After a tough, hard-fought win on Saturday against DePaul, the UConn men’s basketball team returns home on Tuesday where they are slated to take on the Creighton Bluejays at the XL Center in Hartford.
The No. 17 Huskies (15-4, 6-2 Big East) are currently riding a five game winning streak, having last fallen in early January to Seton Hall. Since then, the team has had five convincing triumphs against St. John’s, Butler (twice), Georgetown and DePaul with the margin of victory being seven or greater in each contest.
While those teams have had their share of struggles this year (none of them crack the top 75 squads in the country, according to the KenPom ratings), the Big East is a competitive conference nonetheless. There’s definitely something to be said for the team’s consistency in the win column as of late. Good teams win games they’re supposed to win, and the Huskies have been doing just that.
Now comes the real test. Connecticut currently ranks third in the conference with a legitimate shot at the Big East title, trailing only Villanova and Providence. No intentional knock at UConn’s last four opponents, but its next four in Creighton, Villanova, Marquette and Xavier are all going to be more intense and tough on the Huskies. All members of that quartet are in the top 75 of the KenPom ratings, and the latter three are all ranked in the latest AP Top 25 Poll. Head coach Dan Hurley previously said this team could be top five in the nation had a couple close games gone their way, and now it’s time to prove it.
Leading the charge for the Huskies is Big East Honor Roller RJ Cole, who tops the team in points per game with 16.1. Cole earned his conference nod this week thanks to a big performance against DePaul in which he dropped 25 points and was crucial in UConn’s victory. The crafty guard has the ability to take over games and even on off nights can make a big impact. Besides leading the Huskies in scoring, he also ranks first in drawn charges, free throw makes and assists.
Another key contributor to this team is forward Adama Sanogo, whose presence down in the post is crucial to UConn’s successes. When Sanogo is on, the rest of the team seems to feed off of that energy and do well. Not surprisingly, the big man had a subpar game on Saturday, along with most of the other Huskies. However, those kinds of slow spurts tend to happen throughout the course of a season, and Hurley doesn’t seem too phased by it. In his pregame presser, the coach noted “I wouldn’t read into [Sanogo’s recent struggles] too much.”
The Creighton Bluejays (12-7, 4-4 Big East) have had their ups and downs this year, with a few surprises. The Bluejays are 2-4 against ranked teams heading into Tuesday’s clash with UConn, taking down both Villanova and BYU already this season.
Creighton’s most recent game was a tale of two halves, as the team closed out the first period against No. 21 Xavier convincingly, up by an astonishing 17 points. Things quickly turned sour for the Bluejays, who allowed 55 second-half points to the Musketeers in what became a 10-point loss. Much like Xavier after the break, expect Creighton to emerge with some fire, hoping to avenge their embarrassing home collapse.
The Bluejays employ a very balanced attack, as all five of their starters average between 9.1 and 12.8 points per game. The team as a whole takes high-percentage shots, as they rank first in the conference in field-goal percentage, shooting .459. This should be an interesting matchup for the Huskies, who rank first in the Big East in field goal percentage allowed with .385.
A key player for Creighton in conference play has been Alex O’Connell, who is currently averaging 14.9 points per game in Big East matchups. The senior guard has been shooting at a high clip of .504 in that span as well, and looks to do some damage on the road against the Huskies.
The Bluejays rank second in the conference in field goal percentage allowed, and it’s guys like Ryan Kalkbrenner that are the reason why. The 7-1 center is averaging 3.1 blocks per game, higher than Huskies like Adama Sanogo and Isaiah Whaley by around a block a game. Kalkbrenner’s defense will definitely be a factor in this one, as UConn likes to attack in the paint.
Tipoff is set for 6:30 PM at the XL Center in Hartford, where the game will be broadcast live on FS1.