UConn men’s basketball’s road to the Garden starts on Wednesday.
Dan Hurley’s squad ended its non-conference slate with an almost casual road win over then-No. 10 Gonzaga, ending that portion of the schedule with an impressive 10-1 record and top-5 ranking in the AP and Coaches Polls.
Next, the Huskies kick off Big East play with a visit to Seton Hall.
The Pirates were picked ninth in the league’s preseason poll and are looking the part, with a 7-4 record. Three of their four losses came against ranked opponents at that time, including an 18-point shellacking at Baylor.
Shaheen Holloway’s team is fresh off a neutral-site triumph over Missouri, though, and it does have some talent. It just hasn’t translated to on-court cohesion or success. And let’s not forget the back-breaking loss they put on the Huskies at the Prudential Center last year. UConn has an elite team and is a heavy favorite in this game, but can’t get ahead of itself.
This is a big night for Hurley, coaching at his alma mater for the first time as a national champion, and a matchup his team needs to take seriously. He’s been vocal about wanting to navigate the Big East gauntlet better than last year. As they look to make a run for the regular-season title, they can’t afford to lose games like this.
TV: CBS Sports Network (Tom McCarthy, Steve Lappas)
Radio: UConn Sports Network — 97.9 FM — (Mike Crispino, Wayne Norman)
Odds: UConn -11, O/U 142 (via Covers)
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 77 - Seton Hall 67 | 82% win probability
UConn is 48-22 all-time vs. the Pirates but hasn’t won on the road in New Jersey since March 3, 2021. The Huskies are also a rather alarming 19-25 in conference openers and 18-19 in Big East openers. They have a lot of demons to beat off here.
What to watch for
Will You Just Leave Already?
It feels like he’s been a thorn in UConn’s side for a decade, but Kadary Richmond is still at Seton Hall, and he’s still a pain in the ass. The 6-foot-6 senior is the Pirates’ leading scorer, averaging 14.7 points per game and a team-high 4.4 assists per game. He only played an injury-riddled seven minutes in the most recent matchup vs. the Huskies but put up 18 points and 10 rebounds in Hall’s win over UConn last year. And fans will always remember Jan. 8, 2022, when he scored a career-high 27 points —and a stretch of 18 straight — in an overtime victory for the Pirates.
Richmond will be a great test for Stephon Castle or Alex Karaban, assuming Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer draw Al-Amir Dawes and St. John’s transfer Dylan Addae-Wusu. He’s only taken two threes all season, so Donovan Clingan and Samson Johnson will need to contest in the paint without fouling.
What is Seton Hall?
It’s tough to put a finger on Seton Hall right now. On paper, they have size, shooting, defensive ability, and experience. Yet that win against Mizzou was their first high-major win, and are still 1-5 on the season in that category.
Against Mizzou, the Pirates shot 59 percent from the field, including 10-of-23 from 3-point range (.433), and handed out 16 assists. On the season, they’re 274th nationally in three-point percentage (.305).
Did paper tiger MU (75th KenPom defensively) just get exposed, or have the Pirates started to ... [removes sunglasses] right the ship?
Dawes is a perfect microcosm of the mystery. He’s averaging 13 points per game, yet is a career 36 percent shooter from three who’s firing only 32 percent this season. Which Dawes will UConn get, the one that went 4/11 vs. the Tigers who earned Big East Player of the Week honors, or the one who went an anemic 3/15 in a loss to Rutgers?
Let it Fly
UConn’s 7 for 17 clip from three in the last game was a welcome sign for a team that has generated a ton of elite looks but hasn’t converted at the rate many had expected.
