When: Tuesday, Jan. 31 — 8:00 p.m.
Where: Wintrust Arena — Chicago, Illinois
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -10.5, over/under 145.5 (odds via Caesar’s Sportsbook)
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 79, DePaul 67 (86 percent chance to win)
To say UConn needs this one badly is an understatement. The Huskies are traveling to DePaul (9-13, 3-8 Big East), which is the second-worst program in the conference according to KenPom, as the Blue Demons are ranked No. 135 in the country, only above lowly Georgetown.
The Huskies have feasted on sub-100 competition with a 9-0 record. All of these victories have come by double digits and Georgetown got the closest in an 11-point decision back in December. After its ranking rose as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll, Dan Hurley’s team has come tumbling down, with a 2-6 record since a New Year’s Eve loss on the road to Xavier.
Now sitting at No. 24, the Huskies will need to win this game against DePaul, in addition to Saturday’s date with the aforementioned Hoyas, likely in convincing fashion, to keep a number next to its name on Monday. Luckily for them, this seems like a matchup that should be favorable, but nothing has been easy for UConn over the past month.
When UConn has the ball
This game needs to be more like last week’s second half against Xavier rather than its first half. The Huskies were much more aggressive and successful with the ball in their hands in the final 20 minutes and came all the way back against the Musketeers.
The last time UConn played a team toward the bottom of the Big East in Butler, it scored 1.30 points per possession and did whatever it wanted to do offensively, taking just four midrange shots all afternoon and making their outside and inside looks.
DePaul, which is ranked No. 176 in defensive efficiency according to KenPom, is the sixth-worst defense the Huskies will face this season and is the second-worst in the Big East behind only Georgetown.
The Blue Demons are much smaller than UConn, which could be a big advantage as the Huskies should look to get inside. Da’Sean Nelson (6-foot-8, 205 pounds) and Yor Anei (6-foot-10, 228 pounds) get most of the minutes at center and the pair are much smaller than the hulking combination of Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan, which use the five spot as a platoon.
Tristen Newton, Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson also won’t have a size disadvantage. If they can get to the basket off the dribble early on, then that should keep defenders honest, opening up 3-point shots for Newton, Hawkins, Alex Karaban and Joey Calcaterra and create a strong offensive performance.
When DePaul has the ball
UConn is ranked No. 15 in defensive efficiency according to KenPom and the Huskies are the third-best defense DePaul has faced this season behind Oklahoma State and Seton Hall. The Blue Demons faced the Cowboys at the Battle 4 Atlantis and scored 1.05 points per possession and grabbed 1.03 points per possession against the Pirates at home on Jan. 14, but this was boosted by a combined 41-49 performance on free throws.
These games seem to be outliers, as DePaul is No. 269 in the country in free-throws as a share of field goal attempts, but UConn does put its opponents on the line at one of the highest rates in the country. As a team, the Blue Demons covert on 77.6 percent of their free throws, which is 16th in the country.
The hosts’ biggest offensive strength is 3-point shooting, as they are No. 75 in the country in percentage, converting on 35.9 percent of their looks. This is contrasted with a No. 305 ranking in 2-point percentage.
The backcourt should be going above screens and pressing on 3-point shots, particularly from Umoja Gibson, who is shooting 42 percent on 138 attempts this season, and Javan Johnson (39.6 percent on 134 attempts). Both Clingan and Sanogo will have the size advantage inside and should be able to handle any inside looks.