Every game is an isolated incident. Xavier is 0-0 on the day heading into the tip off, and they have a chance to move to 1-0 if they play well. They can't bring their excess points from past wins with them, nor are they saddled in any meaningful way with the failures of their losses. It's a blank slate, and they have one chance to do something special with it.
UConn coach Dan Hurley is probably try to sell his team on something similar to this. After starting the season 14-0, they're 2-5 in their last 7. A promising campaign that had folks talking about the Final Four is now in need of some reviving. With 3 Q1s and 4 Q2s left to play, the opportunities to do just that are certainly present.
Both of these teams are trying to bounce back, with UConn in a weeks-long slump and Xavier faring even worse with a loss to DePaul. The first half of conference play is about to wrap up, and there's everything still to play for at the top of the league.
The Huskies had a top-10 offense in non-con play, but it has taken a nose dive to the middle of the Big East pack. That's down largely to a 4.4 point drop in EFG%; they're shooting 48.9% from inside the arc and 32.8% from behind it. Those are not good numbers. Their offensive rebounding is still excellent and they're solidly in the middle of a pretty stingy league in turnover rate. They aren't getting to the line well at all, which probably hasn't done wonders for the blood pressure of their head coach.
Their defense is still really good, third in the Big East. They run teams off the arc and force iso, leading the league in both assist rate and three-point rate on defense. They're 2nd in the league in defensive EFG%, equally effective both inside and beyond the arc. They are mediocre on the defense glass and don't force many turnovers. Their Achilles heel is foul trouble; they remain last in the league in defensive FT rate, which probably hasn't done wonders for the blood pressure of their head coach.
|Newton isn't a great shooter and his good assist rate comes with a turnover rate that is nearly as high. He is a tall guard that can defend a bit and keep the ball moving.
|Hawkins uses the ball a lot and effectively. He's a good shooter, but struggles a bit closer to the rim. He'll be a handful for whichever guard gets him.
|Andre Jackson Jr.
|Jackson is a bit of a do it all player. He leads the team in assists and can be a menace on defense. He does struggle shooting the ball and occaionally gets out over his skis in that regard.
|Karaban is the 62nd most efficient player in the nation. He shoots well from everywhere, but doesn't get quite as many shots as the less effective players on the team.
|Sanogo does just about everything someone can do on the court. He had 18 against X the first time, but needed 17 shots to get there. His 17/14/3 against Butler the last time out was much more efficient.
Naheim Alleyne is first off the bench at the guard spots. He doesn’t use the ball much and doesn’t do much with it when he does. He may be a good on ball defender, but that isn’t reflected in his block or steal rates, both of which are below average. Joey Calcaterra gets 6.6 points per game off the bench and is an excellent three point shooter. He’ll do most of his work on catch and shoots. Hassan Diarra is another guard and leads the team in steal rate by a large margin. He’s pretty much useless on the offensive end. Donovan Clingan is a 7-2 freshman who is shooting 71.8% inside the arc and dominates on the glass. If he could stop fouling people he’d be the best big in the conference.
-Can Xavier keep UConn off the glass? Xavier has actually been the slightly better rebounding team on the Big East season, but you wouldn't know that by how the game at Cintas played out. The Huskies owned the glass on both ends, keeping Xavier to 4 offensive boards and grabbing 13 of their own. UConn is too good of an offense to give them that many extra possessions at home and expect to win.
-Can Xavier's guards defend? The biggest struggle with Xavier's defense has been at the point of attack. The big men can't afford to get put into rotation against UConn's bigs, so it's incumbent on the perimeter players to keep drivers out of the paint. UConn's not known for their guards' ability to drive and score, but if they're in position to make Xavier's big men step up and help, the possession is going badly.
-Has Hurley figured out how to use his bigs together? It doesn't take much digging to find UConn fans unhappy with how Dan Hurley has deployed Donovan Clingan. It's true that he can be dominant, like when he dropped 20 and 10 with 5 blocks against Marquette. He can also be a bit of a soup sandwich, as evidenced by his 100.4 ORtg and 6.8 fouls per 40 in conference play. Adama Sanogo is good on offense in great volume, but he's not a defensive asset like Clingan. Xavier's big men may force Hurley to adjust to them on the fly.
-Attack incessantly. Calcaterra, Newton, Hawkins. That's the list of UConn players who average less than 3.5 fouls per 40 minutes. Everyone else on the team will defend hard but slap you silly in the process. Xavier has guards who can get downhill and bigs who can score from the post; they need to focus on keeping the ball hot and not settling when isolated. Even at home, the Huskies will send you to the line if you do. They're 5-1 in Big East games when their defensive free throw rate is under 40% and 0-4 when they go above that mark.
-Value the ball. This is obvious in every game, but it needs to be an extreme point of emphasis in this game. Xavier doesn't commit too many turnovers and UConn doesn't force many, either, but X had a TO rate of 16.2% at home against the Huskies. That's not bad, but it's bang-on their season average against a team whose defense isn't built that way. UConn will get back possessions on the offensive glass; Xavier has to win the freebie war by limiting turnovers, especially the head-scratching ones that have popped up from time to time.
-Identify shooters. Last time these two teams played, Andre Jackson shot 12 threes. That's fine, and Xavier will probably be content to let that happen again. What's less of a delight is letting Alex Karaban and Jordan Hawkins combine for 13 three-point attempts. They combined to hit just 3 of them, which is a bit of a bullet dodged considering they're both 38% shooters in high volume from deep on the year. In a game that projects to be as tight as this one, letting shooters get into rhythm at home can be the difference between having a chance in winning time and getting run off the floor.
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