Following their bounce-back win over St. John’s on Super Bowl Sunday, the No. 24 UConn men’s basketball team is out for revenge as they welcome a tough Seton Hall squad to Gampel Pavilion Wednesday night. The Pirates defeated the Huskies 90-87 in overtime in UConn’s first game back from their COVID-19 pause, largely thanks to an otherworldly second half from sophomore Kadary Richmond.
Seton Hall has won three of their last four, with Villanova snapping their three-game win streak with a 73-67 win over the Pirates on Feb. 12. Prior to that, Seton Hall beat Georgetown by seven, handily defeated Creighton and squeaked by Xavier with a 73-71 win. Kevin Willard has done that all without star guard Bryce Aiken, who has missed the last seven games with a concussion.
A win against Dan Hurley’s alma mater would keep the Huskies firmly locked into third place in the Big East standings and give the team some momentum as they take on a brutal stretch of Xavier and Villanova at home within the next week.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 16 — 8:30 p.m.
Where: Gampel Pavilion — Storrs, Connecticut
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -5.5, over/under 137
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 72, Seton Hall 67
When UConn has the ball
Adama Sanogo posted his worst game of the season in the win over St. John’s, scoring eight points on just 4-13 shooting with three turnovers. His offensive rating of 56 was the worst number he’s posted all season, and the second-worst of his career. The big man’s rhythm was once again thrown off by early foul trouble, and teams will continue to target the big man on both ends as his presence in the post not only leads to easy baskets for Sanogo himself, but helps shooters on the perimeter get easier looks.
The Mali native did well against the Pirates and their experienced frontcourt of Alexis Yetna and Ike Obiagu last time out, scoring 18 points and hauling in 16 rebounds. He’ll need to stay out of foul trouble and play like his usual self if the Huskies plan to come away with a win in this game.
In the month of February, Hurley has been utilizing some lineups that feature two of the team’s better 3-point shooters — Jordan Hawkins and Tyler Polley — on the floor together. While this has been largely due to the fact that Hawkins has taken a step forward defensively, allowing him to stay on the floor for longer stretches, this lineup has allowed the ball handlers more space to get into the lane and for Sanogo to establish himself in the paint. If neither of those options are available, the kick-out to Hawkins or Polley is there for a quality shot.
While Hawkins hasn't converted much from deep lately, shooting 2-8 from beyond the arc in his last two games, he’s shooting with confidence, getting good looks and just barely missing shots. He’s a few soft bounces away from his shooting numbers looking a lot better.
Lastly, Jalen Gaffney is starting to look a little bit like his old self as of late, and while he was scoreless against St. John’s, the junior served as an offensive spark plug in the Xavier game, scoring seven points in 14 minutes. If he can limit turnovers and score in transition, he’ll take a tremendous amount of pressure (and minutes) off of RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin — something sorely needed as tournament play approaches.
When Seton Hall has the ball
The Pirates will likely be without Aiken for an eighth-straight game — a major blow, considering the fifth-year senior dropped 22 points with seven assists in the win over UConn just over five weeks ago.
With Aiken out, Willard has leaned into the Pirates’ size advantage to become even bigger, frequently throwing out a three-guard combination of Kadary Richmond, Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden — all of which are 6-foot-6 and over 200 pounds.
The Huskies had no answer for Richmond last time out, as the Syracuse transfer was too quick for bigs like Isaiah Whaley, but overpowered guards like Martin and Andre Jackson. Hurley will need to have some solution to slow down the sophomore, who has scored double digits in four of his last five games while averaging over five assists per game and shooting over 50 percent (6-11) from 3-point range in that span.
Seton Hall will likely use one of those three sizable guards to back down Cole or Martin when they need a bucket, or clear out and let Richmond create a shot like he did so frequently in the second half of the Pirates’ win over UConn in January.
While Richmond is the hot hand for the Pirates from deep, they don’t shoot the ball well from three overall, coming in at just 32.9 percent. However, big man Tray Jackson has become more of a floor-stretcher as of late. The 6-foot-10 junior is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc in the month of February on 20 attempts, and just hit four of six 3-pointers in Saturday’s loss to Villanova. With his size and hot shooting, it may be enough to pull bigs like Whaley and Sanogo a little farther out from the basket, giving Willard’s big guards even more space to take advantage of the smaller UConn backcourt.