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Preview: No. 5 UConn men’s basketball vs. Arkansas- Pine Bluff | 12 p.m., FS2

UConn will play its final buy game on Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Minnesota Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s one last easy game for No. 5 UConn men’s basketball before the gauntlet truly begins. After a tough stretch against then-No. 5 Kansas and No. 9 North Carolina, both away from home, the Huskies are back in the friendly confines of Gampel Pavilion to play one of the worst teams in Division I in Arkansas- Pine Bluff. After a break next week for final exams, the final 21 regular season games will all be tough tests, as a battle against Gonzaga closes the non-conference slate before Big East play begins.


Radio: UConn Sports Network

Odds: UConn -38, over/under 163.5 (odds via DraftKings)

KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 100, Arkansas- Pine Bluff 63 | 99.96 percent win probability

All stats as of the start of play on Friday

Series history

UConn is beginning a series for the second time this year, as the Huskies have never faced Arkansas- Pine Bluff. The Golden Lions are at Gampel Pavilion presumably as Dan Hurley has made it a priority to include HBCUs on the non-conference schedule in the past few years. He also added Mississippi Valley State, which is also in the SWAC, this season.

What to watch for

Stay healthy

UConn is nursing several minor injuries. Cam Spencer is having issues with toes on both feet, Donovan Clingan is also nursing a hurt toe and Alex Karaban dislocated a finger on his shooting hand in practice last week, while Stephon Castle made his return from knee surgery on Tuesday against North Carolina, playing on a minutes restriction.

With four of the Huskies’ five starters having some kind of issue, getting out of this game healthy is paramount. The team will be off for finals next week, then return to action against Gonzaga in Seattle on Dec. 15, which is the final game before Big East play starts. Playing someone too hard and getting them hurt in a game that UConn should have wrapped up by the half would be extremely detrimental to the rest of the year.

Attack, attack, attack

Arkansas- Pine Bluff is arguably the worst defensive team in the nation. The Golden Lions are second-worst in adjusted defensive efficiency and rebound percentage, as well as worst in effective field goal percentage and 2-point percentage. In contrast, UConn is third in adjusted offensive efficiency, 10th in offensive rebound percentage, 15th in effective field goal percentage and second in 2-point percentage.

UConn will run the shot clock down as it gets into its sets, whereas teams have been scoring quickly on Arkansas- Pine Bluff. The average possession against the Golden Lions is more than 1.5 seconds shorter than the Huskies’ average possession. There should be good looks early in the shot clock for players all over the floor.

Watch the 3-pointer

The Golden Lions are hardly efficient offensively, as at 100.9 points per 100 adjusted possessions, they’re No. 240 in the country, according to KenPom. However, they can shoot it from outside the arc. At 36.9 percent on 3-pointers as a team, Arkansas- Pine Bluff is No. 59 in the country, which makes up for a 2-point percentage that’s in the bottom 25 nationally.

Joe French (43.9 percent) and Rashad Williams (39.7 percent) are the primary outside shooters and while Kylen Milton (34.6 percent) has only taken 26 3-pointers, he still has a strong percentage. French is the largest, at 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, so they don’t have any length that should be an issue for UConn, though the Huskies have a propensity to give up 3-pointers. Teams are shooting a matching 36.9 percent against them this year, so the Golden Lions may be able to keep it closer than Hurley may like if the shots are falling.

Arkansas- Pine Bluff has played four KenPom Top 100 teams this year, including Gonzaga, a game in which the Golden Lions shot 15-for-44 (34.1 percent) on 3-pointers. In those contests, they shot 39-for-119 (32.8 percent) from beyond the arc. The Zags beat the Golden Lions 111-71 earlier this week.

Key stats

78.3 - Arkansas- Pine Bluff is No. 15 in the country in free-throw percentage, making 78.3 percent of its opportunities from the line. Lonnell Martin is a perfect 22-for-22. Each player hits at least 50 percent of their shots and only three are below 70 percent.

306 - UConn’s length may pose a problem for the Golden Lions, as they’re the 306th-tallest team in the country, at an average of 76.3 inches. Robert Lewis, who comes off the bench, is the only player at 6-foot-9 or taller and starting center Ismael Plet (6-foot-8) is the only other above 6-foot-5. Only Solomon Ball, Hassan Diarra and Cam Spencer are shorter than 6-foot-5.

56.3 - Solomon Bozeman isn’t afraid to let his guys play through foul trouble. His team’s two-foul participation rate is 56.3 percent, which is close to triple the nationwide average of 21.1 percent and is No. 8 in Division I.

35.0 - Only 35.0 percent of Arkansas- Pine Bluff’s points come from 2-pointers, which is the lowest in the nation. This stems from a 2-point percentage of 41.9 percent, which is No. 351 of 362 teams.

2 - This is the second of two HBCUs on the schedule for UConn this year. The Huskies beat fellow SWAC member Mississippi Valley State 87-53 in November.