Here it is UConn fans. The biggest game of the 2015-16 regular seasons is upon us. On Tuesday evening, the UConn men’s basketball team travels to Madison Square Garden to battle against No. 6 Maryland in the Jimmy V Classic.
UConn (5-2) is looking for a signature win in this early season clash. They let two slip away during the Battle 4 Atlantis, dropping contests to Syracuse and Gonzaga by three points each.
“We just have to get out to a fast start,” head coach Kevin Ollie said. “We gotta win some of these games, we can’t keep losing them. The committee weighs RPI, wins against top 10 teams, big time. This would be a great win for us…We’re not going to get too many opportunities playing a top 10 team.”
A key focus for the Huskies will be on how to slow down Maryland’s (7-1) star guard, Melo Trimble. The sophomore, recently added to the watch list for the Naismith Player of the Year award, is averaging over 14 points per game and 5.8 assists per game, while shooting over 50 percent from the field.
“You can’t really contain him,” Ollie said. “We want to make it difficult for him.”
Following UConn’s victory over Sacred Heart, Ollie noted that the Huskies defensive goal is to take away the other team’s “commander,” their best player. Over the last season or so, guard Rodney Purvis has been the man to deliver that goal.
“(Trimble) is just always going to have to see bodies,” Purvis said. “When he’s coming down in transition, we have to find him. We’re the home team, so he’s going to have to see white jerseys no matter what. I definitely look forward to guarding him. I just try to take him out of the game. I like to take that challenge, I’ll be able to do that…It’s going to be a great team defensive effort.”
UConn is sitting just outside the AP Top 25 poll for the second week in a row. A victory over the No. 6 Terrapins would surely catapult the Huskies back into the national rankings.
The key to UConn’s success has been their offensive explosiveness. In four of their five victories, they’ve scored at least 82 points, a figure they only reached once last year.
The key to their success has been the improvement from forward Daniel Hamilton. The sophomore has taken the reins of this offense; he’s leading the team in rebounds per game, assists per game and is in second for points per game. For the Huskies to pull off the upset, Hamilton needs to play the all around game he’s capable of.
“We want to get out in transition, basically run the floor,” Hamilton said. “They have big guys, so we want to get out in transition. We need to get stops. If we get stops, then we can get out and run.”
Having spent over 30 years in the Big East, UConn is no stranger to Madison Square Garden, the home of the Big East conference tournament. The Huskies captured seven conference tournament championships, tied with Georgetown for the most.
Other than their home courts, there is no venue where UConn has played more games than MSG. They have an overall record of 61-52. Most recently, the Huskies defeated Iowa State and Michigan State in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight of the 2014 NCAA tournament, which they went on to win.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going to be an unbelievable experience to get back to Madison Square Garden. It’ll be good for us to be back in that building,” Ollie said.
This will be the seventh meeting all time between the two programs, with UConn holding a 4-2 advantage. The Huskies last met with the Terrapins on November 8, 2013 at the Barclays Center. UConn won, 78-77.
Tuesday’s game will be UConn’s second appearance in the Jimmy V Classic. The event began in 1995 as a way to raise money for cancer research. Named after the late coach Jim Valvano, the event has funded over $150 million in cancer research grants.
“Cancer has hit everybody…both of my parents are cancer survivors, so anytime we can bring awareness to it, is a big deal for me,” Ollie said.
Anytime the Huskies get to return to Madison Square Garden, it is a big deal. That it is for a date with one of the best teams in the nation only makes it that much sweeter. Tip-off is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. and can be watched on ESPN.