UConn-Wichita State would be quite the powerhouse matchup in years’ past. This, unfortunately, is not one of those years.
Instead, Saturday’s game features two of the bottom four teams in the American Athletic Conference. The Huskies (11-8, 2-4 The American) are currently two spots ahead of the Shockers (8-10, 1-5 The American), sitting at ninth place in the conference standings.
While Wichita hasn’t had as tumultuous a last 12 months as UConn, the rebuild is certainly on. Currently a sub-.500 team, the Shockers are coming off a game at USF in which they scored 41 points—in an entire game. They had more turnovers (20) than field goals made (15). That’s the worst offensive showing in head coach Gregg Marshall’s tenure.
The Shockers are still winless away from home at 0-5, though the Huskies haven’t fared much better, being 1-6 away from home and 0-3 in true road games. UConn is, however, 10-2 at home, including 7-0 at Gampel Pavilion, where Saturday’s game will be played.
Throughout the season, head coach Dan Hurley has emphasized that he believes his team plays best in the on-campus arena, where the team also practices, as opposed to the XL Center in Hartford.
“I think we like playing in Gampel,” Hurley said after UConn’s last game, a victory over Tulane at Gampel. “We practice in here a couple times a week, the guys are comfortable here.”
Hurley’s main point of emphasis this week will most likely be slowing down Wichita senior forward Markis McDuffie. After entering the season on many people’s projected conference First Team lists, McDuffie hasn’t disappointed, averaging 19.2 points and five boards per game.
In the ugly loss to USF on Tuesday, however, McDuffie put up just 11 on 4-of-12 shooting with three turnovers. When he struggles, the entire Shockers offense suffers. The only other player who averages double digit scoring is senior guard Samajae Haynes-Jones, and he doesn’t provide much outside of scoring.
Entering as the second-lowest scoring team in the conference at 68.7 points per game, that scoring comes at a premium for Wichita. By comparison, the Huskies are the second-best in conference at 78.7 a game. Considering the Shockers are a middling defensive unit, UConn will try to win based on their more balanced scoring attack alone.
That attack is anchored by senior Jalen Adams, who has been on a tear as of late with 60 points in his last two games. Fellow backcourt mate Christian Vital is also coming off a strong performance in which he notched 1000 career points, and Alterique Gilbert rounds out the Huskies in double-digit scoring on the season.
UConn will be looking to defeat Wichita for the first time since the Shockers joined the AAC prior to last season. Last year, the Shockers grabbed a season sweep, winning both matchups by an average margin of 15 points.
With a matchup looming against a dangerous UCF team on the road after this one, the Huskies will certainly be eager to secure their third conference win of the season against Wichita State. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday at Gampel.