When: Friday, March 10
Where: Madison Square Garden — New York City
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -3.5, over/under 150.5 - Odds presented by DraftKings
KenPom Predicted Score: No. 4 UConn 77, No. 1 Marquette 74 | 62 percent win probability
UConn handled Providence wire to wire in their opening game of the big East tournament, leading by as much as 26 before a late Friars run closed the gap. In the end, the Huskies walked out of the quarterfinals with as comfortable of a win as you can get in March, and had the opposing team’s head coach call them the best team in the country. Seems good!
Ed Cooley on UConn: “I think they’re the best team in America.”— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 9, 2023
Dan Hurley and UConn did get a little turnover happy late, finishing the day with 18 turnovers, but when the defense is as good as it was, it doesn’t always matter. The Huskies held PC to just 19 first half points, and weathered the Friars’ run with a barrage of timely threes from Jordan Hawkins, Tristen Newton and Alex Karaban. Andre Jackson flirted with a triple-double with nine points, 11 boards and six assists with some earth-shattering dunks. It wasn't always pretty, but it was nonetheless a convincing win over an NCAA tournament-caliber team.
Marquette, meanwhile, can’t say the same. After struggling with the Red Storm in the regular season finale and squeaking out a 96-94 win, St. John’s once again gave the Golden Eagles all they could handle. The Red Storm led by 10 at halftime and nearly held on in regulation, but fell just short to Shaka Smart’s Marquette squad in overtime, 72-70. despite the struggles against St. John’s, the Golden Eagles are the regular season Big East champs for a reason, and leaned on Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek (19 points, nine rebounds, six assists) in crunch time to lead them to victory.
The Huskies and Marquette split the season series, with the Golden Eagles winning at home in mid-January and UConn dominating Marquette in Hartford a few weeks later. The rubber match winner gets a trip to the Big East Tournament championship game on Saturday.
When UConn Has the Ball
UConn got off to a hot start despite some of their own problems. Newton and Nahiem Alleyne were suspended for the first eight and 10 minutes, respectively, of the PC game, forcing Hurley to use a little deeper bench rotation earlier in the game than usual. It worked out well, as just about everything did in the first half for the Huskies as they jumped out to a 35-19 lead. Jackson was a major catalyst for UConn early, doing just about everything to help the Huskies get out in front. After drilling a three early, Jackson was a force on the boards with nine first-half rebounds. He added some thunderous dunks too.
There’s no mistaking that Jackson is a gifted passer, but the junior’s propensity to push the envelope led to a few extra turnovers in the second half, letting PC get a little too close for comfort. Jackson is an aggressive player, and his ability to weigh risk versus reward is normally a strength, but gave the Friars some extra chances to get back into the game. He’ll need to walk that line even better against Marquette, who boasts one of the top offenses in the country and will make the Huskies pay when they cough the ball up.
Newton didn’t start for the first time 23 games due to his “suspension,” but more than made up for it with 16 points, including for NBA-range threes. Assuming he’ll be able to start against the Golden Eagles, he should be another shooting weapon and capable distributor (seven assists, one turnover against PC) to get the likes of Adama Sanogo and Hawkins easy looks.
Hawkins still struggled a little from deep compared to his usual standards, hitting just three of nine from beyond the arc. The star sophomore still managed to score 19 points by getting into the lane and finishing through contact. With the Huskies going up against such a high-octane offense, Hawkins and Sanogo will need to be efficient to keep up with the likes of Kolek, Kam Jones and David Joplin.
When Marquette has the ball
Marquette’s offense, usually their calling card, was abysmal against the Johnnies. The Golden Eagles averaged under one point per possession for the just the third time since conference play, but still managed to find enough offense late to get the job done. Kolek (19 points) was the go-to guy late, but Olivier-Maxence Prosper (16 points) and Jones (11 points) were also big factors. Marquette shot 34 threes in the quarterfinals — four more than UConn did in the same round, but shot just 26.5 percent. For a team that shoots over 35 percent from deep normally and boasts two shooters — Kolek and Joplin — over 38 percent, it's unlikely that happens again.
Before Bryce Hopkins torched Alex Karaban, then was relatively clamped down in the second conference meeting, there was Prosper. In the game in Milwaukee, Smart and Marquette exploited the matchup of Karaban guarding Prosper to a lot of success, with the big man scoring 17 points. Karaban did a better job the second time around, holding him to only three points. With Karaban’s defense steadily improving, the freshman will need another performance to keep Prosper in check once again.
Was pretty impressed with how Karaban handled Hopkins last night. At the Marquette game, I asked Hurley how his defense has improved since he was also targeted heavily on D in that first road matchup. Here’s what he had to say: pic.twitter.com/oMsCwSIki9— Dan Madigan (@dmad1433) February 23, 2023
Kolek, initially pegged as just a distributor heading into the season, has grown his game offensively en route to winning conference Player of the Year honors. He’s averaging 20 points per game through his last four games and had 10-plus assists in three of those contests, helping lead the Golden Eagles to seven consecutive wins.
He’s a capable and efficient shooter, and his ability to find the open man is a main reason why Marquette is No. 1 nationally in two-point percentage. As the top distributor in the Big East, he’ll be a major point of interest for UConn’s backcourt and will likely see Jackson guard him for stretches to try and disrupt the flow of the Golden Eagles’ offense.