No. 1 UConn men’s basketball announced its return to the top of the polls in a big way, holding on to the belt with a beat-down of No. 18 Creighton, 62-48, at Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday. It was a big defensive performance, as the Bluejays were at 0.76 points per possession and their 48 points were the fewest allowed to a Big East opponent since Butler on Dec. 17, 2022.
Donovan Clingan makes this team elite
Shawn McGrath: Donovan Clingan played 16 minutes on Wednesday, finishing with six points, five rebounds, and two blocks, but his influence on the game was apparent from the moment he entered.
Creighton was looking for him on both ends of the floor and in the 2:36 he was in the game for his first burst, he was a plus-nine as part of a 14-2 run that began before he entered. The complexion of the game changed, as it was tied at 12-12 and the Huskies were up nine when he left.
Samson Johnson has been a serviceable replacement over the past five games while Clingan returned from injury, but he had stretches of inconsistent play and also ran into some foul trouble. While it helped that this stretch included contests against DePaul and Georgetown, the Huskies still held it together and showed why they’re one of the best teams in the country. Clingan’s return cements their place as a national title contender.
Dan Madigan: It is really amazing how much Clingan impacts the game just by being on the court. His wingspan and size almost immediately shut down the paint and forced Creighton to shoot even more threes that were not falling. He helped work with Samson Johnson to largely negate Ryan Kalkbrenner, who had 11 points and eight rebounds but never had a truly easy look around the rim. Johnson did a good job holding down the fort, but it’s clear how important Clingan is to this team. After holding Creighton to just 0.77 points per possession, UConn’s defensive efficiency shot up in KenPom from the mid-40s to 33. As Clingan progresses to playing a full load of minutes, that ranking should continue to climb inside the top 20 like it was when the Huskies started the season.
Another day, another Cam Spencer GIFt
Patrick Martin: Just a reminder that Andy Katz didn’t have Cam Spencer as a top-10 transfer in the offseason. Neither did Jeff Borzello at ESPN. Both did rank Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth — 25% from three, a +/- of -4 last night — higher though, so there’s that!
All of Hurley’s portal imports have been hits, with Tristen Newton still the best because of the title and two years with the program, including everything he’s doing right now. And we all enjoyed the Joey California days. But as far as one-year, grad transfers, and spiritual fit? It feels like Spencer’s been here for all four years.
It reminds me of the Good Will Hunting scene with Minnie Driver’s character, who laments to Will Hunting: “It’s not fair. I’ve been here for four years, and I only just found you.”
Spencer is UConn’s leading scorer, paces the Big East in three-point percentage, and is sixth (!) in the conference in field goal percentage. His Evan Miya Offensive Bayesian Performance Rating is 15th in the country, his Regularized Adjusted Plus-Minus (RAPM) is ninth, and he’s the nation’s best “fifth” option.
Here's the top 30 teams in terms of their 5th most valuable player: pic.twitter.com/48eoimDBkP— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) January 12, 2024
It was Spencer’s eight straight points in two minutes last night in the first half that gave the Huskies their first bit of separation, and you can bet that Hurley felt a lot more comfortable running Clingan out there with that cushion.
And I mean, come on, this GIF. He is an extension of Hurley on the court and it’s a joy to watch.
Madigan: Spencer is just a perfect fit inside of this complex offense and culturally, where his firecracker demeanor is certainly embraced by Dan Hurley, the team, and its fans. It’s very impressive to see him consistently run off screens, always make the extra pass, and show some improvement on the defensive end that has enabled him to be on the floor for as long as he wants to be.
Big game Tristen
Madigan: No one loves a big game more than Tristen Newton. After struggling (by his standards) in the past few games, Newton came up big with a masterful 16-point, eight-rebound, five-assist performance against the Bluejays. The former ECU transfer is now just the second player in UConn history with 250 points, 100 rebounds, and 100 assists through the team’s first 18 games, joining Shabazz Napier’s legendary 2013-14 season.
Through 18 games this season, Tristen Newton has 268 points, 118 rebounds, and 109 assists.— tcf15 (@tcf_15) January 18, 2024
The only other @UConnMBB player (since 2010-11) with at least 250 points, 100 rebounds and 100 assists through 18 games?
Shabazz Napier in 2013-14.
(Source: https://t.co/Ie7DLo0dws) https://t.co/MWnCSwdUcr
When UConn has needed a big-time performance, Newton has always delivered this season. He’s averaging 17.5 points against teams in the top 25 of KenPom and put together the best single-game performance of the season with his 31-point effort on the road in the loss to Kansas. The Huskies are blessed this year with a multitude of offensive weapons between the likes of Alex Karaban, Spencer, and Clingan, but Newton is the engine that makes this offense go, and this team will go as far as he can take them.
Goodman: Anyone doubting Tristen Newton’s greatness continues to make them look silly. While Clingan’s game impact is apparent, Newton is still the team's most important player. Castle has all the ability in the world but he’s not ready to fully be the guy and that’s where it’s so helpful having a senior leader like Newton that you can rely on to take some of the pressure off and let Castle develop at your own pace. He scores a lot whether his shot is on or not, and he’s a consistent facilitator and glass-cleaner, leading the team in assists and rebounds per game.