UConn will be playing two games against the same opponent, home and away, starting on Tuesday against the Butler Bulldogs (9-7, 2-3 Big East) at the XL Center Tuesday night.
This game is a makeup of the New Year’s Day matchup that was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Huskies’ program. Following Tuesday’s game, UConn (11-4, 2-2 Big East) will head to Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Jan. 20 to take on the Bulldogs.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 18, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: XL Center — Hartford, Connecticut
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -12.5, over/under 126.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 70, Butler 57
This is the first of four extremely winnable games for UConn against teams currently at the bottom of the Big East standing. After UConn’s home and home series with the lowly Bulldogs, who are fresh off a 40-point thumping from No. 14 Villanova, the Huskies take on a struggling Georgetown team at home before heading to Chicago to face DePaul.
If the Huskies want to ensure they have an at-large bid locked up, they need to win all four of these.
When UConn has the ball
Reigning Big East Player of the Week Adama Sanogo is looking like his old self after missing time due to an abdominal injury, posting double-doubles in two-straight games, including a 26-point, 18 rebound, and six-bock performance against the Red Storm. Sanogo is always a focal point of the Husky offense, but with his recent play and the Bulldogs’ general lack of size, he’ll be the first option on offense once again.
With Butler lacking anyone taller than 6-foot-9, Sanogo should have his way in the post all game, provided he can stay out of foul trouble. The Huskies should be able to overpower a Bulldogs team having a down season by the program’s recent standards. They will likely look to force one of the lowest tempo teams in college basketball try to speed up and run with UConn’s guards.
UConn should be able to use a deeper bench than normal. With three games in a week for the first time since the end of November, it will be crucial for the Huskies to get a lead early, hold onto it, and work on closing out games while giving key starters like Sanogo, RJ Cole, and Tyrese Martin some rest. Hurley told reporters Monday that the Huskies had 14 players able to practice this weekend for the first time in a while, so it’s good to see that UConn is fresh and relatively healthy. Getting out to a big lead early and not having to ride key players in crunch time will be key to keeping things that way, especially with the last two games going to overtime.
When Butler has the ball
Butler is 9-7 but with just one win against the KenPom top-100 — an overtime victory over Oklahoma in early December. The Bulldogs are fresh off getting boat raced by Villanova, 82-42, but did beat an even worse Georgetown team by 14 last Thursday.
LaVall Jordan’s program is led in scoring by sophomore Chuck Harris and his 10.5 points per game. Senior big man Bryce Nze is also a legit scoring option for the Bulldogs. He is currently averaging 8.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season while shooting 37.5 percent from deep. He scored 18 points against UConn last season in one game, but was held to two points the last time these two teams faced off.
Nze has scored in double figures in his last two games, including 10 points and four boards against Nova and looks like a consistent threat after missing time to injury earlier this season. He should be a formidable opponent for the Huskies’ frontcourt. We’ll see if Sanogo, Isaiah Whaley, and Akok Akok can contain him.
With the Bulldogs overmatched and undersized, Butler will likely lean into its normal strategy of taking a lot of 3-pointers. So far, nearly 46 percent of the Bulldogs’ field goal attempts have been threes, but the team is shooting just 30.6 percent from deep. Nonetheless, taking and making threes is a surefire way to upset a more talented team, and while Butler hasn’t hit much this season, a strong shooting night from Nze, Harris, or senior guard Jair Bolden could make this game much more interesting than it should be.
As we all know, anything can happen in Big East play.