No. 24 UConn men’s basketball has reached the middle portion of a crucial three-game homestand heading into the final games of the regular season. The Huskies got it started on Wednesday with a 70-65 victory over Seton Hall, avenging an overtime defeat on the road on Jan. 8. The Huskies, which fell to Xavier on the road in a close loss just last week, look to make it three-straight wins and four out of their last five when they welcome the Muskateers to Gampel Pavilion in front of a sold-out crowd on network television.
Xavier, which is 17-8 and 7-7 in Big East play, is fresh off a home beatdown at the hands of St. John’s on Wednesday and is looking to not have its conference record fall below .500 for the first time this season and sweep the season series against the Huskies, a feat no team has accomplished yet in 2021-22.
When: Saturday, Feb. 19 — 12 p.m.
Where: Gampel Pavilion — Storrs, Connecticut
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn - 6.5; O/U 139.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 73, Xavier 67
When UConn has the ball
The Huskies were cold from beyond the arc inside the Cintas Center on Feb. 11, shooting 8-24. This performance permitted the Xavier defense to sag off the outside shooters and focus on Adama Sanogo inside. The Musketeers eliminated the high-low game that works so well for UConn when Sanogo is given space to operate, and the poor shooting effort was compounded by just 11 points from the sophomore with only six field-goal attempts, though he was also in and out of foul trouble, playing merely 25 minutes.
Dan Hurley needs to get better outside performances from his team on Saturday and Tyrese Martin could be the key to that. In the St. John’s game especially, he was hitting rhythm shots in transition and converting on his open looks, with a 5-6 game from 3-point range. Though he was just 1-5 against Seton Hall, he was effective inside, shooting 4-8 on two-pointers. Success from Martin, as well as RJ Cole, Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins, will help give Sanogo room to get deep in the post and play his game, which has created opportunities for easy points when UConn is at its best, whether Sanogo is finishing it himself, making a pass to an open player on the outside, or cleaning up misses off the boards.
When Xavier has the ball
Xavier was colder than UConn from 3-point range, hitting just 4-14 when the two teams met on Feb. 11, but what it did much better than the Huskies was hit its two-pointers. The Musketeers were 22-39, which is 56.4 percent, compared to UConn’s 15-36 mark, which is well below 50 percent. Seven-footer Jack Nunge took advantage of Sanogo’s absence due to foul trouble, going 4-5 from inside in addition to his two 3-pointers, scoring 22 points to lead all scorers. Sanogo gives up three inches to Nunge, but only five pounds, so it’s important for the sophomore to remain in the game as a strong presence inside, along with Isaiah Whaley.
Xavier also only played six players with any significance against the Huskies, as only two other players appeared to combine for 10 minutes, and all six did an effective job. Though Nunge had 22 points, only two other Musketeers (Zach Freemantle and Nate Johnson) were in double figures and each of the six scored at least eight points. Xavier does not roll deep, as they played just seven against St. John’s on Wednesday despite the Red Storm’s up-tempo style. UConn is known for its physical defense up and down the floor and with so few players appearing in the rotation, ratcheting up the physicality and full-court presses could pave the way to victory, especially with more than 10,000 rowdy fans packing Gampel Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.