No. 4 UConn men’s basketball will open 2024 hosting DePaul. The Blue Demons have fallen way short of expectations this season. KenPom ranked the program No. 113 to begin the season and it has fallen to No. 239 in the New Year. Tony Stubblefield’s team is just 3-9, with losses to Purdue Fort Wayne, Long Beach State and Northern Illinois, all at home. Two of those wins are against sub-300 competition (No. 300 South Dakota, No. 310 Chicago State).
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -20, over/under 140 (odds via DraftKings)
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 82, DePaul 59 (98 percent victory chance)
UConn and DePaul first matched up in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, a game that was played in Buffalo. The Huskies, which were on the way to their second national championship, easily dispatched the Blue Demons, 72-55. The program hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since.
DePaul won the teams’ first Big East matchup, which occurred Jan. 31, 2007, but UConn has taken victory in 16 straight matchups and is 17-1 overall. Only one of these wins have come by fewer than seven points and the average margin of victory is 17 points. The Huskies are 5-0 at Gampel Pavilion against DePaul.
What to watch for
Feast on the boards
UConn is an exceptional rebounding team. DePaul is not. The Huskies rebound 39.2 percent of their misses, which is a top 10 mark in the country, while their opponents grab just 25.7 percent of their misses, which is good for No. 60. In contrast, the Blue Demons are at a respective 23.2 percent and 33.1 percent, which are each sub-300.
DePaul doesn’t have the height that UConn does, as no one in the rotation stands above 6-foot-9, though freshman reserve Churchill Abass brings the size, at 250 pounds. Even without Donovan Clingan, UConn should have no trouble securing solid positioning in the post on both sides of the floor, while the guards and wings will also often have a size advantage.
The Huskies should have plenty of second-chance opportunities to extend possessions, while DePaul should have few of the same. This is a great combination for Dan Hurley and UConn, provided they can play to their ability on the boards.
Control the fouls
Just about the only thing DePaul does at a high level on either side of the ball is get to the line and shoot free throws. The Blue Demons are in the top 100 in the country in free throw attempts/field goal attempts (36.9 percent) and they make 73.3 percent of those opportunities, which is just outside the top 100. UConn is down near No. 200 in preventing its opponents from getting to the line, as free throw attempts are one-third of field goal attempts. More than 20 percent of DePaul’s points come from free throws, which is No. 79 in Division I.
Samson Johnson, the only big at 100 percent, had a great performance against St. John’s before Christmas, but still committed four fouls, albeit in 30 minutes. He commits 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes, while Hassan Diarra is at 4.4 and four others are above 3.0. While the Huskies are unlikely to lose to DePaul based solely on free throws, this is one way that the Blue Demons can keep it close and make it interesting for awhile.
Force more turnovers
UConn wasn’t exceptional at forcing turnovers last season, with an 18.5 percent turnover rate that was No. 143 in Division I. When they were forcing turnovers and getting out in transition, that was when the Huskies were at their best. That has taken a downturn to 17.1 percent this season, which is below No. 200. Meanwhile, DePaul turns the ball over on 20.8 percent of its possessions, which is among the 50 worst rates in the country.
With plenty of opportunities to get steals and secure transition buckets, Stephon Castle and Cam Spencer, two guards with a higher propensity to get steals, should be aggressive on defense and try to turn DePaul over as much as they can.