How to Watch
Time: 7:00 PM ET
Radio: 97-9 ESPN
Location: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH
Records: UConn 16-6 (7-4) | Xavier 16-7 (6-6)
KenPom Rankings: UConn – 17 | Xavier – 27
NET Rankings: UConn – 18 | Xavier – 20
Spread: Xavier -3
ATS Records: UConn (11-11) | Xavier (12-11)
There isn’t much history between the UConn Huskies and the Xavier Musketeers. UConn leads the all time series 2-1, but one of those victories came back in March of 1991. You might remember the loss for the Huskies though. It was a double overtime thriller in the 2019 Charleston Classic. However, the Huskies avenged that loss last season with a win at the Cintas Center behind a balanced attack.
Last game, for the Huskies, I noted that it was a “momentum” game. It feels like a similar situation for Xavier, losers of two straight and looking for answers. The Huskies found their confidence and took down a streaking Marquette team. Marquette didn’t go down without a fight though. Each time it looked like the Golden Eagles had clawed their way back in, the Huskies answered with a run of their own. Can the Musketeers find their momentum at home against UConn?
For UConn, the Marquette game is the blueprint moving forward. The key to the game? Balance. At least in the first half. The starters still ended up playing 33 or more minutes a piece besides Whaley, mainly due to fouls. In the first half though, Tyler Polley and Jordan Hawkins brought the scoring off the bench. Something that has been missing as of late and inconsistent at best throughout the season. Something that is consistent though? Dan Hurley going back to his starters. Granted, they got the job done, but it was an odd move to not see more lineups featuring Polley and Hawkins in the second half. Either way, the team played a solid overall game and perhaps their best half of basketball all season. Can the Huskies build on their new-found momentum or do they just happen to matchup well against Marquette?
What about Xavier? This feels like a similar situation that UConn found themselves in before the Marquette game. February is not the time to start fading down the stretch so a couple losses will start to make fans panic. Xavier is coming off back-to-back losses, one at home to DePaul. A home loss to DePaul doesn’t feel great, but that’s more perception than reality. The reality is that DePaul is going to make you earn a win. They are no longer the doormat of the conference. That honor, at least for this season, inexplicably belongs to Georgetown. I digress.
So, is Xavier pulling a classic “fade down the stretch” like it seems they have before under Travis Steele? Per Haslametrics, Xavier is sitting at 344th in momentum. Out of 358 teams. Analysis: That’s not good. However, Xavier should still practically be a lock to make the NCAA tournament. If they don’t, then something went horribly wrong down the stretch. It has happened before though. Last season, Xavier was just 2-6 once February hit. The year before that, 6-5 (not terrible) with a brutal loss coming to none other than DePaul in the Big East tournament. Suffice it to say, Xavier fans have seen this one before, but you’re still ranked in the top 25 and have a talented, veteran team. I just don’t see how the Musketeers won’t figure things out, but a win over the Huskies at home would go a long way to boost fan morale.
The matchup between Jack Nunge and Adama Sanogo should be an interesting one. Nunge will be a tough cover since he likes to step out and hit threes, and Sanogo is a force inside. I have this dreaded feeling that Zach Freemantle is going to go off against the Huskies because why wouldn’t he? In their lone matchup last season, Freemantle put up 30 points and 15 rebounds. Freemantle has struggled coming back from injury, but if he can return to an all-conference level player then Xavier fans can relax a bit more. Xavier and Steele really need to get him going or find someone else instead. I’m looking at you Cesare Edwards.
Tyrese Martin said that UConn doesn’t plan on losing anymore if they can play how they did against Marquette. Can they continue to do that? Truthfully, they really only played great in the first half, but mainly grabbed a million rebounds and made a ton of free throws in the second. You can’t count on winning the rebounding margin by 20 every game. That said, I think the Marquette win was important for the team’s confidence and the Huskies will come to play with exactly that, confidence. Cintas isn’t an easy place to play, but Xavier hasn’t been invincible at home (just ask DePaul). Huskies win an important road game to start building some momentum down the stretch.