UConn men’s basketball has reached the Big East Tournament Semifinals for the second-straight season after a dominant 62-52 win over Seton Hall on Thursday night. Here are some takeaways from the Huskies’ first tournament win of the season.
A defensive masterclass
Dan Madigan: It’s really hard to overstate how well UConn’s defense played last night. The Huskies held Seton Hall to just 18 first half points, the Pirates’ lowest total of the season. Isaiah Whaley controlled the area around the rim with four of UConn’s seven blocks, and Andre Jackson seemingly covered everything else, deflecting countless passes and disrupting any chance of any Seton Hall comebacks. Jackson and Tyrese Martin’s perimeter defense against a sizable backcourt of Kadary Richmond, Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden was extremely impressive, and even RJ Cole held his own despite giving up countless inches to Richmond.
Overall, the Huskies held Dan Hurley’s alma mater to just 0.87 points per possession, and look to be playing their best defense of the year at the best possible time. Villanova’s ultra-efficient offense will be a major test for this team, but UConn seems ready for the task.
Patrick Martin: What does career-highs in points (13.5), rebounds (7.6), and assists (2.0), all while shooting 42% from three land you in the awards category? Apparently nothing. Martin was snubbed on any All-Big East honors, which was discussed in-depth here.
We knew it was coming, but it was still awesome to see. Martin was chirping Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden the ENTIRE game. Flexes, stare-downs, the assist goggles, ‘too-short’ gestures. It’s clear Martin plays his best when he’s angry. He took the assignment on Rhoden —a first team All-Big East selection — like Michael Jordan takes anything: “me coming into this game, that was something I took personal tonight, and I went out there and did that.”
If Martin can bottle that sort of fire every game, UConn is going to be tough to beat.
Martin: You’ve probably heard every dad everywhere say it in March; teams that go far make their free throws. The Huskies did just that yesterday, going 12-14 from the charity stripe. It’s one of the reasons why UConn is comfortably a five seed on Sunday and the Xavier Musketeers— who went 13-29 (!) in their first round exit to Butler — are likely playing in the NIT next week.
The Huskies are third in the conference in free throw percentage (.750), but its especially notable Adama Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley shoot roughly 70% and 74% from the line, respectively. Sanogo is 36th in the country in rebounds at 8.6 per game. Of those 36th, only 13 have a better free throw percentage.
Martin: This Villanova tilt tonight is going to be epic. But it’s also going to be an incredibly tough mountain to climb. The Wildcats took St. John’s best punch last night, at home, and calmly waltzed back into the game. If UConn runs out to a 10 point lead at some point tomorrow, just know it could all come crashing down in two minutes.
That’s not to disparage the Huskies’ chances. But Villanova is frustratingly good at drawing contact, and UConn’s physicality that made life difficult for Seton Hall could be a problem tonight. If those ticky-tack fouls start to pile up, especially on Cole or Sanogo, the Huskies will have to find positive ways to channel their frustrations.