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PREVIEW: #17 UConn at #14 Villanova

The Wildcats and Huskies will look to get back on track following tough losses

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

How to Watch:

Date: Saturday, February 5th, 2022

Time: 12:00pm EST

Venue: Wells Fargo Center - Philadelphia, PA

TV: Fox (Gus Johnson & Jim Jackson)

Streaming: Fox Sports Go

The Villanova Wildcats (16-6, 9-3 BIG EAST) are set for their second Top-25 showdown of the week when they play host to the Connecticut Huskies (15-5, 6-3 BIG EAST) this Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Last season, the Wildcats and the Huskies met only once, with Villanova edging out a 68-60 victory at the Finneran Pavilion in February 2021. This will be the 69th meeting between the Wildcats and Huskies, with Villanova holding a series lead of 37-31. The last time the Huskies emerged victorious over the Wildcats was in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, a tournament most Huskies fans will never forget.

Before Tuesday’s loss at home against Creighton, the UConn Huskies were able to rattle off five consecutive conference wins in a row, including wins over Butler (twice) and Saint John’s. UConn is led by three double digit scorers in graduate student RJ Cole (16.0), sophomore Adama Sanogo (15.0), and senior Tyrese Martin (13.2) and two impressive rebounders in Sanogo (8.4) and Andre Jackson (7.8). The Huskies feature an ‘inside-out’ play style with a lot of emphasis on rebounding and post scoring. While their offense can be inconsistent at times, especially on the perimeter, their defense is tops in the Big East and 14th in the country in terms of opposing shooting percentage. Dan Hurley’s Huskies have held opponents to under 60 (!!) points in four of their last five games, which is a true testament to this teams commitment on the defensive end. UConn’s presence in the paint combined with their size will definitely be key ingredient in a recipe to take down the Wildcats.

As for Villanova, they will come into this matchup with UConn looking to improve on their showing on Wednesday in Milwaukee. One of the lone bright spots in the loss to Marquette however was the play of senior forward Brandon Slater, who has been battling through an ankle injury since early January. Over his last seven games, Slater has averaged 2.8 points per game, a mark that is well short of his usual offensive output. On Wednesday, Slater led the team in scoring with 18 points on 4-6 shooting from the field, while also going 9-9 from the free throw line. If Villanova can rely on Slater to consistently preform well on the offensive end it would be a huge boost not only for this Saturday’s meeting with UConn, but for their outlook going into the tournament. In addition to Slater’s contributions, Caleb Daniels followed a 15-point effort in last Saturday’s win over Saint John’s with another 15-point effort on the road at Marquette.

I am going to pivot here and do something I do not usually do but I would be remiss to go the whole season and not talk about the story of Caleb Daniels. Daniels had to sit out the entire 2019-20 season due to the NCAA’s (stupid) transfer policies. Before transferring to Villanova, Daniels was one of the hottest commodities on the market after he announced he was leaving Tulane. His 16.9 points-per-game average was top five in the American Athletic Conference at the time and he was built for Villanova. Upon league play in early 2020 we saw flashes of what Daniels could be, a high-IQ, high motor, playmaking shot-creator that would fit perfectly in Jay Wright’s offense. However in late December of 2020, Daniels came down with COVID-19. It seemed like a normal case of the virus, however when he returned, his play was night and day worse than what we had saw previously from the junior transfer. Daniels was able to finish the 2020-21 season with the team, but from early April 2021 to September 1st, 2021, Caleb Daniels was completely shut down from all basketball activities, to the point where he barely touched a basketball over the summer. Daniels was shut down due to myocarditis, which is essentially an inflammation of the heart following his bout with COVID-19. Now, after spending the better half of five consecutive months out due to a heart condition, Daniels is back and contributing for the Wildcats the way we have seen in the past. Caleb is the first substitute off the bench and with his play improving at the rate it is, he will be a key contributor to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament come March.

Now we go back to the outlook for this upcoming meeting between Villanova and Connecticut. This game is going to be a chess match between Dan Hurley and Jay Wright to see who can come out on top of this one. I expect to see a low scoring affair with a ton of unique defensive and offensive sets being used early and often. I may be a homer, but I do expect Villanova to come out on top in this meeting. Where Villanova gets in trouble is in shootout style games where three’s are raining from all over the court. In a slow paced, methodical approach, I like Villanova’s chances. UConn, as good as they are defensively, fouls a lot. Between the happy-go-lucky whistle of the Big East officials and Villanova’s elite foul shooting (90%+ since the new year), I expect Villanova to come out on top of this anticipated low scoring matchup. At least we have Gus Johnson on the call.

My Prediction: 63-58 Villanova