UConn started the season 4-1 in Big East play, with the only loss being an overtime thriller to a top-10 ranked team in Creighton. Hopes started to rise and tournament dreams started to form for a program that hasn’t played in March Madness since 2016.
Then came the wake-up call, with UConn going from 4-1 over their first five to 1-4 over their last five — and they still haven’t played Villanova. The Huskies, who at one point this season were even nationally ranked, are spiraling.
Time is running out to salvage the season and make one final push at the tournament, and now, every game is crucial. That starts with UConn (8-5, 5-5 Big East) vs. Xavier (11-2, 4-2 Big East) on Saturday.
Xavier has been the team most impacted by COVID-19 postponements this season, already having seven games postponed, including one vs. UConn back in January. The Musketeers have had their last three games postponed, meaning they haven’t played a game since Jan. 30. Before that Jan. 30 game, they had just come off a four-game stretch of postponements, so really, Xavier has played just one game in the past month.
UConn has had their own troubles with games being postponed, actually missing eight conference games so far due to COVID-19. However, the Huskies have still managed to play four more games.
The Musketeers are led on offense by sophomore Zach Freemantle, a 6-foot-9 forward shooting over 50% from the field on the season and 33% from 3. His 15 points per game lead the team, as do his 8.1 rebounds.
Senior point guard Paul Scruggs is right behind him, averaging 14.6 points and leading the team with six assists and a little under two steals per game. He does so a little less efficiently from the field (48.9%) and more efficiently from 3 (39.2%).
Fellow senior guard Nate Johnson is third in scoring and the last one averaging in the double digits, putting up 11.5 points per game. He does so as a sharpshooter, shooting 52.2% from 3 on the season. He leads the team, the Big East and the country in 3-point percentage, and is only one of two qualified players to make more than they miss from deep.
That knockdown shooting stroke is something UConn has sorely missed, and it was very apparent last time out vs. Providence. The Huskies went 4-for-20 from 3, their own resident sharpshooter Tyler Polley went 1-for-8. Polley had shown signs of being a deadeye shooter for UConn this season, but after a string of bad outings, is down to 35% on the year.
UConn as a team is shooting just 34.5% from three on the season, which is No. 133 in the nation. Xavier as a team aren’t leaps and bounds better, but their 36.4% mark is No. 63 in the nation — and they have a resident sniper.
With a return of James Bouknight looking more doubtful every day, UConn desperately needs to find scoring elsewhere, or else this is going to be a long end to the season.
Tip-off is scheduled for noon on Saturday, and the game can be watched on FOX.