No. 5 UConn men’s basketball, after three buy games to get its feet wet, has its first big test of the season, as the Huskies travel to midtown Manhattan and Madison Square Garden for the Empire Classic. Indiana awaits in the opener on Sunday, while UConn will close the event with either Louisville or No. 19 Texas on Monday.
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -12.5, over/under 145.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 80, Indiana 68 | 85 percent win probability
UConn and Indiana have a habit of meeting on big stages. This will be the teams’ third straight meeting at Madison Square Garden, after the 2019 Jimmy V Classic and the 2013 Empire Classic, while they squared off in the second round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies are 6-4 all-time against the Hoosiers, with a split in the previous two games in New York. The programs also played home-and-homes in four consecutive years in the 2000s and UConn grabbed a pair of victories inside Assembly Hall.
What to watch for
First big test
It’s been easy for UConn so far this year. The Huskies have played two of the 15 worst programs in Division I, according to KenPom, and opened with a team down near No. 250. The result has three wins by more than 35 points, two of which exceeded 40. While Indiana is at No. 70 in KenPom and is just the 10th-highest team on the schedule, this represents a big step up in competition, even if the Huskies have an 85 percent chance to win, according to KenPom. The Hoosiers haven’t showed much this year, but they’re still a high-major opponent.
Pack the paint
Indiana doesn’t have much of an outside game. The Hoosiers generate 14.3 percent of their points from 3-pointers, which is in the bottom 15 nationally, and have taken just 40 shots from deep through three games. Cam Spencer leads UConn with 24 attempts by himself and according to TeamRankings.com, California’s Jalen Cone (42 attempts) and Air Force’s Ethan Taylor (41 attempts) each have taken more than Indiana. Even when they do let it fly, they don’t make it, as the Hoosiers shoot 27.5 percent, which is No. 283 nationally. Twenty-seven players have more makes than Indiana. The UConn defense should be ready for shots inside the arc.
Keep the Castle from crumbling
While the men’s injury luck has been infinitely better than the women, the Huskies still got caught with the bug, as Stephon Castle will miss multiple weeks with a knee injury that isn’t expected to be season-ending. That’s hardly encouraging, as it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but the reality is that UConn will be down a starter for awhile. Fellow freshman Solomon Ball stepped into the lineup against Mississippi Valley State and had 10 points, but it took him 12 shots to get there, though Cam Spencer was on fire (7-for-11) from beyond the arc. The Huskies will miss Castle and it will be up to Ball and Hassan Diarra, along with Tristen Newton and the rest of the roster to fill the hole left by his absence.
125 - This will be UConn’s 125th game at the current Madison Square Garden, with 11 additional games played at the third iteration of the arena, which was built in 1925. Overall, the Huskies are 69-66 since their first game in 1951. The first trip to the current building was against Manhattan on Feb. 29, 1968, which was a few weeks after it opened.
4 - UConn has played in the Empire Classic (or whatever its sponsorship name was) four times, participating in the event in 2007, 2013 and 2018. It’s 4-2 in the main event and 6-0 in sub-regional games that were formerly part of the schedule and played on campus.
64.2 - The Hoosiers shoot 64.2 percent from inside the arc, which is top 10 nationally. Even with a serious lack of 3-point shooting, Indiana is in the top 30 in effective field goal percentage.
47.4 - UConn’s offensive rebounding percentage. While that’s likely inflated by its overmatched opponents, it’s still second in the country. Indiana has struggled on the boards, both offensively and defensively, so this is a trend to watch.
78.9 - Indiana is one of the few teams longer than UConn. This is their average height, which is sixth in the country. Only two players in the Hoosiers’ 10-man rotation are shorter than 6-foot-5. The Huskies have nine rotation players, not including the injured Stephon Castle, six of which are at least that tall.