In a matchup of the two most successful programs in the old Big East, the Huskies and the Hoyas meet in Hartford.
In the shadow of a major snowfall, a storm of a different kind will be brewing in the XL Center, as the Huskies welcome a familiar opponent for a game with major implications. The last time these two teams played, the result was an instant classic, won by the Hoyas in double-overtime. Now, three years later, the teams get another crack at each other. UConn picked up a rather lackluster win on Tuesday, beating Tulane 60-42 in Hartford. Georgetown, on the other hand, pick up one of the best wins, of any team, this season. They defeated top five Xavier, in Cincy, 81-72. Georgetown will be a much tougher test for the Huskies, especially with the momentum the Xavier win built up. The winner of this game has a great shot at being ranked in the Top 25 next week, while the loser will be left scrambling with only a third of the season left to play.
UConn’s win over Tulane offers little for evaluating where the team is at. It was a weekday game against a poor opponent, and felt like the squad was simply going through the motions. Instead, some tendencies from the win at Houston on Sunday give a better image of how UConn’s looking right now. In that 69-57 win, the Huskies showed the poise that had been missing for much of the season, and it is the same poise that they should bring to a game against a historic rival. However, all the poise in the world won’t help Coach Ollie win if his team’s shots simply aren’t falling. Over the past three games, UConn has had a particularly tough time hitting three pointers, going just 16-59 over that span. Most of these shortcomings are due to the mishaps of Rodney Purvis, who for the first half of the season was the best player on the team. However, since the win over Memphis two weeks ago, Purvis has made a single three pointer in 14 attempts. During that same time, Sterling Gibbs has stepped up in his absence, averaging over 15 points per game over that same span. UConn needs to get both Gibbs and Purvis going at the same time to reach their potential.
Georgetown had some horrendous losses earlier in the season. There’s no debating that a team of the Hoyas’ caliber should never drop games to Radford and UNC-Asheville. However this is also the same team that hung with Maryland in College Park, and of course beat Xavier just a few days ago. The Hoyas seem to have finally put their early season struggles behind them, but this team coming to New England is still the same team that lost against a pair of Big South schools. In the win over Xavier, the three point shooting was crucial, especially that of senior leader D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. DSR, as he is affectionally known to college basketball fans, is hitting at a clip of 35 percent this season from beyond the arc. While Smith-Rivera is the unquestioned lead Hoya, the underlying strength of this team is the depth in the frontcourt. Freshmen Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson provide crucial support in the rotation, while senior Bradley Hayes has been a revelation this year, averaging 8.5 points per game and 6.6 rebounds a game. Forwards Isaac Copeland and Reggie Cameron are both athletic beasts who could play in the NBA one day.
No Amida… Yes Problem?
Amida Brimah continues to be on the DL for the Huskies, meaning that their frontcourt will again have to play above their pay grade. The Huskies are facing their toughest big man test since Brimah’s injury in the deep and talented players that Georgetown can put on the floor. Phil Nolan has recently been starting, and playing sufficiently for the Huskies. He’s averaged 12 minutes a game since Amida’s injury, and will need to continue playing like it’s March 2014 for UConn to hold off the Hoyas.
While this is more of an intangible and has nothing to do with the players, the location of this game could prove to be crucial in deciding the winner. UConn is undefeated at their on campus home, Gampel Pavilion, this year, while their only home loss to Temple came at the XL Center. Rumors have also circulated that Georgetown did not want to play this game in Storrs, because of how much better the homeport advantage is for the Huskies when the students are within walking distance of the arena. Time will tell if the Husky faithful can make their home away from home loud enough to stifle Georgetown.
When these teams played in 2013, the heroics of Otto Porter led the Hoyas to a dramatic, 79-78 win at Gampel. This game definitely has the potential to be another classic. While UConn’s homecourt advantage may be stronger in Storrs, the atmosphere in Hartford can still be electric. With an old Big East foe coming to play, expect the crowd to be vociferous. The Huskies have a clear disadvantage on the depth chart, with their starting center still out. However, this game can be won with the backcourt. Rodney Purvis is shooting 51 percent from the field in games played at the XL Center, while Sterling Gibbs has been on fire. With these two getting hot at the same time, and a crowd thirsty to play a high-level game, expect a closely fought Husky victory, where UConn gets dominated in the paint but hangs on for the victory.
Connecticut 68, Georgetown 64.
University of UConn