UConn won ugly on Wednesday, defeating a tough Providence squad at home in a foul-filled slop fest. Now on a nine-game winning streak, the Huskies head to Madison Square Garden to take on St. John’s as they wrap up their third week as the No. 1 team in the country.
The Red Storm played UConn tough in a Festivus battle on Dec. 23, with the Huskies winning 69-65 in Hartford. More recently, Rick Pitino’s squad has lost four of its last five, including an 88-77 loss on Wednesday at Xavier, whom the Huskies defeated by 43 less than a week ago.
Going undefeated in the month of January, UConn has looked elite since Donovan Clingan returned to action, while a recent breakout by freshman Stephon Castle is providing hope that this Husky team has even more potential to realize.
After winning without Clingan, and in so many different ways since, the Huskies head to their home away from home with a lot of confidence. They can also expect a strong showing by the Husky faithful in Manhattan that afternoon.
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -3.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 76, St. John’s 72 (65 percent win percentage)
UConn and St. John’s have played 69 times in a series that dates back to 1951, with the Red Storm holding a 37-32 advantage. The Huskies are 9-1 when ranked in the AP poll top five all-time against St. John’s, and while the Red Storm have success on UConn’s home courts recently, the Huskies haven't lost to St. John’s at MSG since 2013.
What to Watch For
Head coach Dan Hurley said Alex Karaban is a game-time decision after the sophomore forward suffered an ankle sprain Wednesday night. He left the game but returned to finish it out, playing all 20 minutes in the second half.
Karaban’s absence would be a major blow to the Huskies’ rotation, as he’s averaging 14.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season and is shooting 44.4 percent from three in conference play. His versatility and basketball IQ help keep the Huskies going even when his shots aren’t falling.
If Karaban can’t go, freshman Jaylin Stewart should see an uptick in minutes. Stewart has worked his way into the rotation after Donovan Clingan’s injury and has stuck since the big man came back, throwing down a dunk in the final seconds of Wednesday’s game to seal the win against the Friars.
Battle on the boards
The Red Storm are a menace on the offensive boards, ranking fourth nationally in offensive rebound percentage at 39.7 percent.
Big man Joel Soriano is St. John’s best rebounder and will be a tough task for Clingan and the rest of the UConn frontcourt to keep off of the boards on both ends. Soriano has scored 21 points in each of his last two games and tied a season-high with seven rebounds in the Johnnies’ recent loss to Xavier.
Karaban, Stewart, Clingan, and Samson Johnson will have their work cut out to keep the senior big man off the glass. Hurley called out the Huskies’ early rebounding performance against Providence, adding that he’s expecting a more complete performance in the future.
Veterans in MSG
This will be UConn’s fourth game already at Madison Square Garden this season. For reference, St. John’s has only played five games at the world’s most famous arena so far.
It’s no secret that Saturday’s tilt in NYC will have plenty of UConn fans in attendance — head coach Rick Pitino himself said he expects the game to feel like a neutral court. Even if Karaban is unavailable, the Huskies should be able to feed off the crowd more than in any other “road” game this season.