No. 4 UConn men’s basketball seeks to win its fourth-consecutive game on Wednesday, as the Huskies travel to Cincinnati, Ohio to face Xavier. The Musketeers, at 7-7 and just 1-2 in Big East play to this point, haven’t fared as well as they would have liked this season, which has included home losses to Oakland and Delaware, but they’re still strong defensively and winning on the road is always a challenge.
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -4, over/under 145 (odds via DraftKings)
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 75, Xavier 71 | 63 percent win probability
A pair of upsets in the 1991 NCAA Tournament set up a second-round matchup between 11-seed UConn and 14-seed Xavier, which was this series’ first of seven games. The Huskies came out on top as part of a Sweet 16 run. The No. 18 Musketeers responded in kind in the 2019 Charleston Classic, escaping with a one-point win in double overtime, their first of four wins in the series.
The remainder of the games have come in Big East play. Xavier swept UConn last season, while each side won the home game in 2021-22 and the Huskies took the only game in 2020-21, which came inside Cintas Center.
What to Watch for
Get effective shots with ball movement
This game will be strength-on-strength. UConn’s dominant inside shooting, with a 62.5 percent mark that’s second in the country, helps propel KenPom’s third-most efficient offense (122.4 adjusted points per 100 possessions). Meanwhile, opposing teams struggle to get anything done against Xavier’s tough defense, which is ranked No. 22 in adjusted efficiency by KenPom (96.6 adjusted points per 100 possessions.
Sean Miller’s team has an effective field goal percentage of 44.6 percent, which is No. 11 in the country. There isn’t a demonstrated weakness, as teams shoot 31st-worst on both 2-pointers (44.7 percent) and from beyond the arc (29.5 percent).
Xavier’s opponents have an assist on 57.8 percent of field goals, which is among the 50 worst marks in Division I. Meanwhile, ball movement is one of UConn’s hallmarks to get open looks, as an even 60 percent of its field goals come on assists, which is a top-30 mark.
If Tristen Newton, Stephon Castle and the rest of the Huskies can move the ball effectively, they can get open looks and make them, as Delaware did back in early December. The Blue Hens had 20 assists on 32 makes and shot 50 percent both inside and outside the arc, scoring 1.19 points per possession. Surely some of that was just a hot shooting night for a mid-major program, but it shows how the defense can be vulnerable.
Slow the game down
Xavier is one of the few teams in the Big East that gets out and runs. The Musketeers have an adjusted tempo of 70.9 possessions per 40 minutes, which is No. 84 in the country and is one of three programs above No. 125. Meanwhile, UConn averaged 65.8 possessions per 40 minutes and is one of five Big East programs in the bottom 100.
Just five Xavier games have been played below 70 possessions, with its battle against Bryant hitting 84 possessions. Three of the Huskies’ games have hit 70 possessions, two of which came against low-major opponents, and the Musketeers have played just twice below UConn’s average.
Dan Hurley and the Huskies will do well to seize the moment and get out and run, not unlike last year’s team was so good at doing, but keeping the game slower and in the half-court will likely be to their benefit.
Score second-chance points
UConn is one of the best offensive-rebounding teams in the country, with a 38.4 percent offensive-rebounding rate that is No. 10 in the country. Xavier cleans up the boards at a similar rate, at 33.0 percent that’s in the top 75. However, the Musketeers surrender their fair share of misses on the defensive end. Opponents get offensive rebounds at a 31.0 percent rate, which is No. 237 in the country.
The Huskies rebound at a high level throughout the lineup, including both Castle and Samson Johnson as standouts, along with the injured Donovan Clingan. The second-chance opportunities will be there for the taking and if UConn can secure the offensive glass, it’ll be able to extend possessions, hold onto the ball and slow the game down.