The Blue Demons (10-9, 1-8 Big East), under first-year coach Tony Stubblefield, are once again towards the bottom of the conference and may be even further hampered by the loss of star Javon Freeman-Liberty, who has missed more than two weeks due to a groin injury. A win in Chicago would make it five in a row for the No. 20 Huskies and help them build momentum for a tough four-game stretch where no team is outside of the KenPom top 60.
When: Saturday, Jan. 29, 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Wintrust Arena — Chicago, Illinois
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -8.5, over/under 142.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 75, DePaul 69
When UConn has the ball
Anything in the realm of the Huskies’ performance against Georgetown Tuesday night will be enough for UConn to take down DePaul. In the win over the Hoyas, the Huskies posted an offensive rating of 145.9, the fifth-highest mark for UConn since KenPom started up in 2002. While it’s a tough ask for any team, let alone a more defensive-minded one, to post yet another generational performance, the Blue Demons are a prime opponent for a repeat — they rank outside of the top 240 in opponent turnover and 3-point percentage.
While DePaul does boast two extremely talented shot blockers in Nick Ongenda and Yor Anei, the two rarely are both on the floor together, and the Huskies should be able to exploit size advantages in the post on whoever the Blue Demons’ shot blockers aren’t guarding.
Aside from pounding it to Adama Sanogo or Isaiah Whaley inside, Tyrese Martin has emerged from a quick slump to cement himself as the third scoring option behind Sanogo and RJ Cole. Martin has scored 38 points in his last three halves of basketball, and is shooting over 50% from deep in his last two games.
The trio of Cole, Sanogo, and Martin should be enough offensively to take down the Blue Demons, but another strong offensive performance from Whaley (15 points, seven rebounds against Georgetown) or freshman Jordan Hawkins, who hit a team-high four 3-pointers against the Hoyas, would show that this offense is becoming more balanced and dangerous as February and March get closer.
When DePaul has the ball
The DePaul offense starts and ends with Freeman-Liberty when he is healthy. The fifth-year senior has not played since Jan. 13 against Seton Hall due to the aforementioned groin injury, and the Blue Demons have not won since. If he’s available Saturday night, DePaul will go to him early and often, as he leads the Big East in usage rate at 29.4%, slightly higher than Sanogo.
Big East PPG leaders entering today:— College B-Ball Ref (@collegebb_ref) January 26, 2022
Javon Freeman-Liberty (@DePaulHoops): 21.1
Julian Champagnie (@StJohnsBBall): 19.5
Collin Gillespie (@NovaMBB): 17.2
Adama Sanogo (@UConnMBB): 15.9
Justin Moore (@NovaMBB): 15.9
If Freeman-Liberty is able to go, he provides a serious matchup problem for the Huskies at 6-foot-4 and 180 lbs. While he may not be as big as Seton Hall’s Kadary Richmond or St. John’s Julian Champagne, UConn has struggled with bigger guards this season, and will likely rely heavily on Martin and Andre Jackson to keep him in check. In 16 games so far this season, Freeman-Liberty is averaging 21.1 points and 7.4 boards per game while shooting 38.6% on 3-pointers.
Sophomore David Jones is the Robin to Freeman-Liberty’s Batman, averaging nearly 15 points per contest and featuring a usage rate nearly as high as Freeman-Liberty’s. If Freeman-Liberty is unable to play, Jones will be the one to handle the offensive load and loves to crash the boards with his 6-foot-6 frame. Combined with Ongenda and Anei, the Blue Demons do a good job wrangling offensive rebounds, so it will be up to Akok Akok, Whaley, and Sanogo to keep them off the glass as best as possible.
In the Huskies’ last game, Georgetown stayed closer than they should have for part of the game due to consistently knocking down threes. While that worked for the Hoyas, who currently rank 11th nationally in 3-point percentage, DePaul likely won't be able to do that, especially if Freeman-Liberty is unable to play. He’s the only consistent shooter on the roster shooting over 35% from deep, so if he’s out, look for UConn to pack in the paint and let the Blue Demons try and beat the Huskies from beyond the arc.