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Starting Five: A UConn/Georgetown Q&A Preview

Two old BIG EAST foes rekindle their rivalry on Saturday.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

For the first time since UConn left the Big East, the Huskies will face off with the Georgetown Hoyas. This game, originally announced in 2014, will be played in Hartford, with UConn coming to the Verizon Center next year.

Perhaps you haven't followed the Huskies much since their Big East departure, though, and don't know what to expect from them going into Saturday's game.

You're in luck! We reached out to SB Nation's Russell Steinberg and The UConn Blog's Aman Kidwai to have some questions answered about the Huskies.

1. As a fan, does this game against Georgetown carry more weight than other nonconference games this season?

Russell Steinberg: Without question. I think everyone has a certain amount of nostalgia for the old Big East and whenever you can rekindle one of those rivalry games, it carries a ton of weight. Maybe not as much for the players as it does for the fans, who grew up watching these teams play 2-3 times a year. With the exception of Syracuse, I’m not sure there’s another old Big East fan base that bothers UConn fans quite as much as Georgetown, so bragging rights on the Twitters are on the line for sure. Beyond that, UConn fans are insecure about their place in the college sports landscape, and rightfully so. A win over a team that sits comfortably in the current Big East is a great opportunity for them to throw up a middle finger and stick it to the h8ers.

Aman Kidwai: Absolutely, UConn and Georgetown have played a lot of great games in the past and the memories of the old Big East are of course very precious to us. Neither of these teams is as strong this year as their fans would like, I imagine, but it should still be a great atmosphere.


2. Sterling Gibbs is a name that Big East fans are certainly familiar with. The Seton Hall transfer landed at UConn this summer and has struggled a bit, at least in terms of PPG (16.3 last season, 12.9 this season), and FG% (40.5 to 43.1) is there a reason for the drop that you can find, or does Gibbs just have to not do as much as last season due to the fact that he has more talent surrounding him?

Russell Steinberg: First of all, I think Gibbs’ numbers are a little skewed by a rough stretch from late November to early December. That was when UConn lost 3/4 and Gibbs was 10-30 from the field in those losses, including 4-18 from three. But since conference play began, he’s been a huge part of the offense, which has been key because Daniel Hamilton has struggled. Gibbs posted three straight 20+ point performances, interrupted only be a weird game against Tulane earlier in the week. It’s been a little strange seeing Gibbs’ role on the team develop. He’s played some point guard, but seems better suited for the off-guard position. He’s played the 2 while Jalen Adams has been on the floor, but when Rodney Purvis is in, Gibbs goes back to the point. What I’ve really liked about him is that even when Gibbs has struggled with his shot, he has been the most consistent free throw shooter on the team. This was huge in UConn’s win at Texas where he shot just 3-12 but made some big free throws in the closing minutes to seal the win.

Aman Kidwai: Gibbs has been a bit streaky, and also was asked to fill a role at point guard early in the season that maybe was not ideal for him, but that has been rectified. Another contributor to his lower scoring would also be that there are more scorers on this UConn team than last year's Seton Hall.

3. UConn's defense has been great this season (11th in the nation, per KenPom). Last season they were certainly good (65th in the nation), but certainly not on the level of this season. What's been the biggest key(s) to their defensive success?

Russell Steinberg: This is another situation where I think the numbers only tell part of the story. Yes, it’s great that they’re rated 11th by KenPom. That’s no accident. But they’ve also played some terrible teams (take Tulane earlier in the week, for example). What helps is that Hamilton and Shonn Miller have both been excellent rebounders and UConn, for the most part, limits its opponents to one shot. The guards are always active defensively and there aren’t many breakdowns, so those shots are often contested anyway. When Brimah gets back, the Huskies will be even better defensively since he is one of the best shot blockers in the nation. This might not be the best defensive team UConn has ever had, but it’s certainly a strength. As it is every year.

Aman Kidwai: Compared to last year, this year's team lost Ryan Boatright, added Gibbs, Cornell grad transfer Shonn Miller and then also returned every other major contributor. I would say experience and maybe also buy-in.

4. UConn’s not exactly a "deep" team, but is there a player that could come off the bench and make a difference for them on Saturday?

Russell Steinberg: Purvis has been coming off the bench recently, which is something I don’t particularly like, but he’s the obvious choice for some instant offense outside the starting 5. If you’re going with a more traditional sub, watch out for Omar Calhoun. He’s not afraid to shoot it and is about 40% from three this season. If UConn gets off to a sluggish start tomorrow, he might get a few minutes to inject a little excitement into the game. Georgetown fans might remember him from his freshman year (UConn’s last in the Big East) when he scored five points in the final 10 seconds to send that classic game into overtime.

Aman Kidwai: Interestingly enough, Omar Calhoun, who had a huge game in the last meeting between these two teams as a freshman, is the candidate off the bench most likely to have a big game. Rodney Purvis has moved to a 6th man role for us, but him having a big game wouldn't exactly be a surprise.

5. This is a win that can go a long way for both of these school for the rest of the year. Who wins, and why?

Russell Steinberg: Who wins when UConn and Georgetown play? America wins. College basketball fans win. Which team scores more points on Saturday? I’m going with UConn in a close game. I think Georgetown is a better team than it gets credit for, but I’m feeling good about D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera having to go up against the UConn guards. I’m also not sure Georgetown will have an answer for Miller, who has been arguably UConn’s most important player this season. I assume Isaac Copeland will get the assignment. That might be the key matchup.

Aman Kidwai: It's really tough because both of these teams have looked different at various points of the season but I'll give UConn the edge due to the home court advantage. I think it'll be a really close one. UConn has not been itself defensively without Brimah's shot-blocking presence, but the offense has looked slightly better at times.