Before Husky fans can look forward to what will almost certainly be an exciting postseason, there’s still some regular season ball left to be played. The UConn men’s basketball team (13-6, 10-6) will close out the regular season tomorrow hosting Georgetown (7-8, 9-11) on Senior Day.
When: 12 p.m. Eastern
Where: Gampel Pavilion
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Line: UConn -10, over/under 137
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 73, Georgetown 63
This will be a conference finale with low stakes, but that should not be taken for granted. While newly-extended Dan Hurley and the Huskies have likely locked up an NCAA bid even if they drop the regular season finale, it’s important to maintain the momentum gathered from the last month. UConn has won of five of their last six, including three-straight wins by an average margin of 13.
It’s all about NCAA seeding at this point for UConn, which has already locked up a third seed in the Big East and ranks No. 26 in KenPom. Beat No.84 KenPom-ranked Georgetown and cruise to the Big East Tournament final and the reward is likely a comfortable seeding in the Big Dance. Take your foot off the pedal tomorrow and in the Big East tournament and UConn’s return to the Big Dance could be short-lived.
National pundits are in agreement that this is a dangerous UConn team with a healthy James Bouknight. But in order to maximize the damage they can do to brackets, it’s best to avoid that No. 8/9 seed that then draws a No. 1 seed in the second round.
UConn: From bubble team to Final Four sleeper?@TheAndyKatz shares with @clubtrillion and @tatefrazier why he sees @UConnMBB as an outlier who could make a deep tournament run pic.twitter.com/eL4lOHatcW— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) March 5, 2021
UConn won the first meeting with Georgetown 70-57, but not before a first half of basketball that set the game back 20 years. The Hoyas are winners of two straight, and on Tuesday held off a frantic Xavier comeback. Coach Ewing, when not making millennials feel old, has done an outstanding job squeezing as much as he could out of a roster wrecked by turnover in the offseason. Plus, the Hoyas are still fighting for Big East tournament position.
When Georgetown has the ball
Jahvon Blair and JaMorko Pickett are both 1,000 point scorers and the Hoyas’ primary offensive threats. Last game, UConn smothered the two seniors, forcing them to shoot a combined 1-10 from three. That sort of defensive effort will be needed again, especially toward Blair, who’s second in the conference in 3-pointers made.
Sophomore Qudus Wahab is a load inside and dropped a double double on UConn in February. He did turn the ball over five times last time against the Huskies, so helpers should continue to dive on him when he’s in the post.
The rim-protecting duo of Isaiah Whaley and Adama Sanogo will need to avoid foul trouble this time around; a combined nine fouls between the two last game put Georgetown on the line 21 times to UConn’s 13.
Outside of those three, tracking 6-foot-7 stretch four Chudier Byle, who just went 4-7 from downtown against Xavier, and harassing turnover-prone freshman point guard Dante Harris will be important as well.
When UConn has the ball
Maybe not shoot 2-11 from three, which is what UConn did last time out against the Hoyas. If Bouknight’s shot isn’t falling like against Seton Hall, can Hurley manufacture easy looks for RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin?
Or vice versa, if Bouknight is cooking, can the rest of the roster find ways to contribute? It comes down to the little things now will make a difference in postseason play that need to remain on point: Tyler Polley still coming off screens like Stephen Curry, Jalen Gaffney channeling Russell Westbrook with splash plays, or (fingers crossed) Akok Akok stretching the court.
Inside, Sanogo’s development as an offensive threat that you can just dump it down to has been a wonder to behold. His 11 shots against the Pirates tied a season high, and I think I speak for everyone when I say sign me up for more of that please and thank you. It cannot be understated Sanogo’s impact on UConn’s offensive spacing. When he has good post position, defenders have to make the decision whether to help or not. As long as UConn’s backcourt is cutting and finding space, open looks will be there.
Keys to the Game
Close out shooters
Georgetown usually has four plus-shooters on the court. Switching through screens, closing out like rabid dogs, and communication have all been wonderful during this hot-streak. It can’t falter now.
Board man gets paid
Once more, a battle on the boards is brewing. The Hoyas lead the conference in defensive rebounding, UConn is second in offensive. Once more, I’ll plug my nearly flawless stat: when UConn wins the rebounding margin, it wins the game.
Bored man gets paid
There’s the excitement looming of the Big East tournament at home in the Madison Square Garden. The first NCAA tournament appearance in five(!) years. This is a perfect trap game for UConn if they come out flat and bored. Hurley must make sure nobody is looking past that, because a loss tomorrow would not only spoil senior night, but derail all of the mojo the team has gathered in the last month.
When Tyler Polley, Isaiah Whaley, and Josh Carlton were freshman, UConn went 14-18 and were KO’d (get it?) out of the American Athletic Conference tournament by SMU. Now, as senior leaders all with important roles, they’re eyeing their first NCAA tournament appearance. You truly love to see it.
They could have bolted when the program was at its low point (or should we call it the KO point?) Whaley in particular, who wasn’t seeing time his first two-and-a-half years. But all three chose to battle and work their way into a new coach’s favor. It’s a damn shame Gampel can’t be rocking for them tomorrow.
But if you use social media, maybe give them a shoutout for their perseverance. It may seem corny to tweet at players, but given all of the negativity the three seniors have endured in the last four years, some well-wishes probably go a long way. And maybe they’ll decide to stick around for an encore next year.