When: Sunday, Jan. 22
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, CT
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -15.5, over/under 137.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 76, Butler 62 — 91 percent win probability
Remember the last time UConn men’s basketball played Butler? It was a simpler time, when the only gripe fans had was if an AP voter didn’t rank UConn No. 1 in the country. Now, The No. 15-ranked Huskies host Butler (11-9, 3-6) Sunday at noon, looking for just their second win of 2023.
What a difference a month makes. On Dec. 17, UConn dispatched the Bulldogs by 22 on the road in their Big East conference opener. Since then, the Huskies have lost five of their last eighth games, and looked a little off in wins over Georgetown and Villanova. It’s the perfect time and opponent for a stabilizing Get-Right Game, with the Huskies holding the 6-0 all-time edge over Butler.
The Bulldogs are fresh off a 19-point drubbing on their home court by Creighton, while the Huskies lost in brutal fashion to Seton Hall on the road. Dan Hurley, who missed the Seton Hall game due to COVID, should be back on the sidelines agains the Bulldogs. The Huskies match up well with Butler on paper, and they’re still an elite team in most analytical metrics. But that’s more of a testament to how dominant that UConn looked in November and December. If you lined up those analytics from December to January, it would look like Tesla’s stock price. So while UConn is a vastly superior team to Butler and is playing at home, the last three weeks should have fans bracing for any outcome.
When Butler has the Ball
Butler’s supporting cast has rounded into form, with four players averaging double-digit scoring. UConn must now account for Simas Lukosius, a sophomore that fired off 28 points in a win over Villanova on Jan. 13. Thad Matta will also likely welcome back 6-foot-11 senior Manny Bates, who missed the last two games with a knee injury but put up 16 points in the first matchup with UConn. Sophomore Jayden Taylor and junior Chuck Harris shot a combined five of 19 versus UConn in December, but are two of Butler’s most impactful players, per EvanMiya.
Butler’s scoring offense is ranked second to last in the Big East, but guess who’s ranked last? Seton Hall, who UConn just let score 41 second-half points on Wednesday. Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan can check Bates inside. There’s size and length on the perimeter to lock down Taylor and Harris. But that’s 2022 UConn on defense. The 2023 iteration of the Huskies are playing E-Z pass with ball handlers in the lane and have fouled at a criminal rate. They have 51 (!) fouls in the last two games. They’re not relentless to loose balls. Given their current form, Butler has two guys in Bates and Lukosius that can go off.
When UConn has the Ball
UConn has 39 (!!) turnovers in their last two games. The road to recovery starts and ends with taking care of the rock. When you’re giving the ball away like candy, the defensive gameplan against UConn is painfully simple; double Sanogo, run Jordan Hawkins off the three point line, and let someone else beat you.
In the last five games, Joey Calcaterra, Naheim Alleyne, and Hassan Diarra are a combined 4-24, 1-13, and 3-15, respectively, from the field. Tristen Newton got on track a little against Seton Hall with 11 points, but the backcourt still needs him to be a downhill threat.
Andre Jackson hasn’t cracked double-digit scoring since the New Year’s Eve game vs. Xavier, and has an assist-turnover ratio of 1.3 in his last three games, a sharp regression from a season ratio of 2.6 that’s 29th in the country. Clingan remains the team’s only bright spot during this putrid stretch, but has averaged just 13.6 minutes in the last three games and has accumulated 10 fouls in that stretch.
For as bad as UConn has been, they’re still the No. 6 KenPom team in the country. Butler checks in at No. 92. Hurley and company should be in the video editing room cutting up highlight reels of every player earlier in the year, because right now, the kids probably feel like they can do nothing right.
If the Huskies play to their November-December identity, they cruise and fans can start to get excited again. But the coaching staff can’t just will the kids to flip the switch. There need to be tactical adjustments that help empower the turnaround. You can fill pages about what’s wrong with the Huskies in 2023 so far, but they can be drilled down to two big issues; fouls and turnovers. Take care of the ball and stop fouling, and a cathartic win is around the corner.