Men’s Basketball: No. 15 Huskies look to rebound against Bulldogs 

UConn men’s basketball suffer a 74-85 loss against St. Johns at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. following a noon matchup on Sunday, Jan, 15. In front of a sold-out crowd, the Huskies added another defeat to their record. Photo by Associate Photo Editor Sofie Sawchuk / Daily Campus.

After an embarrassing up-and-down loss to the Seton Hall Pirates on Wednesday night, the No. 15 UConn men’s basketball team returns to action on Sunday afternoon, hosting the Butler Bulldogs in Hartford. 

The Huskies enter the game at 15-5 on the year, and 4-5 in Big East play. Losers of five of their last six contests, Connecticut is looking to snap their slump in a big way, and the battle with the Bulldogs presents a great opportunity. 

Butler currently sits at 11-9 on the year, including 3-6 in the Big East. Their biggest win was definitely one of the shocks of the Big East/Big 12 Battle, upsetting Kansas State at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse back in November. Recently, the team has won two of their last five, including a home win over Villanova. 

The Bulldogs lead a rather balanced attack, sharing the ball between five primary scorers. Manny Bates, Chuck Harris, Jayden Taylor, Simas Lukosius and Eric Hunter Jr. all average between 9.9 and 12.6 points per game, respectively. While Big East Preseason Honorable Mention Harris draws some attention, the Huskies really need a complete defensive game to keep these guys at bay. 

At the time of writing, the Bulldogs are ranked No. 93 in the nation in the KenPom ratings compared to the Huskies coming in at No. 6. Butler is ranked as the third-weakest team in the conference by that metric, and is a team that can be beaten with a solid, complete game from a team of UConn’s caliber. When they last met, the Huskies took down the Bulldogs 68-46 in Indiana, a game described as utter domination. 

But that was a long time ago. With that victory, Connecticut improved to a Division I-best 12-0 record, opening Big East play with a statement. That statement ended a few games later with a loss at Xavier, and it’s been mainly downhill from there for the Huskies. A team win over Creighton at home was encouraging after two difficult road losses, but a double-digit home loss to St. John’s and Wednesday night’s implosion changed the vibe once more. 

This squad has proved they can win games against high-quality teams, we saw it during the 14-0 start to the year. Now, it’s about returning to form and staying consistent, something definitely easier said than done. 

One of the main issues plaguing the Huskies has been the backcourt play. Besides second-leading scorer and NBA Draft prospect Jordan Hawkins, there hasn’t been much production from the guards, particularly on offense. This team lacks an RJ Cole-type ball handler, able to score when his team needs it. 

For what it’s worth though, starting point guard Tristen Newton had his moments in Wednesday’s match, getting to the line for six as well as scoring a crafty bucket and a 3-pointer in the loss. The East Carolina transfer averaged 17.7 points per game last season in the American, and Newton hopes to improve upon his recent performances offensively on Sunday. 

While the frontcourt has typically been the strongest part of the lineup, guys like Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan faltered in the second half on Wednesday. They picked up nine combined fouls, caught jumping or committing a moving screen. On offense, there were numerous misses at the rim that they likely wish they could have back. Look for the duo of bigs to bounce back in a big way against Butler. 

There are a few Huskies that are question marks for Sunday’s contest. Sophomore forward Samson Johnson, who hasn’t played since opening night against Stonehill, appears to be close to a return from his foot injury. He has been seen in recent games warming up alongside the team with little-to-no limitations. 

The other two questionable team members, head coach Dan Hurley and associate head coach Kimani Young, both tested positive for COVID-19 prior to Wednesday’s game and did not travel with the team. If they are both not cleared for Sunday, assistant coaches Luke Murray and Tom Moore would take the reins for the second straight matchup. 

Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut

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