UConn got a much-needed win over Seton Hall Tuesday night, avoiding a regular-season sweep in their series with the Pirates and holding on to third place in the Big East standings.
Some thoughts after the Huskies’ five-point victory:
UConn has benefitted from some breaks
I don’t want to come across as a wet blanket. UConn is a clear-cut top 25 team that has the potential to make a deep run in March. Their resume and metrics make them bubble resistant, barring a catastrophic collapse. While many like to beat the “Providence is lucky” drum, the Huskies have quietly gotten a few breaks as well:
- Their season-defining win vs. Auburn came without Allen Flanigan, who averages seven points per game for the No. 2 Tigers and is one of the team’s better defenders.
- The solid non-conference win against St. Bonaventure came with the Bonnies missing point guard Kyle Lofton, who averages 13 points and six assists per game.
- Their first win against Marquette was without Husky-killer Darryl Morsell, although this has since been rectified with their season-sweep of the Golden Eagles.
- UConn was boat raced by Villanova on the road without Justin Moore, who, if you saw the Nova-Providence game this week, makes the Wildcats incredibly dangerous.
- Sunday’s win vs. St. John’s came with the Johnnies down Posh Alexander, and last night’s dub vs. Seton Hall was without Bryce Aiken. Both are among the league’s best point guards.
That’s not to throw those results out the window, because UConn has also adversely been affected by injuries or pandemic-related absences. The Huskies lost games to Michigan State, Providence, and West Virginia in which they were down key guys or just coming off of injuries or COVID breaks.
Either way, it should serve as a stark reminder that if the Huskies are not firing on all cylinders, or down a player unexpectedly, anything can happen. This is a team incredibly reliant on a sophomore big man who is prone to foul trouble. A thinning bench (seven points vs. Seton Hall last night) and inconsistent shooting make them upset prone. UConn seems just as likely to bow out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as it is to go to the Elite 8, given the variance in its performances.
Defense and rebounding tend to travel well
All of that being said, the Huskies are looking elite in some places that really count. UConn’s rebounding margin of 7.4% is 12th in the country. A distant second in the Big East is Seton Hall with a margin of 4.9%, as the Huskies wiped out the Pirates on the glass last night 41-31. Sanogo leads the conference with 8.6 rebounds per game, but UConn has three others averaging 4.9 or more per game, including Andre Jackson (7.5, eighth in the conference).
UConn really shines on the offensive glass, where they’re third in the country with 14.28 per game and a percentage of 37.3%. Sanogo alone is ninth in the country with 3.62 per game. Watch the next four games to see who wins the rebounding battle. Xavier sits third in the Big East with a rebounding margin of 4.3. Villanova, Creighton, and DePaul are all above 3.
The Huskies are also pretty studly defensively. They’re ranked 28th in the country in KenPom defensive efficiency and holding opponents to some of the lowest eFG (44.9% - 14th) and 2-point shooting percentage allowed (42.1% - 4th) in the nation.
Bad fouls, too many of them
Sports-reference.com shows Isaiah Whaley leading the Big East in fouls (70), while Cole (61), Sanogo (60), Jackson (58) are all in the top 15. That’s not an entirely damning statistic, considering Villanova also has four players in the top 15. But the difference is Villanova has the offensive firepower to withstand foul trouble. For a team so dependent on rebounding as a source of easy offense, and on a couple of players to be reliable scorers, UConn has to walk a very fine line to avoid foul trouble while exerting its dominance on the boards.
The home crowd!
The crowd energy was great, as Dan Hurley noted after the game. It really gave the Huskies an extra edge. Hurley’s squad must be excited to play another one in Gampel as they get ready for Xavier on Saturday.