UConn men’s basketball returns to action Tuesday night as the Huskies welcome the No. 18 Marquette Golden Eagles to the XL Center. After a rough last week where UConn dropped games to both Creighton and Villanova, Dan Hurley’s squad kicks off arguably their toughest stretch of the season Tuesday, with games against No. 18 Marquette, No. 25 Xavier and a road game at St. John’s set for this week.
The Huskies got the better of the Golden Eagles when the two teams faced off in Milwaukee in December, as UConn rolled to a 78-70 win in their final game before its COVID-19 pause. The win has looked even better as the season has progressed — Shaka Smart’s team has gone 8-2 since the loss to the Huskies, including a pair of wins over Villanova and a 22-point thumping of Providence.
Marquette completed their season sweep over the Wildcats in their most recent game last Wednesday, defeating Villanova 83-73. Meanwhile, Nova responded one game later with a convincing home win over the Huskies as UConn has continued to struggle since they squeaked by DePaul on the road over a week ago.
Add in the fact that Darryl Morsell — a Maryland transfer who locked up James Bouknight in the NCAA Tournament last season, but missed this year’s first game with UConn due to COVID-19 protocols — should be available for Marquette Tuesday night, and the Huskies will once again have their work cut out for them on the offensive end.
When: Tuesday, Feb. 8 — 6:30 p.m.
Where: XL Center — Hartford, Connecticut
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -5.5, O/U 141.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 74, Marquette 69
When UConn has the ball
UConn’s backcourt carried the Huskies to victory in their win over Marquette earlier this season, with Andre Jackson, Tyrese Martin and RJ Cole combining for 55 of UConn’s 78 points. With Morsell, one of the best perimeter defenders in the conference, available this time around, that’s unlikely to happen. Morsell will likely float between Cole and Martin depending on the possession, and while the two will still be able to get their shots, it won’t be easy.
Big man Adama Sanogo played sparingly in that game as he returned from an abdominal and hamstring injury, scoring six points on six shots in 12 minutes. After shooting just 8-22 against DePaul and Creighton, the sophomore once again reestablished himself against Villanova, where he scored 14 points on 7-9 shooting. He’ll have a tough go in the post against similarly-sized sophomore Justin Lewis, and the battle between those two over the course of 40 minutes will likely determine which team comes out on top, especially for Sanogo on the offensive glass.
Cole bounced back from an inefficient performance against Creighton with a 25-point game against Nova that included him going 9-9 from the free-throw line. He’ll need to be ultra-efficient once again as he takes on a sizable backcourt in Morsell and Tyler Kolek.
Hurley utilized some new lineups and pairings in the loss to Villanova and while the Huskies didn’t get a win, it did seem to ignite freshman Jordan Hawkins, who hit 3-4 from beyond the arc for nine points in 17 minutes. If Hawkins can get going from deep, it would open up the offense and alleviate the pressure that Morsell, Lewis and Kur Kuath, who ranks fifth nationally block percentage, will put on the likes of Cole, Martin and Sanogo.
Like many of Smart’s teams, Marquette likes to push the pace and with quick possessions, as they rank 42nd in tempo and average just 15.3 seconds per possession, a mark that is the eighth fastest nationally and a full two seconds faster than UConn.
Hurley and the Huskies want a slightly slower game with fewer possessions and were able to do that effectively in Milwaukee earlier this year. This doesn’t mean that UConn won’t look to score in transition, but the Huskies will try to slow the game down by extending possessions with offensive rebounding and likely utilize more high ball screens to try and free the guards up from Morsell if the shot clock starts windings down.
When Marquette has the ball
Lewis is undisputedly the first option in this Golden Eagles offense, and has continued to play well since hanging 20 on the Huskies in December. Lewis is big and strong like Sanogo, but is slightly smaller and quicker, and more willing to stretch the floor with the 3-pointer. As Marquette has gotten into conference play, he’s gotten more comfortable shooting it from deep, taking five or more 3-pointers in five of his last six games. So far, the shift in the approach has worked well, as he’s shooting 41.4. percent from beyond the arc in conference play.
While Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley have some size on Lewis, they’ll likely have to step out to the perimeter more than usual to keep him from lighting it up from deep.
When UConn faced Morsell at Maryland last season, he was a nonfactor offensively, scoring just seven points and making his real contribution defensively by clamping down on Bouknight. This year, Morsell has improved dramatically as a shooter, shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range this season on 90 attempts, a more than 13 percentage-point improvement over his mark last season. He joins Kam Jones (38.8 percent), Greg Elliott (47.4 percent) and Lewis as legitimate 3-point options in this fast-paced Marquette offense.
If Lewis isn’t an option offensively, freshman point guard Tyler Kolek will look to find one of the shooters as one of the conference’s best distributors. The Rhode Island native is a major reason why the Golden Eagles have an assist on 63.8 percent of their baskets, the sixth-highest total nationally. With so much ball movement, defensive rotations and communications will be extremely important, especially with true stretch four in Lewis and shooters all over.