When: Wednesday, Jan. 18
Where: Prudential Center — Newark, New Jersey
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -4.0, over/under 135.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 69, Seton Hall 65 — 65 percent win probability
UConn returns to action Wednesday night after arguably its poorest performance of the 2022-23 season, an 11-point home loss to St. John’s on Sunday. The Red Storm out-hustled and out-played the Huskies for the essentially the full 40 minutes, handing UConn its fourth loss in five games and worst loss of the season to date.
For a team that looked nearly unstoppable through 14 games, handling opponents by double-digits and climbing all the way to No. 2 in the AP Poll and No. 1 in KenPom, UConn sure looks like a different team now. The Huskies are still ranked as one of the country’s top teams — No. 6 in KenPom, No. 15 in the AP Poll — but have played poorly as of late. Their defense, the team’s strong suit earlier this season, has failed as of late and was torched inside the perimeter by a solid, albeit unspectacular, St. John’s offense. The offense has seen big games from stars like Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo, but the bench production has all but dried up outside of freshman big man Donovan Clingan.
UConn will have to try and snap out of this funk on the road against Dan Hurley’s alma mater, a tough Seton Hall team that boasts the No. 17 defense in the country per KenPom. Now led by former Saint Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway, who led the Peacocks to a Cinderella Elite Eight run last season, the Pirates are looking for another marquee win to put alongside their victory over in-state rival Rutgers last month.
When UConn has the ball:
Against St. John’s, UConn got a career performance out of Jordan Hawkins, who scored 31 points but also posted seven turnovers. Outside of Hawkins, only Alex Karaban (16 points) and Adama Sanogo (14 points) hit double figures. While this trio is capable of carrying the offense for stretches, the Huskies’ offense was at its best earlier this season when more of the backcourt contributed.
Tristen Newton, the closest thing this team has to a starting point guard, has struggled during UConn’s skid. After a solid 13-point outing in the win over Creighton, he was largely ineffective against Marquette and was scoreless in 18 minutes against St. John’s. He has scored just 19 total points across the Huskies’ four losses this season, and needs to be a contributor on the offensive end to keep the UConn offense chugging along. If Newton continues to struggle on offense, it’s possible Hurley turns to Hassan Diarra, a much more limited offensive player but one that brings more tenacity on the defensive end.
Diarra, while energetic, hasn’t really done anything to pry the starting point guard job away from Newton. In the last five games, the backcourt bench of Diarra, Joey Calcaterra and Nahiem Alleyne have scored a total of 31 points. Outside of Donovan Clingan, who has been a force on both ends when not in foul trouble, the decline of the Huskies’ bench has been a major factor for the team’s recent losing ways. One of those three guards — be it Calcaterra, Diarra or Alleyne — has to step offensively to take pressure off the likes of Hawkins, Andre Jackson and Karaban on the perimeter.
Seton Hall does have some size in the post between 6-foot-10 bigs KC Ndefo and Tray Jackson, but with the team in a rut offensively, UConn will likely once again try to get Sanogo going down low early and often. The junior big struggled with turnovers against Marquette, but rebounded with an efficient 14-point, 10-board double-double against St. John’s. With so much of the rest of the team struggling, it will be up to the likes of Sanogo, Hawkins and Karaban to keep the offense going against an extremely tough Pirates defense and hope that the rest of the team can once again rise to the occasion.
When Seton Hall has the ball:
The Pirates have had a roller coaster of a season thus far under first year head coach and Seton Hall alumnus Shaheen Holloway. Returning two out of your top six scorers from a season ago will do that to you. The Pirates have lost almost every game that was projected to be competitive, their wins over Rutgers and Memphis being the exception there, but have kept their head above water by taking care of business in the cupcake portion of their schedule and holding serve against the bottom of the Big East. Currently the Pirates are tied with UConn for fifth in the conference with a 4-4 record, so the winner of this game will gain a slight advantage over the other in standings.
Holloway was known for his pressure defense at St. Peter’s, and he’s brought the same energy and style to South Orange. The Pirates rank No. 17 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency on KenPom, and boast the nation’s ninth-ranked 3-point defense. They don’t force a ton of turnovers, but are disciplined in their ability to get up under you and contest shots without fouling, something that the Huskies have struggled with quite a bit this season.
It hasn’t been pretty on the offensive end for the Pirates, as their leading scorer - Al-Amir Dawes, a senior transfer from Clemson - averages a mere 11.9 points. That’s totally fine with Holloway, though. Similar to UConn, Holloway reaches deep into his bench, with eight players averaging over 22 minutes per game and six of those hitting at least 7.4 points a night. They’ve had seven different players lead the team in scoring this year, as opposed to UConn’s four. He wants as many able bodies out there as he can get so he can constantly ramp up the pressure, but also slow the game down on offense and score through controlled, scripted sets. The Pirates are No. 247th in adjusted tempo (St. Peter’s was No. 237 last season under Holloway) - they play aggressive on defense but the offensive end is another story.
Getting the ball to their best athlete and play-maker Kadary Richmond will be a focal point for the Pirates, as Richmond infamously smoked UConn for 27 points in an OT win last season. He never quite evolved into the all-league player that many expected but is still a major problem, especially in the mid-range where he can hit a short jumper or crash to the rim and make an acrobatic finish. A triumvirate of senior forwards anchor the inside - Tyrese Samuel, Tray Jackson, and KC Ndefo - all serviceable big men in the Big East with their combined 26 points and almost 14 rebounds, though UConn should have a major advantage inside. Both Sanogo and Clingan are considerably more skilled and have a size advantage on all three, so look for that to be a key area of attack for Dan Hurley. With how good the Pirates 3-point defense is, this likely isn’t the game the Huskies will break out of their long-range slump.