In one of the most highly anticipated games of the year, the UConn men’s basketball team will have their work cut out for them when they take on No. 1 Villanova at the XL Center Saturday afternoon.
The game is the first in a three-game series that will run through 2019-20. The two teams have not played since March 22, 2014, when the Huskies memorably upset the No. 2 seed 77-65 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament en route to their magical title.
Tomorrow’s matchup won’t be quite as thrilling as the last—Villanova is widely accepted as the best team in the nation, sitting at No. 1 in the AP poll, No. 3 in RPI and No. 1 in KenPom. The Wildcats’ only loss was a 101-93 shocker against Big East rival Butler, but they will bring a four-game win streak to Hartford.
Villanova has five players who average double-digit points per game and have six players who shoot 50 percent or above from the floor, in addition to having the seventh-best scoring offense in the nation, averaging 88.3 points per game. They have the fourth-best field goal percentage (51.7 percent) and the sixth-best 3-point percentage (42.1 percent) in the nation. Junior guard Jalen Brunson leads the Wildcats in scoring (18.7 ppg) and assists with 95, while redshirt freshman Omari Spellman leads the team in rebounds (131; 7.3 rpg) and blocks (26).
Saying the Huskies are underdogs is an understatement—UConn has just a 3.5 percent chance to win the matchup, according to ESPN’s basketball power index. While the Huskies are led in scoring by Jalen Adams (18.5 ppg), they have virtually no concrete offensive game, turning the ball over more times (238) than assisting (172). That’s partly due to the dismal 30.6 3-point percentage, but UConn struggles in running a cohesive offense.
The Huskies also have difficulty defending the perimeter, which could spell disaster if they fail to do a decent job against Villanova. It’s hard to say which UConn team will show up—they played then-No. 18 Arizona and then-No. 8 Wichita State closely until falling apart in the last five minutes, but they’ve also gotten blown out by teams like Arkansas and, most recently, Memphis.
UConn will have to have near-perfect execution to win the game, and it will depend on if Terry Larrier will be available to play. The combination of Adams, Christian Vital, Larrier, Josh Carlton and Isaiah Whaley played relatively well against UCF and Tulane, and Carlton recently scored a season-high 15 points against Memphis, flashing his potential.
Regardless of the uneven match, the game will sure to ignite some passion for those who grew up on classic Big East basketball.
Tipoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. and will be broadcast on CBS Sports.