When: Wednesday, Jan. 10 — 7 p.m.
Where: Fiserv Forum — Milwaukee, Wisconsin
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -2.5, over/under 147.0
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 75, Marquette 73 — 58% win probability
UConn got things back on track Saturday with a convincing win over Creighton, snapping a two-game losing streak with a return to its roots. Thanks to an impressive outing from Adama Sanogo, solid contributions from Jordan Hawkins and the reemergence of Tristen Newton, the Huskies were able to fix a lot of what went wrong on the road against Xavier and Providence to get the victory, despite being outrebounded.
Wednesday’s tilt against Marquette marks the end of arguably the toughest stretch of the Huskies’ schedule. Starting with the New Year’s Eve loss to Xavier, UConn has played four teams that are all top-30 in KenPom, three of which have been on the road. While Xavier’s Cintas Center and Providence’s Amica Mutual Pavilion are two of the toughest places to play in the conference, Marquette’s Fiserv Forum isn't much easier, and the Golden Eagles are the second-highest ranked team in the conference per KenPom, coming in at No. 15.
All in all, it should make for another entertaining matchup in a series that may not have a long history but is peppered with some incredible games. The Huskies and Marquette have met just 13 times, with UConn having a 7-6 edge all time. Seven of the 13 matchups have been decided by eight points or less. There have been memorable moments on each side, like Jimmy Butler’s buzzer-beater in Hartford in 2010, a 29-point game from Jae Crowder in 2012, and Jeremy Lamb and Butler going head-to-head with 20-plus point games during the Huskies’ 2011 title season.
There is also the Steve Novak game, where the former Knicks sharpshooter dropped 41 on the Huskies in Milwaukee in Marquette’s first-ever Big East home game in 2006 in a game that still haunts UConn fans to this day. The Golden Eagles, who have never beaten UConn in Dan Hurley’s tenure, aren’t messing around this time and brought out the big guns to make sure Fiserv Forum was packed for tip-off.
In a way, this game is eerily similar to the Xavier game. The Huskies head out on the road to take on an opponent that boasts an elite offense (Marquette is sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency) and a competent defense. Against the Musketeers, the UConn offense faltered enough to get outgunned on the road. Can the Huskies’ offense get some help from the bench and do enough defensively to slow down this high-powered Marquette offense?
What to watch for
When UConn has the ball: To snap their losing streak, Dan Hurley and the Huskies put the ball in the hands of their best player as often as possible. Sanogo was used on 36 percent of UConn’s offensive possessions, his highest usage rate since Jan. 7. The junior big man came through when it mattered with 26 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and added nine boards. The Huskies are 17-4 all time when Sanogo’s usage rate is 30 percent or better, with just one of those losses occurring in the last two seasons — last year’s Big East Tournament loss against Villanova. Marquette’s bigs don’t necessarily have the size to hang with Sanogo for multiple possessions in the post — Sanogo has a little bit of a size and weight advantage on key bigs Olivier-Maxence Prosper and Oso Ighodaro — so the Huskies will likely go back to the well and utilize Sanogo early and often against a tough opponent in a hostile environment.
Sanogo’s frontcourt mate Donovan Clingan has been equally effective when he has been on the floor, but the freshman has seen limited minutes as of late, playing 10 or more minutes just four times since December. After logging 21 minutes, mostly alongside Sanogo, against Providence, Clingan played just eight against Creighton, mostly due to foul trouble. If Clingan can stay on the court, he has the opportunity to dominate the game for stretches, especially against this undersized Golden Eagles frontcourt.
During UConn’s two-game skid, the backcourt play was just about terrible, outside of Andre Jackson and Hawkins. Newton rose to the occasion against the Bluejays, scoring 13 points and getting to the line six times. If he can continue to score around the rim, get to the line and hit open 3-pointers, he should be able to take some pressure off the guards on the bench who have struggled as of late.
Speaking of the backcourt bench, the trio of Nahiem Alleyne, Hassan Diarra and Joey Calcaterra scored zero points on nine total shots against Creighton. All three of these players have had moments this season where they have carried the team for a stretch, so it isn’t necessarily a talent issue, but the bench guards need to step up and return to their early season form.
When Marquette has the ball: The Golden Eagles do a lot of things right on offense; such is the case when you rank sixth in the country in adjusted efficiency. Marquette features an elite distributor in point guard Tyler Kolek, who is ninth nationally in assist rate and is fresh off of a 15-assist game against Georgetown. Kolek’s job is to find easy looks for elite finishers such as guard Kam Jones and bigs Prosper and Ighodaro, all of which are shooting over 67 percent on 2-point shots and averaging more than 11 points per game.
Slowing down Kolek won’t be easy, but the Huskies have done it before, holding him to just two points and four assists early last season. Hawkins and Newton will likely get the first crack at bottling up the Rhode Island native, but Hassan Diarra could earn a few extra minutes on the court with some hard-nosed defense.
Marquette relies on utilizing their offense to find easy looks on the interior and shooter David Joplin (39 percent from beyond the arc). Jones, a 36 percent shooter from 3-point range, can stretch the floor in his own right, and Prosper is one of the best in the country at drawing fouls and getting to the line, averaging 3.3 shooting fouls drawn per game. For a UConn defense that has struggled with foul issues, especially on the road, Prosper’s skillset is something to keep an eye on.
Much like the rest of the Golden Eagles, Stevie Mitchell and Chase Ross aren’t offensive focal points, but are efficient inside the arc and play excellent defense on the other end.