After dropping three of four to start the month of February, UConn men’s basketball is back on track, winning three games in six days last week, all against opponents in the top 60 in KenPom. The three-game week was capped off by an emotional 72-61 revenge win over Xavier on Saturday, and the Huskies look to extend their win streak to four games as they take on No. 8 Villanova at the XL Center and go for their first win against the Wildcats under Dan Hurley.
When: Tuesday, Feb. 22 — 8:00 p.m.
Where: XL Center — Hartford, Connecticut
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -1, O/U 137
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 68, Villanova 67
When UConn has the ball
When the Huskies and Wildcats faced off earlier this month, Adama Sanogo was his usual self offensively, but was held to a season-low two rebounds. For a UConn team that ranks third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and takes pride in cleaning up on the glass on both ends, Sanogo will need to contribute more in that facet and convert on some putbacks to help the Huskies’ offense keep up with one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Of course, crashing the offensive boards isn't just on Sanogo — Isaiah Whaley and Tyrese Martin, who combined for just two offensive boards against Villanova last time out — will need to pull their weight too.
For the first time in roughly five weeks, sharpshooter Tyler Polley made more than three 3-pointers in the win over the Musketeers. Polley is struggling a bit from deep this year, shooting just 33.9 percent on 3-pointers, well below his 37 percent career average from downtown. He’s also seen freshman Jordan Hawkins eat into his role a bit, but seemed to look like his old self against Xavier, going a perfect 3-3 from deep and hitting 5-6 free throws to finish with 16 points.
Polley is one of the more streaky shooters the Huskies have had in recent memory, but when he is on, there aren’t many better shooters around. If he can build off his performance Saturday and hit some timely deep shots within the rhythm of the offense, it will take loads of pressure off Sanogo, RJ Cole and Martin on the offensive end and give the Huskies another option to keep pace with this loaded Nova offense.
When Villanova has the ball
Even though the Wildcats are behind Providence in the Big East standings, Villanova is Big East’s highest-ranked team in KenPom (No. 11) and the AP Poll (No. 8), and just beat the Friars 89-84 last week on the road. Nova is looking to take care of business of the Huskies to set up a rematch against Providence next Tuesday, where the Big East regular-season title could be on the line.
The Huskies had no answer for big man Eric Dixon last time out, as the 6-foot-8 sophomore had 24 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the victory. While Dixon’s size is comparable to Sanogo, Dixon used his quickness to get by UConn’s rising star, and overpowered a struggling Whaley for countless buckets in the paint.
Super senior Collin Gillespie is the latest in a long line of Wildcat guards who have torched the Huskies. He scored 19 on UConn before suffering an ankle injury in the second half of that game, but is healthy now and once again leads the sixth-most efficient offense in the nation. Most of the Wildcats’ possessions start and end with the ball in Gillespie’s hands, and the crafty guard can score in a ton of different ways. At 6-foot-3, he’s big enough to back down smaller guards, but is also shooting 42.7 percent on threes this season on nearly 200 attempts. He’s also not afraid to create contact and get to the line, where he is shooting 92.7 percent this season.
The biggest X-factor in this season series finale between the Wildcats and Huskies is likely guard Justin Moore, who missed the first game against UConn this season with an ankle injury. The junior guard is averaging 15.5 points per game this season — second-most on the team behind Gillespie — and has the size to be a matchup nightmare for UConn at 6-foot-4.
Since sitting out against the Huskies, Moore is averaging 17.5 points and seven boards per game in his last four games, including a 19-point, 10-rebound effort against Providence. The backcourt of Gillespie and Moore is arguably the best in the conference, and the Huskies will need to rely on another solid defensive performance from Martin and Andre Jackson to keep Moore in check.