For the first time since Dec. 19, the UConn men’s basketball team has cracked the AP Top 25 — just in time for a conference clash with the Butler Bulldogs on Tuesday night.
Connecticut reenters the poll at the No. 25 spot and hopes to climb even higher with this week’s slate of games, including an unusual home-and-home with Butler. This will be the Huskies’ first time playing consecutive games against the same team in the regular season since 1992, when they dropped both games to the Georgetown Hoyas.
There’s an argument to be made that UConn never deserved to drop out of the poll in the first place, since they’ve only lost one game fully healthy — a road defeat at the hands of ranked Seton Hall. However, a few close losses to Michigan State, West Virginia and Providence, followed by a near three-week COVID-19 pause, kept the Huskies from national recognition.
But thankfully, they should be fully healthy for the upcoming weeks. In fact, that was the first thing coach Dan Hurley talked about in his press conference on Monday.
“Everyone’s healthy, so there’s no injury [updates] going into today’s practice this afternoon,” said Hurley, looking relieved.
Now, coming off an overtime home win over St. John’s, the Huskies look to gain some momentum amidst difficult Big East play.
One of the key contributors this week will be big man Adama Sanogo, who has been on a tear the last two games. Over that span, he has accumulated 44 points and 34 rebounds, earning Big East Player of the Week honors. This is the second time he has taken home that award this season, the first coming after a 30-point performance over now-No. 2 Auburn.
“Adama is big time. He’s huge for us, offensively and defensively, and [Wednesday night] is a prime example of what he did for us on both ends of the floor. Just being able to play off of him … makes everyone else’s lives easier,” guard RJ Cole said on Wednesday night.
Another player to have eyes on is forward Andre Jackson, who has shown significant improvement over the course of the year. Jackson, who previously attempted to dunk every ball that he got near the rim, is demonstrating more patience and basketball IQ with each coming game. While his turnover rate is still high (eight in the last two games) Jackson is becoming a more consistent offensive option, having reached double digit points in each of the last three contests.
“I just think he’s on a great track right now,” his coach stated. “I credit Andre for allowing us to coach him, not getting rattled in year one, where he was struggling to produce and to understand his identity, but he’s understanding his identity and growing as a player … I love the way he’s beginning to attack the rim, and I feel like he’s scratching the surface on the player that we recruited him to be.”
This will be the Huskies’ first matchup since Wednesday, since their game against Providence was canceled because of COVID-19 issues in the PC program. It may look like UConn is in a worse situation due to their lack of consistent games, but Hurley sees a silver lining.
“It was good for us to get a couple days of practice, get a full squad on the court, get Alex Karaban acclimated at practice. Maybe 10 days ago we had six guys at practice [due to the COVID-19 break], but over the weekend we had 14 guys,” Hurley said. “We look like a hungry team that’s finally healthy again, and we’re excited to attack the schedule.”
And what better team to start the attack against than the Bulldogs, who have had a shaky start to the season en route to a 9-7 record, including 2-3 in the Big East. The team is currently ranked No. 125 in the nation, coming off of an embarrassing 40-point loss at Villanova on Sunday and looking to turn things around on Tuesday. Despite their struggles, you can never really count out a Big East opponent, as Coach Hurley attested to in his presser.
“This is a hard league and it’s hard to go on the road and beat anybody, especially Villanova. It’s hard to win a home game against anybody, since this league is playing to a top-two league in the country this year,” said Hurley.
Butler doesn’t have a true superstar player, as they lead with a very balanced attack. This year, there are five different guys averaging between 8.6 and 10.5 points per game, so the Huskies should expect to defend a plethora of scoring options.
One guy who takes a ton of shots for the Bulldogs is sophomore guard Chuck Harris, who provides a spark for the team off the bench. He had a team-high 15 points against Villanova and will look to continue his high-volume production on Tuesday.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at the XL Center, and the game will be broadcast live on FS1.