The UConn men’s basketball team is back at Gampel Pavilion, where they are slated to take on the Georgetown Hoyas in their annual Coaches vs. Cancer game.
The No. 20 Huskies (13-4, 4-2 Big East) have enjoyed a successful stretch of games, including two double-digit wins in a unique home-and-home against Butler last week. This prompted a five-spot climb in the AP Poll on Monday, the highest that UConn has been ranked since mid-December.
Veteran guard Tyrese Martin will hope to pick up where he left off, as he notably dropped 25 points in the second half of the Huskies’ clash with Butler on Thursday. This earned him a spot on this week’s Big East Honor Roll, and he hopes to carry some of that confidence and momentum with him on Tuesday.
After Thursday’s performance, Martin is third on the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game. Currently above him are both RJ Cole and Adama Sanogo with 15.7 and 15.6 points per game, respectively. With three guys scoring at such a high clip, UConn certainly has a luxury that other squads in the country don’t have.
“The majority of the time, we’re a very hard team to beat because of our depth … We have more chances that a couple guys can play well offensively and give you double figures,” Hurley said on Monday. “I don’t know if there’s another team in the country that has three guys getting 14 [points per game] or higher, so we’re hard to prepare for, especially with Andre [Jackson] surging.”
Speaking of depth, the reappearance of junior guard Jalen Gaffney is worth noting heading into the clash with Georgetown. The veteran has seen his time on the court diminish in recent weeks, only to see it spike up to 17 minutes on Thursday. Gaffney looked more in control, and hopes to be the primary option off the bench in the coming games.
“That was great for Jalen, he needed that. I think it was a real confidence builder for him and I just thought that he was a lot tougher,” Hurley said. “If you do things on the court that are going to help us win, I’m going to play you more.”
A guy who needs a comeback performance is big man Akok Akok. The junior has seen his playing time reduced significantly, as he was on the court for only three minutes on Thursday. This was due to a number of factors according to Hurley, including the play of Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley, the four-guard lineup of Butler and the fact that he hasn’t been making enough “impact plays” for them on both ends of the court, specifically on the defensive glass.
While the Hoyas (6-10, 0-5 Big East) are defending Big East Tournament champions, they certainly haven’t been playing like it. Georgetown is ranked just 157th in the nation, according to the KenPom ratings, and are winless in conference play. The team is very young, with the average experience per player being just 1.26 seasons, per KenPom. Despite the high possibility of victory, Hurley knows that his team still needs to show up prepared for a fight.
“You don’t want to be a ‘fat rat’ as Kimani [Young] likes to say and think that you can just show up. The point I made to the guys is that Georgetown-UConn means something, it means a lot in college basketball,” Hurley said on Monday. “We know that we can be a top team and compete for a championship in this league, but if we stray from our identity a little bit, we become vulnerable.”
Georgetown is led by Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year Aminu Mohammed, who sits atop the Hoya stat sheet with 13.6 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game. He is the only Hoya that has started all of the team’s 16 games thus far. The rookie guard isn’t the only player for the Huskies to worry about, as Georgetown boasts five different guys averaging double-digit points.
The showdown marks UConn’s annual Coaches vs. Cancer game, and the contest hopes to bring light to an issue that is bigger than basketball. Led by Andrea Hurley and the rest of the coaches’ spouses, there will be an opportunity for fans to create photo pins in honor of loved ones who lost their battle with cancer. This is a free-of-charge opportunity that will be held before the game and at halftime. All you need is a picture 3 inches or smaller of a loved one.
Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Gampel Pavilion. The game will be broadcast live on CBSSN.