make no mistake, UConn won this game due to the strong play of Cole and Martin, but the dynamic duo had some more help than usual thanks to the strong play of Andre Jackson and Akok Akok. Jackson looked extremely confident all night, draining an open three to start the game and constantly pushing the pace for transition layups or kick outs to open teammates. His ability to handle the ball and break Marquette’s press took some pressure off of Cole early on and allowed him to stay fresher and work off of the ball.
Akok faded late offensively, but hit two big threes early to keep the offense chugging along, and was his usual self on the defensive end, altering tons of shot and ripping down boards.
Even with Sanogo back, UConn is returning to their roots as a guard-dominant team. If at least one of these two can find a way to contribute offensively each game, the Huskies could become a truly scary team down the stretch.
Are Cole and Martin the next great UConn backcourt?
Madigan: Cole and Martin’s experience and poise were very apparent throughout the entire game. The two played under control, took smart shots and attacked the rim constantly to keep the Huskies in control, even when the Golden Eagles battled back. Even though the offense ran through Sanogo when healthy, it’s clear that these two guards are plenty good enough to shoulder the scoring load. Cole is an electric scorer who can bail UConn out late in the clock, and Martin routinely uses his size well for easy buckets in the paint. Also, it was very cool to see Martin hit 1,000 career points and Cole to hit 2,000 points in this game together — there are a lot more buckets coming this season for the two of them.
Goodman: Cole certainly has elevated his play this season after taking a while to get used to the elevated competition of the Big East last season. Cole has been the Huskies’ leading scorer in four out of the last seven games, and has scored in double figures in all but two games thus far. His leadership, play-making, and late shot clock heroics were all on display in last night’s win. I think it’s fair to say he is UConn’s most valuable player, especially with how ineffective Gaffney has been at times this year. Both Martin and Cole have that killer instinct, and it’s so cool to watch when they get in the zone.
Welcome back Sanogo
Shawn McGrath: Sanogo returned from an abdominal injury that he suffered against Maryland-Eastern Shore and was on a minutes restriction, playing only 12 minutes in the win. It was clear he was rusty, with three turnovers, but it was encouraging to see him back in the lineup, even in a limited capacity. He was 3-6 from the field and added a pair of rebounds, as well as a block.
After missing nearly a month with what was described as a difficult injury, Sanogo was not going to come back, put up a double-double and play 30 minutes. However, he’s a fixture on both the offensive and defensive ends and with another week to recover before the Huskies take on a ranked Xavier team on the road, Sanogo’s progress is a positive development.
Goodman: It was a welcome sight for UConn fans to get Sanogo back on the court and he did about as much as expected, scoring six points on some tough hook shots in the lane. I still would’ve liked to see him pass out of the post a couple of times when he didn’t get a clean look, but since he didn’t play that many minutes so it was clear that if he got the ball anywhere near his spots he was going up with it. Moving forward, when he starts to shake of the rust after being out four games, I’d like to see Hurley create some opportunties with Sanogo finding open guys out of the post. He draws so much attention from the defense, sometimes double-teamed, and if he is able to use this to his advantage it could unlock a whole another facet of this offense, which would make UConn extremely hard to beat.
Goodman: UConn has the fire power to explode on offense. Early on in the season they were averaging close to 100 points per game. Yes, all but one of these games were against teams ranked No. 256 in Kenpom or worse with the exception being Auburn that lasted two extra periods. All that being said, UConn was definitely outperforming expectations on the offensive end to start the year. Since those five games, consistency has been hard to come by, putting up 60, 53, and 56 points in three quad-one losses. The injuries to Sanogo and Martin were definitely a major reason for the drop, but UConn looked lost on offense for large stretches of these games.
The difference in the Providence and Marquette games was night and day for the Huskies. Pushing the pace, not only taking what the defensive was giving them but attacking the paint with not reckless, but controlled abandon, and getting open looks. That is UConn’s bread and butter. Take the ball to the rim and utilize their ridiculous athleticism to get put backs and create extra possessions.
This wasn't all about scheme though, Dan Hurley has to give a ton of credit to Martin and Cole, who made countless one-on-one plays. While it wasn’t pretty the entire game, UConn was clearly in a better rhythm on offense as a whole, and felt like a more complete unit on that end of the court last night. Hopefully they can harness this momentum and bring it to the Cintas Center next Tuesday against No. 18 Xavier because that place will surely have a more raucous crowd than what the Huskies experienced at FiServ Forum.
Madigan: This is probably nothing, but something to keep an eye on going forward — the defense was not nearly as good as usual against Marquette. The Huskies routinely miscommunicated on high screens, leaving open men for easy buckets or open threes. That’s extremely uncharacteristic of a Dan Hurley defense. Hurley definitely used some different rotations/lineups compared to previous games, and Sanogo struggled at times in his first game back. This might just be something that gets solved with some more practice using these new rotations.
Patrick Martin: One of the storylines in the nonconference portion of the season was UConn’s struggles with full court pressure. They were a chaotic mess against Auburn, had problems with VCU, and folded like a cheap suit when Bob Huggins of West Virginia sprinkled in his 1-3-1 press to close out the game.
Last night was a good test against Shaka Smart’s ‘havoc’ 2-2-1 three quarter press, and UConn seemed to have understood the assignment. Putting the ball in Jackson’s hands a lot more seemed to have helped, but even Martin and Cole seemed better instructed on the seams. Marquette came into the game ranked fourth in the country in tempo, and UConn seemed unbothered by the pace of the game. That’s a great sign going forward.
Martin: Last week in this space, I talked about Hurley’s substitution patterns, and how he needs to have a quicker hook for boneheaded plays. Several times last night, you saw the head coach stalk back to his bench and do the ‘get him’ motion to a sub. It happened with the struggling Jalen Gaffney and when the rusty Adama Sanogo inexplicably dribbled the ball off his foot.
It also happened in the first half when Whaley passed up an open jumper in the middle of the zone. Hurley threw Sanogo in and the next play down, Sanogo hit that jumper. That’s better coaching from Hurley; you can be sure Whaley will know now to take that shot if its there. The Huskies have the depth to have a short leash on silly mistakes, and its encouraging to see Hurley start to utilize that.