The Huskies open up tournament play with a matchup against the Pirates in the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals.
Coming off of four day’s rest since beating DePaul on senior night, the No. 20 and third-seeded UConn men’s basketball team will take on sixth-seeded Seton Hall in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, in the first Big East tournament with Huskies fans in attendance since 2012. UConn had a bye from receiving one of the top three seeds, and Seton Hall just beat the winless-in-conference Georgetown Hoyas to get to this position.
The Pirates came out flat against a lowly Georgetown team and the reigning Big East Tournament champions took advantage, leading for most of the game despite sloppy play on both ends. Seton Hall finally broke through and took the lead with 40.3 seconds left on a deep 3-pointer from Jamir Harris and never looked back, closing things out to secure an ugly 57-53 win.
Both squads come into this game hot, with UConn winning seven of their last eight, and Seton Hall riding a six game win streak. It will be the third meeting of the season between the two teams, each coming away with one win. Both games this season were competitive — UConn lost by three in overtime on the road in their first game back from a COVID-19 pause, but was able to beat the Pirates in the rematch at Gampel Pavilion by a margin of five about a month later.
When: 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: Madison Square Garden – New York City
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -4, over/under 135
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 70, Seton Hall 68
When UConn has the ball
The Huskies need to crash the boards hard to take down the Pirates. UConn has dominated on the glass in their two games against the Hall, with a +15 and +10 margin in the two games. With Jordan Hawkins possibly out due to a concussion and Tyler Polley also possibly unavailable due to illness, UConn’s 3-point shooting could be greatly diminished, placing an even greater emphasis on second chance points.
With the amount of length that Seton Hall possesses across the board, shooting over them and finding lanes to penetrate their defense isn’t easy. All that length doesn’t lead to great rebounding though, and UConn has taken full advantage in the prior matchups. This is an edge the Huskies need to keep the tournament to advance far, and it begins with the Seton Hall game in the quarterfinals.
All-Big East first teamer Adama Sanogo made mincemeat of the Pirates in both games, averaging 19 points and 16 rebounds. Seton Hall big man Ike Obiagu, who is a legit 7-foot-2 and ranks top 10 nationally in blocks per game, will definitely have a chip on his shoulder entering this game knowing Sanogo has dominated both matchups.
Head coach Kevin Willard will likely send two defenders at Sanogo if he receives an entry pass, and when this happens players like Tyrese Martin and Andre Jackson need to be ready to either catch and shoot from deep or slash to the open space created by the double team. Dan Hurley has created some great high-low action with Jackson and Sanogo in the past, something that Creighton did a wonderful job at shutting down recently, but if UConn is able to get some early isos with Sanogo then they Huskies should be in great shape.
With the injuries and illnesses possibly holding Hawkins and Polley out of the game, the door is once again open for Jalen Gaffney to make a legitimate difference. He is a capable 3-point shooter, and if he can hit some open shots created by a collapsed defense it would go a long way for the Huskies and another factor that Hall would have to account for that is definitely not in the scouting report. Akok Akok should also see some action in this one, especially if Sanogo gets into foul trouble at any point. Akok started the first contest against Seton Hall and was 2-4 from three. Akok has only averaged five minutes per game over his last four, but may be a critical piece for Dan Hurley on both sides of the ball moving forward.
When Seton Hall has the ball
Second leading scorer Bryce Aiken won’t be available for this game, having not played since January 28th against Marquette. Aiken has had an injury-plagued career, but was having a bounce-back season with averages of 14.5 points and 2.7 assists. He had 22 points and seven assists in Seton Hall’s victory against UConn, so he will be dearly missed in this one.
Luckily the Pirates have a lot of firepower, led by All-Big East first teamer and leading scorer Jared Rhoden. Rhoden is one of the best pure scorers in the conference, especially in isolation situations, using his length and athleticism to shoot over smaller defenders consistently. The ball will assuredly be in his hands for a majority of the game, and the duo of Martin and Jackson will have their hands full yet again trying to stop him. Look for him to be extremely aggressive, especially with the loss of Aiken.
Seton Hall may also be without sophomore Kadary Richmond, who suffered a thumb injury in the regular season finale and reaggravated it in the win over Georgetown, forcing him to miss the final 10 minutes of the second half.
Richmond had a career high 27 points in the first game of the season against the Huskies, scoring on any and every defender UConn threw his way. He came back down to earth in the next matchup with 13, but Richmond is still a dangerous mid-range threat and slasher that will take advantage of any slight defensive hiccups. He has been operating at the point primarily with Aiken sidelined, along with American senior transfer Harris, who can light it up from deep. The Pirates backcourt is rounded out by Myles Cale, who at 6-foot-6 gives the Hall a size advantage over the Huskies.