UConn men’s basketball returns to action Saturday for the first time in 17 days as the Huskies travel to Newark to take on Seton Hall. After a COVID-19 pause, UConn’s matchup against the No. 24 ranked Pirates marks just its second Big East game of the season and one that will likely be played with a limited roster as some players continue to recover and ramp up from COVID-19.
When: Saturday, Jan. 8, 12 p.m. ET
Where: Prudential Center - Newark, New Jersey
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: Seton Hall -4.5, over/under 139
KenPom Predicted Score: Seton Hall 73, UConn 70
As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 began to spread throughout the country, Seton Hall — a team with numerous unvaccinated players — was one of the first major programs to be impacted by the virus this season. The Pirates cancelled a game against Iona and were forced to forfeit a conference game against DePaul, though the Big East has since changed those rules. Like UConn, they made their return 17 days after their last game with a tough conference matchup on the road, losing to Providence 70-65.
Since that loss, the Pirates dropped a close game to Villanova at home, but bounced back with a 71-56 win over Butler at home on Jan. 4. With Seton Hall back at full strength and UConn likely not, the road game against Dan Hurley’s alma mater provides an extremely tough test in the Huskies’ first game back.
When UConn has the ball
Outside of RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin and potentially Adama Sanogo, it’s impossible to predict who can and who can’t play Saturday as the Huskies almost certainly will not be at full strength due to players recovering and ramping up from COVID-19.
Sanogo also suffered a hamstring injury in the win over Marquette hasn’t practiced much since. Assuming he will be able to play in some capacity, he’ll have his hands full going up against big man Ike Obiagu, who led the Big East in blocks last season. Even with Obiagu down low, the Huskies will likely feed Sanogo in the post for as long as he can go because the Pirates have one of the best perimeter defenses in the country. Opponents are shooting just 25.9 percent against Seton Hall from three this season, which ranks seventh nationally.
If Sanogo is unable to go or severely limited, Cole or Martin will likely try to get to the rim for layups or to get fouled. Cole is coming off a bout with COVID-19, so it’s unclear what his minutes will look like, but no matter how much he plays, it should be fun to see him and Bryce Aiken go at it on opposite ends.
Martin won’t have as big of a size advantage as usual due to the size and physicality of the Pirates’ backcourt, but he may be the team’s best and healthiest scoring option depending on how much Cole and Sanogo can play.
Overall, it’s unfortunate timing for the Huskies, who take on one of the better defenses in the conference with what will likely be an incomplete roster. Depending on who suits up, scoring may be hard to come by, but UConn may be able to still do enough defensively to stay in the mix.
When Seton Hall has the ball
The Pirates’ offense runs through their senior backcourt, led by Jared Rhoden and Bryce Aiken. Rhoden leads the team with 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while Aiken is second at 12.2 points per game. While this duo handles more than half of Seton Hall’s offensive possessions, experienced bigs Alexis Yetna and Tyrese Samuel can contribute as well.
Between Rhoden at 6-foot-6 and Aiken at 6-feet, UConn matches up well with this duo with Cole guarding Aiken and either Martin or Andre Jackson on Rhoden. But the Pirates have more size in the backcourt overall, with 6-foot-6 Syracuse transfer Kadary Richmond and 6-foot-6 super senior Myles Cale both seeing significant time.
Since Seton Hall struggles to shoot from deep — they shoot just 29.8 percent from three, which ranks 302nd in the country — expect the Pirates to try and use their size in the backcourt as well as the physicality of Yetna and Samuel for buckets in the paint. With Sanogo possibly unable to play or limited if he does, the battle on the glass could be a major factor, especially with the 7-foot-2 Obiagu on the floor.
While UConn may not yet be in perfect game shape and may have a depleted roster, the Huskies can hang around if they can force the Pirates to settle for 3-pointers and control the glass, specifically by keeping Yetna and Samuel in check.