clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preview: No. 5 UConn men’s basketball vs. St. John’s | 8 p.m., FOX

The Huskies look to win its Big East home opener in Hartford.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at St. John Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 UConn men’s basketball will get the home slate started on Saturday night, as the Huskies will welcome in Rick Pitino and St. John’s to XL Center for a Festivus battle on network television. Dan Hurley’s squad will come in licking its wounds after a beatdown at the hands of Seton Hall, while the Red Storm took care of Xavier at home on Wednesday.


Radio: UConn Sports Network

Odds: UConn -10.5, over/under 148 (odds via DraftKings)

KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 81, St. John’s 69 (86 percent chance)

Series History

UConn is 31-37 all-time against St. John’s, which is the 11th-most frequently played series in program history. The series opened at Madison Square Garden in the 1951 NCAA Tournament, which was the Huskies’ first bid to the Big Dance. The then-Redmen took a 63-52 win.

This will be the 16th time the teams play at the XL Center, where UConn has a 7-8 record. The Red Storm dominated Dan Hurley’s team in this building last year with a 85-74 victory. The Huskies are also 8-1 against St. John’s as a top-five team in the AP Poll, with the only loss coming at Gampel Pavilion in January of 2000.

What to watch for

Clingan out

UConn will be without Donovan Clingan against the Johnnies. The school announced Saturday afternoon that the sophomore center will miss the game against St. John’s and be out 3-4 weeks with a tendon injury in his right foot.

Samson Johnson has been underwhelming as of late and is the only other player Hurley has put at center for any significant stretch. He has tons of length at his disposal, but Alex Karaban and Jaylin Stewart would each struggle mightily against the big man in the middle for St. John’s, Joel Soriano.

Clingan is one of the best rebounders in the country, provides great value on the offensive end and is a big deterrent to driving guards on the defensive end. Without him, the Huskies struggled on Wednesday. If he can’t go and Johnson looks like he did against Texas, then UConn will have a good chance. However, if he looks like he did against Gonzaga (four fouls in 12 minutes) or Seton Hall (team-low minus-20), then Soriano will likely have a field day and a win will prove difficult.

Tempo town

St. John’s likes to get out and run. The Red Storm aren’t as fast as they were in the Mike Anderson years, as they were the fastest in the country last season, but are still in the nation’s top 75. Meanwhile, the Huskies are among the country’s slowest. There’s a 5.5 possession difference between the two teams over 40 minutes.

The Huskies slowed it down against a similarly-paced Gonzaga team, with only 65 possessions, and they’ve only played three games above 70 this season. Two were against low-major opponents rife with transition opportunities and the third was against North Carolina, which was at 71. The Red Storm have played just one game below UConn’s average of 66 possessions per 40 minutes.

The team that can control the tempo and play the game their way will have an improved chance. The sold-out crowd for a primetime tip-off should be rocking and well-lubricated from the start, which should provide some extra juice and could speed up the game a bit.

Win the rebounding battle

UConn struggled on the boards against Seton Hall. While the Huskies ended up out-rebounding the Pirates by one, the first half was less-than-ideal when it came to the boards and the visitors weren’t able to climb out of the hole.

The Red Storm crash the offensive boards better than Hurley’s team does, as they’re third in the country in offensive rebound percentage, while UConn is seventh. Interestingly, St. John’s struggles to prevent offensive rebounds and gives up much more second chances than the Huskies typically do.

UConn had five offensive rebounds in its first possession of the second half. Especially if Clingan is out, it’ll be up to Johnson, Karaban and Tristen Newton to block out Soriano, starting forward Chris Ledlum and reserve center Zuby Ejiofor, all of which can clean up on the glass.