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Preview: No. 8 UConn men’s basketball vs. Oklahoma State | 6:30 p.m. ET, FS1

The Huskies return home to Gampel after a breakout Phil Knight Invitational performance.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Oklahoma Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

When: Thursday, Dec. 1 - 6:30 p.m.

Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Connecticut


Radio: UConn Sports Network

Odds: UConn -10.5, over/under 138.5

KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 75, Oklahoma State 64

The Maui Bump is real, but what about the Nike Hike? The No. 8 UConn men’s basketball team (8-0) is the talk of the college basketball town after boat racing the competition in Portland at the Phil Knight Invitational. But all of this newfound clout means nothing if you immediately lay an egg in the next game, like No. 5 Purdue almost did Wednesday night against one-win Florida St. The Huskies have a chance for another Big 12 win Thursday night when they host Oklahoma State.

As of Thursday morning, UConn is No. 5 in KenPom and favored right now in every remaining game this season except for their road tilt at Creighton. But the Big 12 is and has been the best conference in basketball, so the Cowboys, with four starters returning, will have the experience. There’s depth too, with nine players averaging at least 10 minutes per game.

It will be a fun test to see if UConn — now a trendy Final Four pick — can impose its will on a tough but ultimately lesser-talented team. The Huskies will no longer sneak up on anyone — can they still play with the relentless tenacity they’ve shown all year with a target on their back? At home in Gampel, in front of a sold-out student crowd, you have to like their chances.

When UConn Has the Ball

This isn’t your typical Hurley team that relies on offensive boards and grinds out buckets — they share the crap out of the ball. The transfers and freshmen have jelled together beautifully and its been a joy to watch. UConn has assisted on 65.9% of its made field goals this season, a rate that’s top 10 in the country. They’ve been held under 80 points only once, and that was the rockfight against Iowa State, their third game in four days.

The Cowboys will have to pick their poison because UConn has shown remarkable balance on the offensive end. Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan clean up inside, and their gravity has opened up shots for Tristen Newton, Alex Karaban, Joey Calcaterra and Jordan Hawkins. Any number of those guys can go off and beat a team if they get hot. That type of game-changing depth is unprecedented in the last 20 years at UConn.

Case in point, Hawkins and Sanogo combined for six (!) points and the Huskies beat Iowa State — No. 20 in KenPom efficiency — by 17. It won’t get any easier for Sanogo and Clingan though, as the Cowboys have the 27th ranked KenPom defense and are eighth nationally in EvanMiya’s defensive metrics.

That’s mostly due to Moussa Cisse, a 6-foot-10 monster that’s averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game. The former top-20 recruit is an elite rim-protecting threat that ranks third in the country in blocks. The co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is especially imposing paired with the 6-foot-9 Kalib Boone, another plus defender.

More efficiency from Clingan will go a long way in wearing down the Cowboys’ frontline. After Cisse and Boone, only Tyreek Smith has the size to match UConn’s physicality.

Cowboys head coach Mike Boynton likes to stock his rosters full of long, switchy athletes, so UConn will once more have to handle steady ball pressure. Senior guard Avery Anderson III averages two steals per game this season, and if there’s one blemish on Huskies’ season so far, it’s turnovers. The starting duo of Newton and Nyheim Alleyne combined for 11 turnovers against Iowa State. Alleyne had a rough PK80, but has the pedigree and consistent defensive effort to get out of his own head. Bet on a bounce back game maybe as soon as Thursday night.

Alleyne, Andre Jackson, and Hassan Diarra will need to relieve some of the ball-handling responsibilities from Newton. Jackson looked rough to start the PK80, but knocked off that rust pretty quickly and was perhaps the most impactful player on the floor against Iowa State.

When Oklahoma State Has the Ball

The 6-foot-2 Anderson and junior Bryce Thompson will have to contend with UConn’s backcourt length, but both are career double-digit scorers, the latter lighting up Iowa State last year for 34 points. This year though, that duo is only shooting a combined 10-36 from three. Caleb Asberry can get a bucket off the bench, while fellow senior and High Point transfer John-Michael Wright is a career 35% 3-point shooter.

Cisse and Boone don’t shoot much — they are third and fourth on the team in field goal attempts — but the former can gobble up offensive boards if left alone.

The Cowboys won’t wow anyone on the offensive end. For as impressive as UConn has been on offense, Hurley’s usually-tough defense has been dialed to another level this year; the Huskies are sixth in the country in EvanMiya’s defensive efficiency. If that sort of defensive effort shows up, Oklahoma State won’t do anything that must be frantically adjusted to.

The Cowboys are deep, experienced, and play in a loaded conference. After getting banned from the NCAA tournament last year, they will be a tournament-level team this year if shots start falling and the defense stays elite. That alone makes for a tough matchup, but UConn’s torrid start to the season makes it hard to bet against.