The Arizona Wildcats (5-2) will practice in Tucson on Saturday before boarding a plane to Hartford, Connecticut where they will battle the UConn Huskies (6-1) on Sunday at 11 a.m. MST in the XL Center.
This is a rematch of last year’s tussle in McKale Center, which Arizona won 73-58.
A lot has changed since then.
Arizona has five new starters, and while UConn returned 10 scholarship players including three starters, it made a coaching change, replacing Kevin Ollie with Danny Hurley, who was previously at Rhode Island.
It should make for an interesting sequel in this home-and-home series, and here are some things to watch:
Arizona’s first road test
While Arizona played away from McKale Center at the Maui Invitational, true road games are more revealing of a team’s mettle, and this one should be no exception.
After all, the Wildcats have to:
- fly four hours across the country
- rise for an early tip-off
- tune out nearly 16,000 Husky fans (though UConn games at XL Center are not quite as rowdy as those at Gampel Pavilion)
- battle a seemingly much-improved Husky team that is seeking to atone for last year’s loss in McKale Center
What more can you ask for?
“UConn is going to be a real, real good test and it’s something we’re looking forward to,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller.
“Instead of talking about how early the game is or flying all the way there, you want to play against these types of programs, you want to get on a plane and fly to the east and you want to play against a team that has a great home crowd and UConn has everything. They’re one of the best programs in college basketball, and we beat them at home. I’m sure they want to return the favor this year.”
Controlling the glass
UConn’s biggest strength on offense this season has been rebounding, as it ranks 24th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. (The Husky offense as a whole ranks 69th in the country, per KenPom.)
Josh Carlton is the guy to watch here. The 6-foot-10, 235-pound sophomore is averaging more offensive rebounds (2.4) than defensive rebounds (2.3) this season.
There is also 6-foot-9 Eric Cobb, who comes off the bench. The senior torched then-No. 15 Syracuse for 13 points and 13 rebounds in the Huskies’ upset victory. Seven of those rebounds were of the offensive variety, and UConn wound up outrebounding the Orange, 40-26, on a neutral court.
KenPom projects this game as a toss-up, and it is hard to imagine Arizona grinding out a road win if it does not own the rebounding margin.
That won’t be easy. UConn’s rebounding margin is +6.6 this year, while Arizona’s is just +2.0, albeit the Wildcats have had a tougher schedule.
It is imperative that Chase Jeter stays out of foul trouble. The redshirt junior has grabbed 14 more rebounds than Ryan Luther, who is second on the team in rebounding, despite the two playing nearly the same amount of minutes.
Will we get an encore?
Arizona’s bench poured in 47 points against Georgia Southern on Thursday, its most in a game since the 2011-12 season.
That came after the reserves had an uninspiring performance in Maui when they scored just 19 points in three games.
But which version of the unit will we see in this game? Will Alex Barcello (16 points) and Devonaire Doutrive (8 points) build on their strong outings from last game? Will Dylan Smith hit some shots?
Or will the unit go M.I.A. like it did in Maui, leaving the starters—who have been prone to inconsistency themselves—to carry the offensive load?
Power forward production
Relatedly, the 4 has been a black hole for Arizona this season. Only 13.1 percent of its points have come from that position, which ranks 335th (of 353) in college basketball, per KenPom.
Miller tried to change things up last game by swapping Emmanuel Akot for Ryan Luther in the starting lineup to try to give the former a confidence boost, but it didn’t work, as Akot still finished with just two points.
Meanwhile, Luther has lost his confidence, Miller said, as he deals with an injury to his non-shooting hand. He has scored eight points in the last three games.
So it will be interesting to see if Miller keeps Akot in the starting lineup or goes back to Luther, who seemingly matches up better against a bigger UConn team and should be closer to 100 percent.
UConn guard Jalen Adams was a dynamic scorer last season, but he has stepped it up a notch this season.
The 6-foot-3 senior has upped his field goal percentage from 43 percent to 57 percent and has maintained his 18 point per game average, despite playing nine fewer minutes per game than last season.
Adams has never been a great shooter—he is making less than one-third of his 3s—but he is a menace in the paint. 41 percent of his shots have come at the rim this season and he has made 78.9 percent of them.
Arizona’s rim-protection has not been good this year — opponents are shooting 69 percent there — so Adams could have a big night if Arizona’s perimeter defenders can’t keep him out of the lane. Adams has scored in double figures in all seven games this year, including a trio of 20-point games, though he shot 5 for 16 against the Wildcats last year.
Surrounding him are two shooters in Christian Vital (37.1 3PT%) and Alterique Gilbert (46.9 3PT%), yet another reason to make sure Adams doesn’t collapse UA’s defense.
The last two games couldn’t have been more different from Arizona from a distributing perspective.
Arizona had 22 assists and six turnovers against Georgia Southern after having just nine assists and 19 turnovers in the loss to Auburn.
Brandon Williams had a lot to do with that. The freshman had one assist and five turnovers against Auburn, then six assists and one turnover against Georgia Southern.
Miller commended Williams after the Georgia Southern game for learning from his mistakes in Maui, so let’s see if he can continue to take care of the ball against UConn, a team that generates its fair share of turnovers.
Justin Coleman probably isn’t someone worth worrying about. He has had one turnover in four of the last five games.
Only five sets of brothers are coaching in D1 college basketball and this is a rare matchup of them.
Hurley is the younger brother of ASU coach and Tucson favorite Bobby Hurley. Sean Miller, of course, is the older brother of Indiana coach Archie Miller.
Here is what Sean had to say when asked about the Hurley brothers.
“Danny and Bobby, they’re from Jersey City. Those dudes, they’ve played the game since they’ve been four years old. Their dad (Bob Hurley) is one of the all-time best coaches at any level. They know what they’re doing, their teams play hard, they compete and that’s what we’re going to face when we go to UConn.
“We’re going to play against a team that plays real hard in front of a great home crowd and, a lot like us, it’s going to feel new I’m sure to UConn because they have a new coach, but the difference is they have a lot of returners and we really respect their players, their program and it’s why we wanted to play this series. We knew we were playing against a terrific program, and I think that they’ve already proven they’ve played Syracuse and beat them and they lost to a very good Iowa team.”
And yes, Danny is just as animated as Bobby on the sidelines.
“There’s a lot of comparisons to Jim Calhoun because of the fire and energy, but they’re pretty different personalties (and that’s not a knock on either),” Daniel Connolly of The UConn Blog told us. “Hurley has more wit and is definitely dad-jokey at times. He’s also incredibly animated on the sidelines and is pretty much a walking gif machine.”