With two conference wins under their belt, the UConn men’s basketball team faces their toughest challenge of the season thus far when they take on SMU tonight in Dallas, Texas.
The Mustangs (15-4, 5-1 the American) have historically given UConn (7-10, 2-3 the American) a hard time both on the road and at home, owning an all-time 2-7 record, including tournament play. The Huskies went 1-1 against SMU last season, with one home win and one away loss. The Mustangs are a perfect 11-0 at home this season.
Limiting SMU behind the arc will be UConn’s toughest task of the night. One of SMU’s key starters, Sterling Brown, is the best in the conference at 3-point percentage, a region of the court that UConn often has trouble defending. As a team, SMU is the second-best 3-point shooting team in the conference, sitting at 39.8 percent, .001 percent behind leader Houston. In addition, Semi Ojeleye is third in the conference in scoring per game, sitting at 17.7 points per game.
While UConn’s defense is definitely one of the better in the conference and they have kept opponents close in recent games, SMU still has them beat in most major defensive categories. They have the best rebounding defense in the conference, as well as the most offensive rebounds. The matchup is imbalanced, as the Huskies’ ability to crash the boards is easily their weakest defensive point.
The Huskies will have to play their best basketball of the season to stay competitive against the Mustangs. The gameplay will probably be akin to their contest against Memphis, where they lost by nine, but once trailed by almost 30 in the second half.
There’s no question that the quality of UConn’s gameplay has improved ever since their victory over UCF, a team that dominated the defensive categories, but their loss to Georgetown also shows how susceptible the team still is to their old habits of taking too many bad shots and not getting the defensive stops they needed.
Amida Brimah, who arguably had his worst performance in a Husky uniform against Georgetown last week, is the bane of UConn’s success: when he falters, the team crumbles; but when he is on top of his game, both the offense and the defense thrive around him. His performance on both sides of the ball will determine how well the Huskies hang in with SMU throughout the game.
SMU’s only conference loss came against Cincinnati on Jan. 12 when they lost by just a basket. UConn, on the other hand, is trying to improve their win record to even have a shot at postseason play. SMU will be the best all-around team UConn has faced so far; however they perform tomorrow will surely show if they are for real, or if their performances against UCF and Temple were merely a fluke.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and the UConn IMG Radio Network.