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Preview: UConn men’s basketball at Georgetown | 9 p.m. ET, FS1

UConn has four games left to solidify its NCAA tournament hopes.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch

When: 9 p.m. EST

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.

TV: FS1

Radio: UConn Radio Network

Line: UConn -4, Over/Under 138

KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 70, Georgetown 67

We’re officially in the home stretch of the college basketball regular season. For the first time in what feels like an eternity, the UConn men’s basketball team has a realistic shot of getting into the NCAA tournament for the first time in the Dan Hurley era. But first, UConn must dispatch original Big East foe Georgetown, now led by former Hoya legend Patrick Ewing.

The Hoyas and Huskies last faced off in 2017, a 75-73 Georgetown win. The last time the two met in conference play was 2013, an overtime classic that resulted in this electric Omar Calhoun gem.

Tonight’s tilt begins a four-game stretch that will determine UConn’s (No. 35 KenPom) postseason fate. The Huskies missed a chance to put the basketball world on notice on Saturday against Villanova, but all is not lost. All Hurley has to do is channel his inner Pep Guardiola.

Maybe he already has?

Win all four and the ticket to Indiana, where the entire NCAA tournament will be held this season, is probably punched. Win three of four, and some work may need to be done in the Big East tournament. Drop two or more, and Hurley better throw on tape of the 2011 Big East tournament run because that what’s what will have to happen to make the Big Dance.

Georgetown is 7-10 overall (No. 92 KenPom) and sits seventh in the Big East at 5-7, but has won four of their last six, including an impressive 81-75 dispatching of red-hot Seton Hall. A five-game Big East losing streak back in December, coupled with a subsequent four-game COVID-19 pause, likely derailed the Hoyas’ hopes of sniffing the NCAA tournament. Yet for a team picked last in the Big East preseason coaches poll, Ewing has stabilized a roster that had to replace four starters from last years team, including star guard Mac McClung.

UConn might have more talent on paper, but as head coach Dan Hurley isn’t taking the Hoyas lightly.

“It’s a much different team than the one that lost to Navy and a one that struggled early in conference play. These guys are a really good team, good size and they all understand their roles,” Hurley said.

When Georgetown has the rock

Two 1,000 point scorers shoulder the offensive load for Georgetown. Seniors Jahvon Blair and JaMorko Pickett were capable role players last year that have stepped into leading roles this season. The 6-foot-4 Blair is sixth in the conference in scoring and first in 3-pointers made. Keeping the high-usage guard out of a rhythm will be important. He was also effective as a decoy against Seton Hall last Saturday (three points on six shots), and has been directly responsible for 40% of all Hoya field goals over the last five games. It will be a tough defensive challenge for Bouknight, so don’t be surprised if Tyrese Martin guards him for spells, too.

Pickett is a versatile 6-foot-8 hybrid that can operate as a wing or in the paint. He’s shooting 41% from three this year, but also crashes the glass with reckless abandon. Between him and 6-foot-11 sophomore big Qudus Wahab, the Hoyas have two players that sit in the top five of the conference in rebounding.

Keep an eye on 6-foot-7 stretch four Chudier Byle, who’s reached double-figures in five of the last six games. Freshman point guard Dante Harris isn’t much of a shooting threat but is a capable table-setter. Look for the Huskies to ramp up the ball pressure—the Hoyas are last in the Big East in turnover margin and prone to careless giveaways.

Tracking and closing out shooters will go a long way to ensure UConn takes care of business. The Hoyas have shot a blistering 50% and 62.5% from downtown in their last two wins.

When UConn has the rock

The trick for Hurley will be balancing Bouknight with the rest of the team’s ability to score. Can Bouk fill it up in ways that complements the offensive flow of double-digit scorers RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin? Hurley wants point guards Cole and Jalen Gaffney pushing in transition more and attacking ball screens.

Villanova is one of the best in the country at slowing opponents down, and UConn got sucked into their gameplan. Georgetown plays much faster, sitting 84th in the country in possessions per game (73.5). UConn, for context, is 294th (68.5). Converting easy looks in transition keeps the offense humming and ensures Bouknight doesn’t have to play hero ball every possession. The Huskies will never be known for their halfcourt efficiency on the offensive end, so Hurley and company will want to squeeze as many possessions as they can out of the game.

Georgetown just held Seton Hall to 6-21 (29%) from three. As Bouknight knocks off the rust, the hope is that it opens up driving lanes for Cole and Martin, the former of which is averaging 14.6 points over the last five games. Then, as defenses collapse, Tyler Polley and Martin — quietly eighth in the Big East in 3-point percentage — connect from downtown.

Down low there should be a renewed effort to get Adama Sanogo paint touches. His six attempts vs. Villanova was the most in three games. Wahab will be a tough matchup though; he possesses NBA-level length and athleticism but is sturdy enough to not get bullied down low. Sanogo might want to abandon the jump hook tomorrow and go with a pump fake that gets the Hoyas’ defensive anchor in the air.

Keys to the game

Who guards who?

Checking Pickett or Byle’s matchup flexibility on the defensive end is a question mark. Who draws the assignments? Andre Jackson or Polley could be options, but one gives up experience and the other gives up athleticism. Or perhaps Hurley could go with Whaley’s mobility or Akok Akok’s length. Whoever it is, don’t be surprised if Hurley throws different looks at the two inside-out threats.

Support the Bouk Club

UConn was trading jabs with Villanova until it became apparent Bouknight had run out of gas. But no one else was in sync enough then to pick up the scoring load.

“We got caught standing around and watching James too much,” Hurley said. “And James is going to find his offense within the flow of how we play, he doesn’t have to hunt it and we don’t have to stand around and watch it.”

Game conditioning is an entirely different beast than practice conditioning. As Bouknight gets his sea legs, it will be important for the supporting cast to shoulder the offensive load earlier in the game. Get one of Cole, Martin, or Polley into a groove early and Bouknight doesn’t have to do it all just to keep UConn in the game. Then he can be unleashed in the second half.

You’re just a board man, board man

An unstoppable force meets an immovable object on the glass tomorrow. The Huskies lead the conference in offensive rebounding at 13 a game, while the Hoyas are top dogs in defensive rebounding (29.2 per game). Georgetown is 29th in the country with a plus-6 rebounding margin, and UConn is 62nd with plus-4. That’s good for first and second in the Big East.

You’re going to see elite, grown-man rebounds tomorrow on both ends. The rebounding margin has stayed in lockstep with UConn’s results all year and reared its head on Saturday after the Huskies ceded the rebounding margin to Villanova. Whoever wins that battle will likely be walking away with a win.

Dream lineups

Now that the team is near full-strength, you can start to see which lineups work. Per Evan Miyakawa, UConn’s most effective lineup with at least 15 possessions was Bouknight, Cole, Gaffney, Martin, and Whaley.

That’s a small-ball unit that struggles with size but has very good spacing and four plus shooters paired with a rim runner. Per 10 possessions, it was Cole, Jackson, Martin, Polley, and Whaley. Getting everyone healthy means rotations are still influx, so settling on a closing lineup will be something to keep an eye on during these pivotal four games.

Prediction

UConn’s talent overcomes an underrated Georgetown team. 71-69, UConn.