The Huskies (5-8) visit the Blues City in an attempt to get back in the W column, as they take on a Tigers (10-4) team that will look to protect its home court and continue its resurrection.
UConn has had a rough season so far. There’s no arguing that Husky fans did not see their team playing their first game of the New Year three games under .500 with virtually no postseason hope. Injuries to Terry Larrier and Alterique Gilbert have left them with eight scholarship players. Thankfully, star guard Jalen Adams (16.6 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.7 RPG) is healthy after also missing some time, although his addition did not help the Huskies defeat Tulsa in their last outing. However, UConn knows they can expect a stellar performance from Adams on most nights. To have a chance against Memphis, the frontcourt must rise to the occasion on both ends of the floor and play well enough to neutralize the Tigers’ advantage. Amida Brimah is an elite defensive player, and blocks three shots a game. He showed out with six rejections in the loss to Tulsa. However, his offensive game is lacking in fluidity, and his rebounding instincts are subpar. Steve Enoch, on the other hand, has shown to be a capable post scorer, but is slow to rotate on defense and is a below average shot blocker. Both players have deficiencies that they must overcome. Power forward Kentan Facey (6.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG) has had something of a renaissance year, but needs to stay out of foul trouble, as he is the Huskies’ most competent rebounder and post scorer. Lastly, Rodney Purvis needs to find his jump shot. After being consistently above average to excellent a year ago, Purvis has regressed to the quiet and inconsistent form that plagued him in 2014-2015. He needs to be UConn’s main option from beyond the arc.
Memphis lost their last conference game to a strong SMU team, but owns non-conference victories over South Carolina, Iowa, and at Oklahoma. While this team may still be a bit of time from recapturing Memphis’s former glory, Tubby Smith has them on the right track. Dedric Lawson (20.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG) has played like a future pro all season, and is a matchup nightmare. He can score from both inside and outside, though is shooting only 28 percent from deep this season. The length of the Memphis backcourt may give Adams and Purvis trouble when the Huskies are looking to score. The six-foot five Markel Crawford (14.5 PPG) will be a name to watch, as he is the teams second best three-point shooter and second best at stealing the ball. Guard Randall Craig II leads the team with 21 made three pointers. An important piece of the game for Memphis will be how aggressive K.J. Lawson is scoring the ball. The brother of star player Dedric, the younger Lawson scored only six points in a full forty minutes during the loss to SMU. He netted 19 in the win over Oklahoma, and 17 in the Tigers’ triumph over Iowa. Memphis really only plays eight players, so they will not have much of a depth advantage over the shorthanded Huskies.
Due to its lack of depth and experience, the Huskies have played zone for large portions of games this season. While they will occasionally slip into the man-to-man defense that was a staple during the Calhoun years and the previous seasons under Ollie, the Huskies have still been able to produce solid defensive efforts this season. Despite having a record of 5-8, the Huskies have held their opponents to only 38 percent shooting on the season, and 32 percent from beyond the arc. A defensive effort even greater than this level will be needed to combat Memphis’s high-powered offense, which averages 81.1 points per contest. However, the zone may be better for UConn in this case, because of the problems having to guard Dedric Lawson presents. The Huskies will not have to worry about him drawing a shot blocker such as Amida Brimah or Kentan Facey away from the paint and onto the perimeter. The Tigers also only hit 30 percent from three on the season, so a good zone defense, provided with Memphis shooting a pedestrian percentage from deep this game, could be enough, if UConn can find a way to score points themselves.
As previously touched on, Rodney Purvis has been inconsistent this season, and during some games, downright invisible. He scored 21 in the win over Syracuse, and 20 in the overtime loss to Auburn when Jalen Adams went down with a concussion. Meanwhile, he scored only five points in the season-opening loss to Wagner, and that was with Larrier and Gilbert in the fold. With the team depleted, Purvis must be a Robin to the Batman of Jalen Adams. With Vance Jackson not being the shooter he was recruited to be to this point in the season, Purvis must also step up as the primary threat from deep, especially when defenses collapse on the driving of Adams. He’s 27 of 94 from beyond the arc this season, equaling a 29 percent rating from downtown. Last season, Purvis shot 39 percent from deep. As a whole UConn is a below average shooting team, and they need a player with the caliber and experience of Purvis to step up and hit shots other players can’t.
The zone defense just may be enough to keep the Lawson brothers from fouling out the entire UConn frontcourt. If Dedric and KJ are unable to get easy buckets inside, and the Memphis guards can’t drill threes, this game could turn into an ugly contest that comes down to turnovers and free-throw shooting. UConn’s defense has already turned a few of the Huskies’ games into contests like these that are difficult to watch, and they’ve lost due to poor ball handling and ineptitude from the stripe. However, if the Huskies get a typically stellar performance from Adams, and Purvis can lead a better team effort from three-point territory, UConn can win this game. They’ve won in Memphis in the past, and even in a down year like this one, they can do it again. Connecticut 63, Memphis 60.
All Statistics Courtesy of the University of Connecticut and the University of Memphis.