No. 20 UConn men’s basketball is part of the Phil Knight Invitational, which in conjunction with the Phil Knight Legacy, are a pair of eight-team men’s brackets and four-team women’s tournaments to celebrate Nike founder Phil Knight’s 85th birthday. The Huskies will face off against Oregon in the opener on Thanksgiving Day, followed by whichever team matches UConn’s result in Alabama and Michigan State. The event’s final game will come against one of Iowa State, North Carolina, Portland and Villanova.
When: Thursday, Nov. 24 — 8 p.m. ET
Where: Moda Center — Portland, Oregon
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -3, over/under 139.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 73, Oregon 69
The season begins for real on Thursday. UConn has mowed its way through five bottom-half teams to dominating results, building chemistry and getting healthy, while also determining the roles of the many newcomers against live competition, even if their strength of schedule is fourth-worst in the country, according to KenPom. The warm-ups are over and the Huskies will face, in all likelihood, three KenPom top-50 opponents in four days, all on a neutral floor. Dan Hurley’s crew gets it started against Oregon, which has already shown that they can be beaten, even if the crowd in Portland will be decidedly in its favor.
When UConn Has the Ball
UConn has made a living doing two things: turning turnovers into buckets and feeding the block. Adama Sanogo is in the top 175 in usage rate, according to KenPom, at 28.0 percent, despite playing only 23.6 minutes per game. Even when playing alongside Donovan Clingan, the Huskies have been able to space the floor effectively and let their big man (or men, if both are on the floor) go to work.
Anchored by Sanogo’s 67.7 percent shooting and Clingan’s 76.9 percent mark, the Huskies shoot 61.2 percent on their 2-pointers, which is No. 10 in the country. While Sanogo and Clingan have been able to bully teams that are just physically overmatched thus far and this percentage will likely decrease against a higher level of competition, shooting from in close is easier than shooting midrange jumpers and this tendency is a winning strategy.
While this is also partially driven by an advantage in length and athleticism thus far, UConn is also elite at forcing turnovers and getting out in transition for easy buckets. UConn is No. 36 in the country in turnover percentage and has used these opportunities to score points quickly and overwhelm its already overmatched foes. Oregon is certainly not UNC Wilmington or Boston University, but if the Huskies can get out and run a little, the success could continue.
When Oregon Has the Ball
Oregon is already at 2-2, having defeated Florida A&M and Montana State soundly, with home defeats to UC Irvine and Houston mixed in. While dropping a home game to the Anteaters looks bad, they are ranked No. 114 in KenPom and are certainly not a bad squad. Despite that, the Ducks are going to want to start to rack up the wins if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Dana Altman’s team likes to play it slow. Oregon is below No. 200 in adjusted tempo, which is even slower than UConn. This game will be played in the half court and if they can help it it, the Ducks will not let the Huskies get out in transition for easy buckets off of turnovers, which has been a big part of the offense so far this season. Oregon has averaged 13.8 turnovers per game this year and are No. 245 in the country in turnover percentage, while the Huskies are in the top 40. This is a trend to watch throughout the evening.
The Ducks will also have impressive length, with 6-foot-11 N’Faly Dante being used on 25.1 percent of his team’s possessions this year, while true 7-footer Nate Bittle isn’t far behind at 23.6 percent. Overall, Oregon mostly plays seven deep and only Keeshawn Barthelemy is shorter than 6-foot-5. The eighth player in the rotation and the only other with more than 10 minutes per game on the year is 6-foot-5 Tyrone Williams. While the team is long, Dante is only 230 pounds, while Bittle is 215. In contrast, UConn’s big men in Sanogo (6-foot-9, 245 pounds) and Clingan (7-foot-2, 265 pounds), will not be oversized, while Andre Jackson is capable of guarding one through four.
When: Friday, Nov. 25 - 10 p.m. (win), Saturday, Nov. 26 - 12:30 a.m. (loss)
Where: Veterans Memorial Coliseum - Portland, Oregon
TV: ESPN2 or ESPNU (win), ESPN or ESPN2 (loss)
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Whichever team matches UConn’s result in the battle between Alabama and Michigan State, which takes place on ESPN immediately after the Huskies’ battle with Oregon, will be UConn’s second matchup in the event.
Ranked No. 13 in KenPom, the Crimson Tide have played a quartet of buy games to mostly expected results, though South Alabama was able to hang in and lose by merely 10 points. Alabama’s lowest win probability at any point this season has been 82.8 percent, less than four minutes into a battle with Liberty that it won by 36.
The Crimson Tide are in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, despite being ranked sub-300 in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage, though the team is elite at rebounding. Alabama is also the best team in the country at defending 2-pointers.
Sitting at No. 24 in KenPom, the Spartans’ only blemish is a one-point loss to Gonzaga, a game played on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego. Armed with a top-15 strength of schedule due to its game against the Bulldogs in addition to battles with Kentucky in the Champions Classic and Villanova, Michigan State arrives in Oregon battle-tested.
While not elite at any one thing on offense or defense, aside from 3-point shooting, the Spartans still have a top-25 defense and are ranked No. 31 on offense. Tom Izzo’s team has played tough teams and have delivered results and are always a formidable foe.