After a tough week which saw the Huskies drop two straight games, the UConn men’s basketball team will attempt to bounce back against the No. 18 Marquette Golden Eagles on Tuesday.
As of late, UConn has struggled to find its identity in the first half, coming out to slow starts and forcing the Huskies to play catch-up. Since the team’s offensive outburst against Georgetown last month that saw 52 first-half points, UConn has been held to less than 30 points in each of the three first halves since.
And, yes, some of that is attributable to the quality of teams, as Creighton and Villanova are both ranked much higher in the KenPom ratings than Georgetown. But, this is a team that needs to make an adjustment in their approach out of the gate, as it is proving costly in these crucial Big East games.
Some of the problem partly lies in the first-half production of the “key to the offense” in forward Adama Sanogo. When the 6’9” sophomore is cooking with his highlight dunks and contested post hooks, the rest of the offense follows suit. However, when Sanogo is having an off-night, the rest of the team, save maybe RJ Cole or Isaiah Whaley, also struggles with shooting. Sanogo, UConn’s second-leading scorer, has come out of the gate with just four first-half points in the past three games combined. Look for him to try to buck the trend on Tuesday.
One Husky who’s been trending upward since Saturday’s game at Villanova is freshman Jordan Hawkins. The guard saw most of his playing time in the second half and was able to knock down some deep balls, shooting 3-for-5 with all of his makes coming from beyond the arc. On top of that, Hawkins ended with two dimes, two boards and made an impact on the defensive end with two steals.
The rookie’s season has been a bumpy one as he started out the year injured, made his way into the starting lineup due to injured teammates and fell back to earth again. His promising game against Nova, which saw the second-most number of minutes he’s gotten since December 11th against St. Bonaventure, could help him build towards a strong finish to the season.
While Hawkins has had offensive success as of late, sophomore Andre Jackson hasn’t been able to find the basket. While by no means a top scoring option on this UConn team, Jackson’s increasing three-point attempts look like it’s making it harder to get into a rhythm. Once you miss a few shots, especially if your teammates are doing the same, it’s hard to get something going.
Over the last five games, Jackson has shot just 22% from the floor. More takes at the rim instead of threes and very deep, contested floaters can alleviate that issue. In the last game against Marquette a couple months ago, Jackson shot 4-for-5 for 10 points. Jackson is surely hoping he can pick up where he left off in the season series offensively.
Behind Enemy Lines
Marquette has enjoyed a very successful season under first-year head coach Shaka Smart. Projected to finish ninth this year in the conference preseason poll, the Golden Eagles have been, outside of maybe Providence, the shock of the Big East. Smart and Marquette made it known this isn’t a rebuilding year out of the gate, upsetting No. 10 Illinois in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
The team struggled a bit after that win but has been trending in the right direction since a heartbreaking, double-overtime loss at home to Creighton on New Year’s Day. The Golden Eagles have won eight of their last nine, including home and away wins over conference powerhouse Villanova and ranked wins over Seton Hall and Xavier.
Marquette’s offensive attack is led by redshirt freshman Justin Lewis, who boasts a team-high 16.6 points per game, good for fourth in the Big East. In the last matchup between the Huskies and the Golden Eagles, Lewis torched UConn for 20 points on 7-for-16 shooting alongside seven rebounds.
Another key piece for Marquette is shot-blocker Kur Kuath, who is second in the conference with 3.0 blocks per game. Driving guards like Tyrese Martin and RJ Cole will have to stay on their toes to avoid the athletic center.
Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the XL Center in Hartford. The game will be broadcast live on FS1.