How to Watch
Time: Noon ET
Radio: 97.9 ESPN
Location: Cintas Center
Records: UConn 8-5 (5-5) | Xavier 11-2 (4-2)
Spread: Xavier -3
ATS Records: UConn (9-4) | Xavier (8-5)
Kenpom Rankings: UConn – 42 |Xavier – 46
The Xavier Musketeers and the UConn Huskies have a limited series history. The series is tied at one game apiece. UConn got the best of Xavier in their first matchup back in March of 1991. And I’m sure we all remember the thriller between these two teams last season. Xavier took that game in dramatic fashion, winning by one point in double overtime. This should be the start of what looks to be a “friendly” rivalry (at least amongst UConn and Xavier twitter). We’ll see how long that lasts once the ball tips though.
This will likely be an interesting game, although it might not be pretty. Xavier has barely played since the beginning of January due to Covid-19 issues and will be missing not-yet named players. UConn has been in the same boat, undergoing three separate Covid-related pauses this season, and are missing two key sophomores: James Bouknight and Akok Akok. Add the mysterious information about Bouknight’s (potential?) return from injury and Travis Steele saying he wouldn’t be surprised to see Bouknight play and it’s a little hard to know what to expect from this game.
Xavier comes in with an excellent record at 11-2, but they have won 5 of those 11 by 3 points or less. UConn is looking to play close, low-scoring battles, so Xavier may have to squeeze out another close victory. Xavier is led by Paul Scruggs (14.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 6.0 APG), Zach Freemantle (15.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG), and Nate Johnson (11.5 PPG, 4.0RPG). Nate Johnson is a sniper from deep; he is shooting 52.2% from three on the season which is good for second in the nation. Kyky Tandy and Paul Scruggs can also stroke it from three, both shooting just shy of 40% on the season. UConn better know their scouting report; you can’t help off of these guys. On the defensive end, Xavier is solid. They currently have the 3rd ranked adjusted defense in the Big East (only behind UConn and Creighton).
As for UConn, they have been struggling without their star, James Bougknight. Adama Sanogo has emerged as the teams’ best offensive threat. While Sanago’s progress is welcomed and impressive, I don’t think anyone would have expected him to be UConn’s most reliable offensive option. A sign that things aren’t going particularly well on that side of the ball. Despite this, I believe the offense can turn it around. It seems to be a collective confidence issue.
Who is the go-to option when Bouknight is out? That question still really hasn’t been answered in the 7 games since Bouknight went down and it’s anyone’s guess (no one seems to have any real info) on if and when Bouknight will return. Andre Jackson showed flashes last game, so did RJ Cole in the first half, Jalen Gaffney the game prior, Tyrese Martin throughout the season. The talent level is there, the consistency and confidence from game to game is not.
Despite losing 4 of their last 5, UConn still ranks at the top of the Big East for adjusted defense. I guess this tells you how poor the offense really is. However, from watching the games, we all know the defense has struggled a bit in some of these loses. The mental aspect of the game seems to be getting to this team a bit, worn down by the uncertainty of the season and some uncharacteristic losses.
They seemed rather deflated against Providence and Seton Hall. The Huskies need to get back to the basics. All out focus and effort on defense and the offense will come. It also wouldn’t hurt if the team looked like they were enjoying playing basketball, but that doesn’t seem to be the case lately. Still, the Huskies can position themselves to remain in the NCAA tournament conversation by making a late push. It starts with the game against Xavier. One game at a time.
I remain optimistic, and a win at Xavier would turn things right around for UConn. But, UConn seems distracted and downtrodden as a team lately. If they can overcome that, they can hang with anyone in the conference. Meanwhile Xavier has played one game in the past month. I think the only way the Huskies win this game is if the underclassmen have statement games.
Instead of being deflated while down against Providence, Andre Jackson and Adama Sanogo seemed to channel their intensity and focus, while others may have lost it. Can they instill this attitude in the team as mere freshman? I certainly hope so, but it may be too much to ask of freshman. I hope I’m wrong... Xavier wins an ugly one and UConn is left searching for answers.