When: Wednesday, December 28 — 6:30 p.m.
Where: XL Center — Hartford, Connecticut
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -14.5, over/under 146.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 76, Villanova 62
The rematch of UConn’s epic home victory over the Wildcats — arguably UConn’s most important win in the past six years — will take place tomorrow at the XL Center. The Huskies come into this one seeking their 14th-straight double digit victory to start the year, which would break the old Big East record set in 1985-86 by Syracuse, which started a season with 13-straight double digit wins.
UConn got a scare by a Georgetown team in dire need of a signature win last Wednesday, but were once again able to roll to victory on the back of their reserves, who combined for 22 points in the win.
The Wildcats and first year head coach Kyle Neptune have struggled to start the season, but are now starting to trend upwards. After stumbling out of the gate to a 2-5 record, Nova has rattled off five straight victories, most recently handling the 11-1 St. John’s Red Storm 78-63, a game in which they were favored by only five. They will look to continue this hot streak at the XL Center with the hopes of spoiling UConn’s unblemished record.
When Villanova has the ball
The Wildcats have a great blend of veteran leadership coupled with high-level young talent. The vets lead the way in scoring — Eric Dixon (16.1) and Caleb Daniels (15.7 points) have big game scoring and experience — playing a combined 72 games for the Wildcats over the past three seasons with a 3-1 record against the Huskies in that time. The offense will mostly run through them as the de-facto leaders of this team, but they get a lot of help from a number of guys, namely fifth-year senior forward Brandon Slater, a versatile and play-making wing who can stretch the defense, slash, and lock down opposing scorers with his length.
The backcourt starts with Chris Arcidiacono, brother of long-time Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono who won a title with the ‘Cats in 2016. Chris is not the player that Ryan was but fills the ‘glue guy’ need to a tee. He
Freshman Mark Armstrong (No. 57 nationally per 247Sports) shares ball-handling duties with Arcidiacono, and both are adept at taking care of the basketball, combining for only 1.3 turnovers and 3.6 assists per night. Armstrong only plays 18 minutes per game and has struggled shooting the basketball this season, but has a ton of ability and can score from all three-levels.
Jordan Longino — a former four star 2021 recruit — is one of the first Wildcats off the bench and has been a solid contributor thus far, putting up seven points per game after struggling to see the court on last year’s veteran-laid final four squad.
The most talented player on the Wildcats’ roster is hands down Cam Whitmore, the five-star from Maryland who is Villanova’s highest rated recruit since 2009 per 247Sports. Whitmore missed the first seven games of the year due to a thumb injury, but has flashed signs of dominance early on with 19 and 21 point performances already. He’s currently averaging 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds through five-games, but look for Neptune to continue running sets for Whitmore, allowing him to use his elite body control and athleticism to get downhill and get more opportunities near the rim where he excels. Him and Andre Jackson should have some great one-on-one battles throughout this game in what should be the matchup of the night.
Overall, Neptune’s squad boasts the 14th most efficient offense in the country per KenPom and after UConn let up 60 points in the first 30 minutes the other night against Georgetown and their 97th ranked offense, this will present a challenge for the Huskies.
When UConn has the ball
Sanogo will get another crack at besting a formidable counterpart in Dixon, a matchup that has gone back and forth over the past three meetings, with the UConn big man coming out on top over the last two. Dan Hurley will likely try to keep this trend going, feeding Sanogo early and often, hoping to get Dixon in some foul trouble. Outside of Dixon, the Wildcats severely lack another strong presence under the basket, which should lead to UConn’s star frosh Donovan Clingan feasting on whoever the Wildcats decide to put on him — he will have a significant size advantage regardless of who this is.
The second tallest player that Villanova has at it’s disposal is the 6-foot-8 Slater, though he may be able to take advantage of the quickness mismatch there on offense if he’s the one checking Clingan. Whoever is helping on the weak side will have to be on high-alert anytime Slater touches the ball from the wing.
As was the case with Georgetown and many other games this year though, UConn’s depth should dominate. The ‘Cats only go a legitimate seven-deep and with Dixon the only true big man, the Huskies hold a significant advantage over Villanova in this facet of the ball game. To mitigate the impact of the depth, Neptune will likely have the offense running even slower then their No. 339th adjusted tempo ranking, so look for UConn to speed up the game as much as possible so that the reserves can maximize their offensive impact when they ultimately come in near the latter half of the first period.