The final day of the regular season is upon us. For many teams, this is their last audition to prove NCAA Tournament worthiness before conference tournaments tip off next week, while for others, including No. 18 UConn, chemistry and positive momentum are the biggest focuses on the day, as their tickets to the Bid Dance are already secured.
The Huskies had a brutal first half that they were never able to fully erase on Wednesday against Creighton, which means that they will need to win and require help to secure the No. 3 seed in the Big East Tournament. With a win and a Creighton loss to Seton Hall in the game before UConn’s in the Big East tripleheader on FOX, the Bluejays will be the No. 4 and Dan Hurley’s team will stake claim to the No. 3 seed. However, any other combination will flip-flop the two squads in the final standings.
DePaul (15-14, 6-13 Big East) is locked into either the No. 9 or No. 10 seed for next week’s conference tournament and has been unable to find consistency through the season, but the Blue Demons come in with three consecutive wins, including home victories over St. John’s and Marquette, in addition to a victory against Georgetown on the road. They also have a road win over Xavier and split the season series with Seton Hall, though half of the Blue DePaul’s conference wins have come since Feb. 24 and they were against either a winless team in Georgetown or on their home floor.
When: Saturday, March 5 — 5 p.m. ET
Where: Gampel Pavilion — Storrs, Conn.
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn - 10; O/U: 140.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 76, DePaul 65
When UConn has the ball
Creighton has now broken two winning streaks of more than five games for the Huskies. After the Bluejays’ first victory on Feb. 1, UConn had to go to Philadelphia and face Villanova on the road, leading to a second straight loss, the only time all season they fell in consecutive games. While the Blue Demons are no Villanova, ranked No. 103 in KenPom to the Wildcats’ No. 12, the first meeting between these two teams was anything but easy for UConn.
Neither team broke 60 in a 57-50 final and RJ Cole and Adama Sanogo were the only two players to make more than three shots for the Huskies. As a team, they shot 37.3 percent from the field and 2-15 from 3-point range, including a combined 0-7 from Tyler Polley and Jordan Hawkins, with both makes attributed to Cole. The graduate student was a large reason why UConn won this game, as he had nine of his team’s 22 field goals. The Huskies will also be without Hawkins, who will miss the game due to concussion protocols.
DePaul is No. 108 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, which while solid, is hardly elite, but they were able to just enough to keep UConn from hitting shots and extending a lead once the Huskies got in front in the second half, despite what was happening on the other side of the floor.
Regardless of who is available, an offensive improvement, particularly from Polley and Tyrese Martin, who was 3-10 from the field against DePaul, will be key to a UConn win.
When DePaul has the ball
Just as DePaul frustrated UConn on the offensive end, the reverse was also true. The Blue Demons had an even worse shooting performance, at 28.8 percent, making only five field goals in the second half. Javan Johnson, who averages 7.1 points per game, led the way with 18 points, while Brandon Johnson added another 14, accounting for 64 percent of their team’s points and nine of their 15 field goals.
However, the Blue Demons were without Javon Freeman-Liberty, who is leading the Big East in points per game at 21.7, more than two points ahead of second place. Despite being merely 6-foot-4, the senior is also ninth in the conference in rebounding. Freeman-Liberty had 26 points in DePaul’s win over Marquette on Wednesday and has more than 20 points in each of his last four games. He is a valuable piece that was not available the last time these two teams played and whoever draws the Chicago native will have a tough assignment.
Freeman-Liberty controls the offense, but David Jones, who the Huskies successfully eliminated in January, adds 14.7 points per game and is a solid second option for the Blue Devils. DePaul is ranked No. 109 in offensive efficiency, scoring 107.1 points per 100 possessions, while the team is ranked No. 85 in adjusted tempo. Isaiah Whaley and Sanogo were able to shut down the inside in the first matchup and provided Sanogo is healthy, look for more of the same on Saturday, especially with what will be an emotional crowd on Senior Day.