How to watch
When: 2:30 p.m. EST
Where: Gampel Pavilion
Radio: UConn Radio Network
Line: UConn -7, Over/Under 135.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 71, Marquette 64
UConn just had a weird win over Georgetown but the Huskies’ next opponent is coming off its biggest win of the season. North Carolina, desperate for another home game, called up Steve Wojciechowski and the Golden Eagles on Feb. 20 and asked Marquette to come to Chapel Hill. For reasons still unknown, the Golden Eagles obliged and decided to play three days later.
They proceeded to beat the daylight out of the Tar Heels 83-70. It’s UNC’s first loss to a team outside of the KenPom top-40 all season and gives Marquette a quadrant one win.
While the win doesn't really alter Marquette’s (11-12) tournament chances, it does show that the Golden Eagles are capable of hanging with any team, especially UConn, who is actually a few spots higher than UNC in KenPom.
“They were playing well when we played them in January. They had at one at Creighton and had beaten Wisconsin at home and played a ridiculously hard non-conference schedule. So their record is a little distorted,” Hurley said.
“They went through a bad stretch in one of the toughest conferences in the country. We were down 18 in that game and they outplayed us in the first half, and the first several minutes of the second half. So, we expect to see the team that was up 18 on us and pounded North Carolina.”
Luckily for the Huskies, James Bouknight is fully healthy after the injury in the last meeting between these two teams. While the sophomore is still working to get his legs back under him, he's been as efficient as ever, scoring 18, 21, and 20 points in his last three games and shooting just under 50 percent from the field.
For Marquette, freshman Dawson Garcia is the catalyst offensively. The 6-foot-11 big scored 20 points with 11 rebounds and two assists to lead the Golden Eagles to victory. While he has formidable sidekicks in big man Theo John and guards DJ Carton and Koby McEwen, Garcia’s inside-out game and passing ability make him a matchup nightmare. After going scoreless in 26 minutes against Seton Hall on Valentine’s Day, Garcia scored 25 points against Butler before dropping 20 on the Tar Heels. He also did well against UConn last game (20 points, 11 rebounds).
When Marquette has the ball
Garica is the key to this offense, but the backcourt of Carton (12.8 points per game) and McEwen (11.2) are important as well. Wojciechowski has used these two guards together frequently as of late and likely will do so again as the duo has some size that could give UConn trouble. Guard Greg Elliott will be someone UConn has to keep an eye out for on the perimeter, as he's shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line this season.
John is more of a traditional Big East big man, a low-post banger with enough skill to get things done in the post.
Fortunately for Hurley and the Huskies, sophomore Akok Akok is reportedly healthy and available for this go around with the Golden Eagles. Akok likely may not play much, but his presence should help with Garcia fits and give Isaiah Whaley some time to rest or stay out of foul trouble.
Marquette doesn't really play fast, ranking No. 222 in tempo per KenPom. UConn’s even slower at No. 314. While it won't be a track meet, it wouldn't be surprising if the Golden Eagles try to push the pace a little more than usual — they’re 5-3 in games with more than 70 possessions this year compared to UConn’s 3-2 mark.
When UConn has the ball
While Tyrese Martin carried the bulk of the scoring in Bouknight’s absence, Cole has been the hotter hand out of the two as of late, with 14 assists and 40 total points in his last three games. No longer tasked as a primary option, Cole’s shot selection has improved, and the Howard transfer has continued to attack the rim with the hopes of drawing some free throws.
Martin, the team’s best 3-point shooter at 39.5 percent, took only one attempt from deep against Georgetown and air-balled it. Hurley, Cole, and Bouknight need to get him a few more catch and shoot attempts against Marquette — Tyler Polley showed everyone how susceptible this Marquette team can be to a good 3-point shooter. If Martin, Polley, or even Jalen Gaffney can knock down a few open threes, it should open up plenty of lanes for Cole, Bouknight, and Martin to attack and possibly get Garcia or John in foul trouble.
Even if Akok logs serious minutes, Adama Sanogo is this team's best offensive option in the post. It’s going to be fun to watch him and John go up against one another. Sanogo has shown a variety of post moves all season but faces a solid test in John, one of the top shot blockers in the conference.
It’s going to be a blast to watch Garcia and Bouknight go at it as two of the better offensive players in the conference. But Garcia may have his hands full going up against Whaley and Akok, two elite defenders, all game. Meanwhile, Bouknight has another game under his belt coming off his injury and Cole has looked more comfortable than ever running the offense. I think Bouknight does what he always does — score at least 20 points and help UConn keep its at-large NCAA tournament hopes alive with a win. UConn 73, Marquette 68.