After a performance that could not have looked better for the top-ranked UConn men’s basketball team, the Huskies are looking for their ninth straight victory Wednesday night at Gampel Pavilion, where they will host Providence at 8:30 p.m.
The Huskies trashed Xavier, 99-56, on Sunday. This past week’s performance led to four extra first-place votes in the AP Poll.
Meanwhile, Providence just played host to Ed Cooley and Georgetown, in a game that didn’t have very high stakes but still carried a lot of emotion. They eventually won by eight, but the Hoyas had a three-point lead with under three minutes to go.
Kim English’s team now has three straight wins after starting conference play 2-4, but the Friars haven’t beaten a top-50 team away from Amica Mutual Pavilion, with an 0-3 record.
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -13, over/under 140 (odds via DraftKings)
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 75, Providence 63 (87 percent chance of victory)
This will be the 79th meeting between the two teams, as Providence is the seventh-longest series in program history. UConn holds a 47-31 edge and has been dominant at home as of late, with a 5-1 record since Jan. 31, 2009.
In the 13 games at Gampel Pavilion, UConn has won 11. Nine of these games have been played with the Huskies as a ranked team, including four times in the top five. UConn is undefeated with an average margin of victory of 17.8 points in those games.
The teams have been evenly matched since the Huskies returned to the Big East, with an even 3-3 record.
What to Watch For
A battle inside
Despite a lack of size inside, as Josh Oduro, at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, plays most minutes at center, Providence is elite at 2-point defense, which is the key tenet of its No. 9 ranking in KenPom defensive efficiency (93.8 points per adjusted 100 possessions).
Opposing teams only make 43.4 percent of their 2-pointers, which is No. 11 in the country. Meanwhile, UConn is fifth in making them, doing so at a 59.6 percent clip. All its meaningful contributors, save for Solo Ball, are above 50.0 percent and he is at a respectable (for a freshman guard) 43.8 percent.
Oduro had a tough game against Ryan Kalkbrenner at Creighton on Jan. 6, as the Bluejays’ star was 7-for-9 from inside the arc and scored 22 points, while Oduro was 4-for-17 from the field with three rebounds and Creighton won by nine. Joel Soriano of St. John’s was 4-for-7 from 2-point range against them on Jan. 10, but also took 11 free throws.
Oso Ighodaro did have a subpar game for Marquette, at 2-for-6 from the field, back on Dec. 19, but Oduro has had trouble with offensive-minded big men in league play, particularly those against which he’s giving up size.
Oduro is going to have his hands full with Clingan, and Providence’s Ticket Gaines will be tasked with stopping Alex Karaban, whose 2-point percentage of 67.4 is in the nation’s top 50.
The reverse is true, as well. Providence’s clear strength on offense is inside shots, as the Friars are in the top 20, at 56.5 percent. It’s UConn’s defensive strength, as well, as the Huskies are fourth, allowing just 42.6 percent. The paint will likely be the battlefield on Wednesday night. A healthy Clingan is going to help push that in UConn’s favor.
Force some turnovers
The Friars don’t do well with ball control, as they turn the ball over on 18.4 percent of their possessions. That’s down near the country’s bottom 100. The Huskies are far from stellar at forcing turnovers, but this can be a way to make it easier on the defense.
Xavier turned the ball over 14 times on Sunday (19.4 percent), as did Creighton on Jan. 17 (22.6 percent). UConn’s defense has been Jekyll and Hyde with turnovers, as there have been more games (three) with a turnover rate below 10.0 percent than above 20.0 percent (two).
Providence even won its last two games, over Seton Hall and Georgetown, with turnover rates above 20.0 percent and is 7-2 when exceeding that mark. But they’ve yet to face a team like UConn. Wisconsin is the only top-50 win among them, while four are against sub-200 teams.
Control the defensive boards
Offensive rebounds aren’t a big part of Providence’s game. The Friars only grab 26.4 percent of their misses, which is in the bottom 100 nationally. UConn was worse without Donovan Clingan but is still well above average.
The Huskies have been good all year at preventing second-chance points and a lot of that comes from effort and hustle, particularly on the defensive end. They’re double-digit favorites at home and will need to keep this intensity to secure their ninth straight win.