When: Saturday, February 2, 2023
Where: Capital One Arena — Washington, D.C.,
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -12.5, over/under 146.5 (odds via Borgata)
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 82, Georgetown 66 — 93 percent win probability
After picking up a much-needed victory on the road against DePaul, the No. 24 UConn Huskies head to DC to take on the Hoyas of Georgetown (6-17, 1-11 Big East). Other than the beginning portion of their schedule, this is the easiest two-game stretch that Dan Hurley’s team will experience the entire season. While DePaul is not a good team, as it was able to beat the conference’s top dog Xavier a couple of weeks ago, Georgetown is a different story.
Patrick Ewing’s squad has been historically awful the past few years, infamously going 0-19 in conference play during the 2021-22 season, and they haven’t been much better this year. Because of their out-of-nowhere run to the Big East Tournament title two years ago, Ewing was able to keep his job, but that luck appears to be running out. The Hoyas are currently sitting at the bottom of the conference and No. 220 in KenPom, which is 83 spots lower than the next closest conference member (DePaul, at No. 137).
Georgetown was able to keep the game close back in December at Gampel, only losing by 11 against a 21-point spread. As bad as the Hoyas have been all year, UConn can’t go into this one thinking they are going to cruise to an easy win, because their opponent may just about has enough firepower to pull off a massive upset.
When UConn has the ball
The Huskies got quite the scare from Georgetown the last time they matched up, down by as many as seven well into the second half until Joey Calcaterra decided to take over and drop fourteen points in that period to help UConn pull away. Don’t get it twisted, though. This is still a team UConn should dominate, even on the road. The whole “Big East teams don’t lose at home” narrative doesn’t necessarily apply to the Hoyas, who draw maybe a couple thousand every time they suit up with a weak atmosphere.
As we mentioned in this week’s takeaways, Jordan Hawkins has been on a tear as of late, putting up almost 24 points per game over his last five. UConn’s sharpshooting sophomore is taking it upon himself to be the go-to guy on offense for the Huskies, giving Hurley another cold-blooded killer on that end alongside Adama Sanogo. This was on full display against the Blue Demons, as the duo combined for 51 total points, their highest combined total of the season. When UConn is at its best, it is getting more looks for its future all-Big East first-teamers, whether running Hawkins off countless screens to free him up or going high-low with Sanogo. Sometimes they have struggled this season when that initial look is cut off, but Georgetown very likely will be flustered trying to defend this constant action, especially if Hawkins is running wild.
The Hoyas rank No. 248 in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom, which is by far the worst in the conference. It’s also worth noting that Georgetown is one of the worst teams in the entire country in forcing turnovers (No. 332), which bodes well for the UConn guards who have been turning the ball over a bit too much of late. Look for them to be more aggressive than usual against a vulnerable Hoyas defense, trying to get out in transition more than usual. Some Andre Jackson to Samson Johnson rim runs, anyone? The Huskies are overdue for a couple of those.
Two of UConn’s other major contributors have been taking opposite strides on offense recently - Andre Jackson and Tristen Newton. Newton has hit double figures in four straight, while Jackson has totaled 17 points in his last five (3.4 points per game). Dan Hurley doesn’t need Jackson to be a scorer and he contributes in so many other ways, but this staggeringly low production on that end is also not ideal. Teams have been following the Xavier model and sagging completely off Jackson to the point where they almost have one foot in the paint, and Jackson has yet to figure out how best to attack this. His patented mid-range floater has been off, as is his 3-point shooting. Look for him to be the transition catalyst and try to create opportunities for himself not in a half-court setting. Newton, on the other hand, has been attacking the rim with an edge lately. He’s gotten to the line 31 times during the past five games, and needs to continue to be an efficient third option for Hurley. He’s seldom the guy getting his number called, but is calling his own at the right time which has led to positive offensive output for the Huskies.
When Georgetown has the ball
Saying the Hoyas offense is one-dimensional would be an understatement. It usually consists of a high ball screen and an attempt at a roll, and if that’s cut off, it’s right to iso-ball. I don’t want to be too hard on Georgetown, because they do have one of the most electrifying players in the conference in sophomore guard and Connecticut native Primo Spears. Spears is one of the best iso-scorers in college basketball, leading the team and ranking second in the Big East with 16.8 points per game. The problem is that when Spears has an off game, or even an average game, the Hoyas virtually have no chance.
LSU transfer two-guard Brandon Murray (14.4 points per game) joins Spears in the backcourt and can also more than hold his own. Murray is adept at using his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame to bully his way to the rim, but similar to Spears, he’s constantly trying to play hero ball. Jay Heath, a Washington, DC native that is on his third college team in four years, rounds out Pat Ewing’s backcourt trio of transfer guards, which is surprisingly the highest-scoring three-man backcourt in the conference. If the Hoyas are going to pull off the shocker, it will be on the back of these three, especially Spears. He has the single highest scoring output in the Big East this season - dropping 37 in a double-digit loss at Xavier.
We can’t write a Georgetown preview without mentioning UConn’s former fan-favorite Akok Akok (7.2 points, 6.8 rebounds), who has been a solid contributor on both ends of the floor this season. Akok and Qudus Wahab form an underrated frontcourt, one that helped the Hoyas earn a plus-12 differential on the boards the last time these two teams faced off, to go along with 26 combined points. The Sanogo-Wahab matchup is always under the spotlight when these two teams compete, and Wahab will almost certainly need to out-duel the Big East preseason player of the year if the Hoyas expect to pull off the improbable victory.