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Preview: No. 4 UConn men’s basketball at Providence

The Huskies hope to recover from their first loss of the season when they take on a top rival tonight.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn hopes to avoid its first losing streak of the year against a Providence team that has once again outperformed expectations in the early part of the season.

The Huskies (14-1) tallied their first loss of the season in their previous matchup, a ten-point road loss at Xavier in which the Musketeers' defense frustrated them all game. Most notably, the frontcourt combo of 6’9” Zach Freemantle and seven-footer Jack Nunge (both of whom have shooting range) put the Huskies on their heels and left them uncomfortable.

The Friars (12-3) do not have the same size advantage, which means Ed Cooley will need to get creative. Unlike previous years, this season’s Providence team is an elite offensive rebounding team despite a lack of size, owing to an aggressive strategy that emphasizes second chances at the expense of three-point attempts.

This seemingly works entirely in the Huskies’ favor; UConn has one of the nation’s best defensive rebounding rates, and teams that lack elite passing tend to find tough looks inside the perimeter against the swarming defense of Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson. Providence can bring size off the bench—uber-senior Clifton Moore at 6’10” is the biggest rotation player for the Friars—but that substitution can be matched by Donovan Clingan, who boasts some of the best per-minute stats in the country.

Although the Friars made national headlines last year by disproving pessimistic predictions, they haven’t quite captured the same magic this season. Key among that is their lack of outside scoring; Jared Bynum shot .413 from three in 2021-22 but has put up a mark of only .246 this year. And for every incoming transfer who’s performed well, another has disappointed.

Kentucky transfer Bryce Hopkins is their leading scorer and ex-South Carolina guard Devin Carter looks like the team’s best two-way player, but Noah Locke’s defense has been lacking and former UConn redshirt Corey Floyd, Jr. hardly plays.

Providence has started Big East play with four impressive wins: at Seton Hall, in double-OT over Marquette, and two road wins against Butler and DePaul. The Friars’ confidence will be high. A win over a rival, particularly one that their coaches, players, and fans feel like they have a leg up on, will always matter in this rivalry game.

What to watch for

When UConn has the ball: When Ed Croswell plays center, as he does in the Friars’ starting unit, how frequently does UConn attack the basket to take advantage of his defensive weaknesses? Croswell isn’t a bad defensive player but is smaller than UConn’s bigs and slower than the small fours Jackson and Alex Karaban. Providence’s guards foul more often than the typical backcourt, which means Tristen Newton could be in for a huge game if the Huskies target free throws. After a loss in which free throw disparity turned the tide of the game, this might be the strategy Dan Hurley opts for.

When Providence has the ball: Likewise, how aggressive can Providence be at hunting for fouls? The Friars make a lot of their points via the charity stripe and the game tape now shows this as a pathway to victory against UConn. Does Bynum turn around his shooting? Despite the slow start, he’s a willing shooter with ability, and hitting one or two extra threes could make a big difference. If they fall behind early, do they switch up strategies and focus more on the outside, or continue to stay the course of working the ball inside?

How to watch

Where: Amica Mutual Pavilion, Providence, RI

When: 8:30 PM