How to Watch:
Date: Tuesday February 22nd, 2022
Time: 8:00pm EST
Venue: XL Center - Hartford, Connecticut
TV: FS1 (Kevin Kugler & Bill Raftery)
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Line: UConn -2.5
The No. 21 Connecticut Huskies (19-7, 10-5 Big East) will be looking to extend their three-game home winning streak when they play host to the No. 8 Villanova Wildcats (21-6, 14-3 Big East) this Tuesday evening.
Earlier this month these two teams met at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for a highly anticipated Big East clash. Eric Dixon’s career day propelled the Wildcats to victory over a scrappy Connecticut team. The Huskies were led by RJ Cole’s 25-point outing as well as a timely second half performance from Adama Sanogo.
Since that meeting in early February, the UConn Huskies have won five of their last six games, including key conference victories over Marquette and Seton Hall. UConn will be coming into this matchup needing a victory in front of their home fans to finally add a signature win to their conference resume. Although they are an impressive 10-5 in Big East play, they have yet to land the big fish in Providence or Villanova that would really validate their admirable season.
The Huskies will be led by one of the most talented backcourts in the country in the duo of RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin. Last time they faced Villanova the two guards combined for 39 of the team’s 74 points. Adama Sanogo will be another key factor in this contest. The sophomore forward averages 15.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for the Huskies, as well as acting as the team's defensive anchor in the paint.
The key to success for UConn will come in their offensive efficiency. The Huskies boast a 12-2 record at home this year and are undefeated when they shoot the ball above 32% from the field. If they can do that on Tuesday while continuing to play elite defense, we may see a very different result this time around.
As for the Wildcats they will come into this matchup after a too-close-for-comfort victory over basement dwelling Georgetown on Saturday. Other than that, the Wildcats have been sneakily on fire over the last month and a half. In their last 17 games Villanova is 15-2, with both of those losses coming at the hands of Marquette.
The manner in which Villanova is winning some of their games this year is very surprising in contrast to previous years. Early in the season it looked like any other Villanova team with an extreme emphasis on the motto ‘live by the three, die by the three’. That motto was highlighted by an early December win at Syracuse where the Wildcats put up a program record fifty three-point attempts. However, over the course of the following months, the Wildcats would continue to win games but not always by the three-ball. In fact, at the time of this article, Villanova barely cracks the top fifty teams in the country in three pointers attempted per game. It is not that they are not shooting threes anymore, they certainly are, in fact they lead the Big East in three pointers made per game with just over nine. Where the difference lies is in the team's offensive efficiency.
That’s the Collin Gillespie Effect.
Now there is no surprise that Collin Gillespie is the heart and soul of this Villanova team but where his impact is truly felt is when he is on the floor, managing the game, seeing things that you, me, and even the broadcast team cannot see, and doing whatever it takes to win games. There is really no way to describe the importance of having a player like Collin Gillespie means to a program, but I think this graphic does a pretty good job. Here are the Big East leaders in +/-, and if you are having trouble finding Gillespie, like I did on the first try, just look up and to the right.
One of Gillespie’s most outstanding pupils this season has been sophomore forward Eric Dixon. Dixon’s outing last time these two teams met was nothing short of incredible and a key factor for the Wildcats in that win. Between Dixon, Brandon Slater and Jermaine Samuels the Wildcat forwards will have their hands full on Tuesday evening trying to keep the hungry Huskies off the boards, but I expect Jay Wright to have his team ready for a battle in the paint.
This game will kick off the biggest week of Villanova’s season thus far. A win here puts them in great shape for a March 1st meeting at home against Providence, essentially for the Big East regular season crown, barring a speed bump on the way from either team. As for UConn they will look to play spoilers and get a key win of their own heading into a crucial part of their respective season as well. Unlike the first meeting between these teams, I expect this game to be a low scoring, chippy contest with the winner truly being decided on who is more efficient with the basketball in crunch time. I think UConn will ride the energy of a sold-out XL Center to a victory, setting Villanova up for a pivotal matchup this Saturday at The Finn.
My Prediction: 65-59 Connecticut