UConn men’s basketball throttled Xavier in Hartford on Sunday, scoring early and often for a 99-56 win over the Musketeers. The win entrenched the Huskies as No. 1 for another week and kept it firmly atop the Big East with an 8-1 conference record.
Here are some of the most impressive things the Huskies did right to beat down Xavier.
The 17 made threes tied a program record. Even cooler, 10 different players recorded a three, good for a new NCAA record. Who cares if two were banked in, that’s one of the more fun records a program can hold because everyone got in it. The entire starting five hit a three! Are you serious?! There’s a lot to unpack here:
- Stephon Castle has now hit a three in four straight games (a 30% clip) and five of the last six. If he can stay at 30% for the rest of the season, that erases his only weakness. Fellow freshman Solo Ball got on track with a 4-5 shooting performance — his only miss being a late-in-the-shot-clock desperation heave. The rotation on his shot is a thing of beauty. If the lefty can do his best Nahiem Alleyne impression off the bench, look out.
- Hassan Diarra hit another three again. It’s not even news at this point. He’s shooting 40% (!) from three on the year now. Because of course.
- And of course, we have to talk about Donovan Clingan. The big man has been flaunting his extended range all season and finally hit his first career three at the top of the key Sunday afternoon. Clingan doesn't have to be Steph Curry or even Adama Sanogo from deep, but if he can hit a few more throughout the season, UConn’s offense will be an even bigger force than it is now. Defenders are constantly (and rightfully) sagging off Clingan into the paint when he gets the ball up top. If defenders have to guard him, it allows for more room for cutters to operate closer to the basket.
UConn’s return to defensive dominance directly correlates to the return of Clingan to the rotation. With Clingan on the floor, the Huskies defense posted some truly eye-popping numbers, including X averaging just 0.34 points per possession while Clingan was on the floor. Truly comical stuff.
This is bonkers: According to Hoop-Explorer, Donovan Clingan was on the floor for 35 defensive possessions in UConn’s game against Xavier yesterday. Xavier scored 12 points in those 35 possessions — 0.34 points per possession. Just nuts.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) January 29, 2024
Thinking about the maps, UConn held Xavier to just 4-14 shooting inside 1-3 feet for the entire game. And the eye test backs that up, too — the Musketeers had no interest in testing Clingan or Samson Johnson inside because when they did, it did not go well.
Here are the heat maps from UConn’s win over Xavier. The third map is UConn’s defense with Clingan on the floor. 18.8 eFG%, 3/23 on 2s. Lol. Lmao.— No Escalators (@NoEscalators) January 29, 2024
Full game UConn limited Xavier to 4/14 shooting on shots taken 1-3 feet from the rim, which is preposterous. pic.twitter.com/fBniweVEYp
UConn can't clamp down like this every night, but it shows how good this team can be defensively with Clingan healthy. The Huskies fell to the mid-40s in defensive efficiency with Clingan out, but have steadily climbed back to No. 23 in just three games (and only 59 minutes) of Clingan on the floor. This team's true defensive talent is much closer to the early season rankings that had the Huskies in the top 10 to 15 of defensive efficiency, and Clingan seems hellbent on singlehandedly making sure UConn gets back to that range.
Jaylin Stewart posted the second-best plus/minus on the bench (+11). Really want to see the staff find 10-15 minutes a game for him because his size, versatility, and poise find ways to make an impact.
Ball, after barely playing for basically a month, was out there confidently hitting threes and crashing the boards hard. He had some defensive lapses against X that nearly drove Luke Murray insane, but it’s good to see him pick up right where he left off after seeing limited minutes in January.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Apostolos Roumoglou. He plays with force every time he gets on the court. An ‘I’m gonna show you f***ers’ mentality from your 10th man is something to behold. He is probably too good of a player to be just ahead of Andrew Hurley in minutes.
UConn is rising up the ranks in Evan Miya’s kill shots, which are runs of 10-0 (or more) in a given game. Roughly two weeks ago, the Huskies were 17th in the metric. Since then, UConn has ripped off seven kill shots in just two games to now rank third in the country.
Updated 10-0 scoring runs graphic below.— Evan Miyakawa (@EvanMiya) January 29, 2024
When I posted the original graphic 10 days ago, UConn was the 17th best in the country at 10-0 run margin. They have had seven 10-0 runs in two games since then. Now they are 3rd best in the country. https://t.co/3pRmfpcUhl pic.twitter.com/60BqFUQaxB
A major part of those kill shots? A dynamic offensive rotation. Per Katie Sharp, UConn’s lineup of Stephon Castle, Tristen Newton, Cam Spencer, Alex Karaban, and Donovan Clingan is outscoring opponents by 62 points per 100 possessions while on the floor together, the highest mark in the country.
UConn's 5-man lineup of Castle, Clingan, Karaban, Newton and Spencer is outscoring opponents by 62 pts per 100 possessions while on the floor, per @EvanMiya— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) January 29, 2024
That's the highest efficiency margin by any 5-man lineup in the country (min. 60 possessions)
This UConn team has all of the makings of one that can win a national championship. And while the Huskies are playing its best basketball of the season so far, there are still some more gears for this team to go to, whether it's by playing Clingan more minutes or getting Castle involved more offensively. As great as this team has been so far this season, it’s still possible the best is yet to come.