A Classic New England Battle – Providence vs. UConn Game Preview

When Connecticut returned back to the Big East, these are the type of games that were to be expected. The Huskies are #4 in the nation after a road loss to Xavier, but make no mistake: this Connecticut team is the Big East favorite and has a serious chance to win it all come March.

Providence is no slouch, however. They are building out quite a hot streak of their own, winners of 7 straight and atop the Big East at 4-0. Their last two games have been road wins of 15 and 20 points, and it is safe to say that the Friars are playing their best basketball of the season.

Layer on the raucous home environment of the AMP with an 8:30 PM tip-off and general disdain between these two programs, and we have the makings of a game environment that should rival the Nova home game from last year. If you recall, Villanova won that one on a dagger Colin Gillespie three, but the crowd was at a capacity that even the Dunk security had problem containing. I expect a very similar environment.

Below, we discuss the Connecticut team, what makes them such an elite squad, and what Providence needs to do to pull off the upset.

UCONN Personnel – By The Numbers

  • Adama Sanogo – Preseason Big East Player of the Year – Leads Big East in Scoring at 17.8 Points, 6th in Big East in Field Goal %
  • Andre Jackson – The “Point Forward” for Connecticut – 5th in Big East in Assists at 5.1 Assists/Game, 8th in Big East in Steals – Jackson is a freakish athlete that excels in the open floor, but is struggling from deep for the amount of 3’s taken. 41st in Big East at 31.3% from deep. For perspective, Noah Locke is 30th at 33.3 %.
  • Jordan Hawkins – 2nd in Big East at 3 PT Attempts (behind Kam Jones) and averaging 39.8% from deep
  • Donovan Clingan – Back-up true freshman big to Sanogo, 2nd in Big East in FG % at 73.7% from Floor, 3rd in Big East in Blocks at 1.87 Blocks/Game
  • Joey Calcaterra – 2nd in Big East from Deep @ 51.2 %. 47 3’s attempted on year versus 32 2’s.

UConn Team Stats by Game – Compared to Providence

  • UConn 82.3 Points, PC 80.2
  • UConn 39.0 Rebounds, PC 40.1
  • UConn 47.6 FG %, PC 47.5 %
  • UConn 36.5% Three Point FG, PC 34.0
  • UConn 19.1 Assists, PC 15.1
  • UConn 7.73 Steals, PC 8.07
  • UConn 4.80 Blocks, PC 5.07

Summary: Despite the disparity in national perception and ranking between the two programs, the stats are pretty comparable. A Connecticut fan would point to the difference in opponents in non-conference, which is completely fair and valid. Providence has a few players that can expose the weaknesses of Connecticut and vice versa.

Keys To Game

Can PC Frontcourt Hold Up? This is the biggest test to date for the Friar frontcourt. Croswell, Hopkins, Moore, and Castro are going to have their hands full with Sanogo, Clingan, and Jackson. For Providence to even have a chance at the upset, Providence’s bigs have to play at a standstill with Connecticut’s. If Connecticut gets Croswell and Moore in foul trouble, it has the potential to be a long night for the Friars.

I’m also concerned with Connecticut getting the upper hand on the glass. Providence cannot afford to let these Huskies get many second chance opportunities on offense because they will make the Friars pay. They are too potent of an offense to provide them with multiple chances to score. The Friars need to ensure they do their best to make Connecticut “one and done” on the offensive end.

Prevent Transition Buckets – Providence is going to have to muddy and ugly this one up. Connecticut has the athletes in transition to finish in Jackson, Newton, and Karaban. PC must ensure they take care of the ball and not give Connecticut easy buckets in the open floor.

For as much as The Crier mocks the shooting ability of Jackson, the guy is a menace and absolute weapon when running up and down the court. He can score off the bounce and pass with an ease that you only see in the pros. He is most effective in a run and gun game, and Providence doesn’t have the horses to keep up with that style of game. Carter is just as much an athlete as anybody on Connecticut’s roster, but the athleticism gap between the two programs widen after him.

Conversely, if Providence makes this an ugly, half court battle, I question Connecticut’s ability to create consistently efficient offensive sets. Making this game played at a snail’s pace will keep the game tight and the crowd engaged. Providence in a tight one in the second half is not what Danny Hurley wants.

Hopkins and Carter are the Offensive X-Factors – I don’t know who guards Devin Carter from Connecticut. He is the biggest mismatch Providence has when evaluating this Connecticut team. Karaban isn’t fast enough to keep up with him, and Hawkins isn’t strong or physical enough. Cooley needs to exploit this advantage, as this is one of the few they have.

Hopkins is also potential match-up problem. I presume Andre Jackson will get the nod in trying to slow down the likely All-Conference player in Bryce Hopkins. Jackson is a freak athlete, but I don’t know if he has the strength to body up Hopkins in the post 1:1. Hopkins should look to take the game into the body of Jackson, but I have a feeling Hurley may deploy a double when Hopkins gets touches in the post.

Providence must use Carter on the defensive end to not give Hawkins an inch of breathing room. He is going to come off a litany of screens and curls. Even an inch of space can lead to a dagger three.

Start Strong & Keep Crowd Engaged – This game has the potential to match the atmosphere of the Villanova home game last year. The difference with this game versus the Nova game is that I don’t think there will be that sense of nervous energy. These two programs do not like each other, and hostility will be in the air. Hurley and his staff must prepare the team to be ready for a hornet’s nest of a crowd.

Providence and the players need to ensure the above is the default setting in the AMP from the opening tip to the final buzzer. They cannot dig themselves into a hole and render the crowd quiet and ineffective.

As exemplified by the Xavier game this past weekend and Nova game last year, Hurley has some growing to do with on-court behavior in big games. If Providence keeps the game tight or jumps out to an early lead, I see Hurley being over the top animated and not handling the volatile situation well. This will play right into the hands of the Friars. While this UConn team has a much higher ceiling than last year, I am not certain they have a stabilizing force in a raucous environment like an RJ Cole and Tyrese Martin.

Predictions

BOC: It pains me to say this, but I believe the depth and talent of this UConn team pushes this team to a victory in the second half. It’ll be tight throughout, and I believe fans of both programs come away with mutual admiration for each other. UConn 72 – PC 65.

Crier: UConn is very talented and has depth, however after the Xavier game (and Villanova for that matter) the Huskies are far from unbeatable. I’d invite Hurley and the Huskies to roll out their recent offensive game plan of jacking 30+ triples. Regardless, the Friars just need to play within themselves, that means be physical and attack the basket. They also must do a good job of taking care of the basketball, especially against UConn’s full court pressure. The matchups in this game are awesome, the environment will be awesome and I expect a close game. Gimme Ed Cooley in a close game every time- PC 72 UConn 70

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