I've been tracking this for #mubb purposes, but not going to lie, the UConn number is scary. They average 14.7 unguarded spot ups a game, 2nd most in the country, and aren't even hitting at an average rate. pic.twitter.com/CmK9M0S2w5— Paint Touches (@PaintTouches) December 18, 2023
It should be open season tomorrow, with the Pirates’ three-point percentage defense ranking 263rd in the country. Karaban has finally brought his three-point percentage above 35% for the season, joining Newton (35%) and the elite Cam Spencer (46%), who is doing his best Jordan Hawkins impression. Hawkins averaged 2.95 3-pointers per game last year. Through 11 games, Spencer (34 3s in 11 games) is on pace to match it.
A Backcourt Battle
A do-everything matchup nightmare, a hot-shooting microwave, and a defensive glue guy who’s a physical specimen...we’re not talking about UConn’s backcourt, it’s Seton Hall’s. That’s what Richmond, Dawes, and Addae-Wusu are, on paper. Their problem is they’ve not yet clicked until recently.
For the visitors, Tristen Newton finally is getting the national press he deserves. He leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. He’s sixth in the country in +/- and Offensive Bayesian Performance Rating (BPR). And more importantly, he doesn’t need to score 25 a game to help UConn win, as we saw against North Carolina and Gonzaga.
But last year against St. John’s, with Addae-Wusu guarding him a decent amount, Newton was shut out in the home loss. The 6-foot-4 senior, a post-Pitino defection, is built like a linebacker at 230 pounds. He averages two steals per game and can be a nasty on-ball defender.
Meanwhile, Richmond is a top 35 player in Miya’s defensive (BPR) thanks to his ability to switch one through five. Remember how KC Ndefo was such a menace in 2021? That’s what Richmond can do on the defensive end.
Newton is as steady as they come, but those two, combined with Holloway’s frenetic switching schemes, could make life difficult for UConn’s star tomorrow. Crisp ball movement and secondary rock handling from Hassan Diarra, Castle, and Spencer are a must.
Since Bill Self’s defensive strategy worked so well, teams have started to switch UConn one through four. But North Carolina and Gonzaga simply didn’t have the dudes to do it without the Huskies exposing a mismatch.
Richmond, Dre Davis, and Addae-Wusu are all switchy, versatile defenders, while 6-foot-10 senior Jaden Bediako anchors the paint. But despite their defensive chops, UConn’s elite ball movement should be able to pick out the size mismatches they need, especially against Dawes, the Pirates’ worst defender.
The Battle in the Post
The Pirates’ tempo is 252nd in the nation, so they’re comfortable in the trenches.
UConn has overwhelmed its opponents inside, thanks to Clingan and the lob threat of Samson Johnson, but don’t forget about Karaban, who’s fifth in the nation in two-point field goal percentage. If Richmond guards him it could be a tough night, but that also opens up lanes for Castle. If it's vice versa, expect Karaban to feast.
UConn was lights out on the offensive end of the court in their win over Gonzaga.— CBB Analytics (@CBBAnalytics) December 16, 2023
- 22-35 2PM (62.9%)
- 7-17 3PM (41.2%)
- 42 points in the paint
- Donovan Clingan: 21 PTS / 8 REB pic.twitter.com/wDm5Lt5zQn
Clingan looked healthier and had his best performance of the season against the Zags. But the matchup with Bediako, a rare transfer-up success story that is thriving with more minutes after transferring from Santa Clara, will be interesting. He has the size and strength to stay with Clingan, on paper.
UConn should be following the exact same script as Gonzaga—get Big Don as many paint touches as possible in the beginning, and let him eat up all that space for the rest of UConn’s weapons. But if Bediako picks up a few big blocks, the crowd goes wild, and the Huskies go away from their big man, it could disrupt their spacing.
I’ve probably made Seton Hall sound a lot better than it is or will be this year, and that’s because the Pirates just aren’t greater than the sum of their parts at the moment. They have a bunch of nasty individual defenders, yet are ranked 125th in defensive efficiency. Richmond has All-American attributes but has not really expanded his game.
Final Prediction: With the Huskies firing on all cylinders and showing no real obvious weakness, they should avenge last year’s low point and get this dub in Jersey.